Style & Vibes: A Look Back at Dancehall Fashion, Pt. 1: The 1970s

Words by Mikelah Rose

Equally influenced by their international counterparts in the British and American music scenes and by the heavy influence of Rastafarian culture via reggae music, dancehall fashion in the 1970’s was a mix of simplicity and over-the-top suiting. While reggae was gaining popularity through the Caribbean and all over the world in 1970’s, disco and R&B were also very popular in the islands. The defining fashions of the era such as polyester suits, bell-bottom jeans, mid-drift tops for the ladies and, of course, platform shoes were all in style in Jamaica, as they were in the US and Europe.

For men, polyester reigned king: Big collars and matching vests, pants and jackets were a must when stepping out on the town. In this iconic pic from the classic Jamaican film The Harder They Come, Jimmy Cliff’s character “Ivan” in poses in a pinstripe pants and rayon patterned shirt, accessorized with a vest and oversized white hat. And let’s not forget the ‘gator boots!

Bob Marley and the Wailers came a long way from their “Teenager” days! Inspired by the simplicity of their Rastafarian lifestyle, they completely changed their entire look–and sound– in the 70’s. Bob Marley’s (mostly unbuttoned) button-up shirt and bell bottoms became a staple of his performances. The rest of the Wailers also sported signature looks: Peter Tosh always wore his knitted cap and sunglasses, and who could forget Bunny Wailer’s bucket cap? Check out more of their style in “Stir it Up”

Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt, both former I-Threes, backup singers to Bob Marley and the Wailers, embarked on solo careers in the early 70’s, sporting Rasta-inspired wear with a female twist. Both ladies wore dresses and skirts made from a linen or rayon. Marcia was known for her signature head wraps and turbans, which she still wears on stage today.

“Love is all I bring, inna mi khaki suit and ting,” sang Althea and Donna, on their major 1977 hit, “Uptown Top Rankin.’” The song captured a moment in time when roots reggae was beginning to give way to deejay-driven, and more fashion-conscious, dancehall. While high school girls Althea and Donna hailed from Uptown Kingston, they positioned themselves as proponents of roots fashion: “Nah pop no style, a strictly roots.” As an ode to the song, the duo always performed in khaki dresses.

Stay tuned as we cover the next era in Dancehall Style: The 80’s!

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