Leisure Suits

Leisure suits, which gained popularity among men during the 1970s, were casual suits consisting of matching jacket and trousers. They were made of polyester fabric, often in bright colors or earth tone plaids. The leisure suit jacket was distinctively


During the 1970s rock music dance clubs became extremely popular. Young people, wearing polyester bell-bottoms and platform shoes, lined up outside popular clubs for a chance to enter dance floors lit with bright, pulsing lights and dance to recorded music with a pounding beat. Disco was the word that described the clubs, the music, the dance style, and the fashions that grew out of the scene.

A discotheque is a dance club that plays music on records, or discs, rather than having a live band. Discotheques got their start in Paris, France, during World War II (1939-45), when France was occupied by the German army. In an effort to control rebellious young people, the Germans made popular jazz music illegal, so many French youth gathered in secret clubs to dance to recordings of the music they loved. One of these clubs was called La Discotheque. In the 1960s Paris was also the home of another internationally famous discotheque, the Whiskey a Go-Go, which loaned its name to go-go boots, short, white boots popular among mod women, and go-go dancers, who performed in nightclubs.

Disco dancing gained tremendous popularity during the 1970s. Young people of the times often felt overwhelmed by the social problems around them, and they sought a more carefree lifestyle. Dancing became a favorite leisure activity. Unlike the dance clubs of previous times, disco dance clubs attracted people of mixed racial and sexual orientations. People of color and whites, gays and heterosexuals alike danced to driving rhythms, often created by drum machines. Disc jockeys, or deejays, mixed the records on two or three turntables to make each song last as long as possible. As the popularity of the dancing clubs grew, major record companies began to seek out and record disco artists, even releasing long-playing records to duplicate the deejays' long versions of songs.

Clothes From Saturday Night Fever
John Travolta in a scene from the trendsetting 1977 disco film Saturday Night Fever. Reproduced by permission ofThe Kobal Collection.

In 1977 the film Saturday Night Fever was released, starring John Travolta (1954-) as a young working-class man who seeks love and success on the disco dance floor. The popularity of the movie Saturday Night Fever and its soundtrack with songs by the Bee Gees helped spread the disco craze around the world.

When disco grew to mass popularity by the late 1970s, those who wanted to be hip turned to new forms of music. An anti-disco craze began at the same time, with rock radio stations leading a "Disco sucks!" campaign. By the early 1980s most experts declared that disco was dead. Though many people lump disco in with bell-bottoms and leisure suits as another tasteless 1970s fad, disco has survived into the twenty-first century in different forms of driving dance music such as electronica, techno, house, and Latin freestyle.

styled, with an open front with large collar and lapels, large patch pockets, and stitching in a color that contrasted with the fabric. Beginning in the early 1960s, fashion designers experimented with stylish and casual suits for men in an effort to modernize men's fashions to keep pace with women's changing styles. French designers Pierre Cardin (1922—) and Yves Saint Laurent (1936—) both introduced modern looks for men. Cardin's collarless suit, made famous by the British pop band the Beatles, and Saint Laurent's "safari suit," were both forerunners of the leisure suit, which offered men casual, stylish looks that soon developed into the distinctive styling of the leisure suit.

In 1970 American designer Jerry Rosengarten (c. 1945—) invented a new style of suit that paired a shirt jacket with matching pants to demonstrate the usefulness of a new double-knit polyester fabric. Pants maker Lee Jeans marketed Rosengarten's design in a line for men and boys called LEEsures. Influenced by the extremely informal style associated with the hippies, a group of young people who rejected conventional values and dress, men of the 1970s wanted to be able to dress more casually. Leisure suits were marketed to these buyers as comfortable business suits. Though they were never really accepted as business dress, they did become popular for parties, discos, and other social events. Mothers especially liked the new suits for their young sons, because the polyester fabric was extremely durable and easy to care for.

Often worn with brightly patterned polyester shirts, gold chains and medallions, and vinyl platform shoes, leisure suits were briefly very popular. Perhaps the most famous leisure suit was worn by actor John Travolta (1954—) when he starred as a disco dancer in the film Saturday Night Fever (1977). Before too long, however, there was a backlash against the suits. Some upscale restaurants began to post signs forbidding the suits, and they gradually fell out of fashion. Leisure suits have endured, however, as a symbol of 1970s fashion extremes. In the twenty-first century fans of retro fashion gathered for leisure suit conventions to show off the bright polyester costumes that they would hardly dare to wear anywhere else.

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  • fiore
    When were leisure suits stylish?
    8 years ago
  • eberardo
    When were leisure suits popular?
    8 years ago
  • Nora
    What material was the famous was john travoltas disco suit made from?
    4 years ago

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