“The Swinging Sixties” and “The Roaring Twenties” were the only decades to be given names that instantly conveyed the lighter side of life. They both experienced expansion, major social changes, daring young fashions and new styles in popular music, art and dancing.
Although styles had become younger looking during the late fifties, the clothes illustrated in the fashion magazines at the beginning of the 1960s still looked mature and conventional compared to the designs of a few years later.
Fashions with a recognisable sixties look took a few years to establish themselves.
The sixties ‘Dolly Girl’ in her mini skirt and go-go boots, like the 1920s Flapper in her knee length dress, did not represent fashion throughout the decade. In both cases, the new shortness in skirts applied to the middle and later years of the decade.
The sixties began with skirts about as short as the shortest lengths of the twenties. Hems were as high as most people thought they could be. By the middle of the decade, the thigh length mini skirt had arrived and a new record in shortness had been achieved.
It has been said that women’s hemlines during the 1960s served as a barometer of contemporary attitudes: When the Swinging Sixties were at their height, women’s hemlines were likewise; when people began to develop some conscience about their lifestyles, the Midi and Maxi skirts made their appearance.
Following the lead of English designer Mary Quant, fashionable young women across the Western World were going mad for the Mini skirt. Featuring hemlines ranging from four to seven inches above the knee, the skirts were often worn with decorative tights or pantyhose.
A working class teenager aptly nicknamed Twiggy took the world by storm. With her stick-like arms and legs, the skinny minnie with the baby-like head and saucer sized eyes was the extreme reflection of youth fashion revolution.
A society belle with faraway eyes, Jacqueline Kennedy exuded grace. From the time she became the US President’s wife she made her mark on 20th-century style. Visiting the worlds fashion capital, she created so much attention that her husband announced, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.”
Above all, fashion in the 1960s tended to encourage exhibitionism. Mini skirts, lurid colours and see-through dresses were all geared to showing off women’s bodies. Gaudy accessories, such as Perspex rings and earrings and gold chain-belts, helped to get the message across.
Throwing out the rules
Traditionally, strict rules had dictated what was worn and when. ‘Casuals’ for wearing during the daytime, were very distinct from formal evening wear. Similarly, the types of fabrics used were often applied only to specific types of clothing.
The 1960s saw the abandonment of these traditional rules, and it became perfectly reasonable to wear the same outfit to work as for an evening out. Many of the fabrics previously restricted to evening wear, such as velvets and satins, were used extensively for all types of clothing. In addition to existing fabrics, many unusual materials entered the clothes designer’s vocabulary, including PVC, and on a limited scale, metal.
Whereas it had been Paris and the large couturiers who had dictated clothes fashion in the 1950’s, in the early 60s London sprang to prominence with the emergence of a small group of designers and their boutiques. Most notable of these was Mary Quant, who had opened her boutique, Bazaar, in 1955.
Quant was one of the first fashion designers to recognise that teenagers didn’t want to wear the dreary, conservative matching dress-&-coat ensembles, neat pleated skirts and twin-sets of their mothers, and the suits, ties and sensible cardigans of their fathers.
Other designers who established their careers at this time were John Bates (the designer of Diana Rigg’s wardrobe in The Avengers), Ossie Clark (Quorum), Barbara Hulanicki (Biba) and Betsey Johnson. The key to the success of many of these designers was that they first discovered the youth market and then, second, catered for it. Many of them, notably Barbara Hulanicki, produced exciting clothes at a price that most people could afford, which she sold in her Art-Deco Biba stores.
By the middle of the decade, couturiers had accepted the new wave in fashion, and Paris attempted to fight back by concentrating on ready-to-wear clothes. Designers such as Pierre Cardin and Andrés Courrèges produced media-grabbing collections that took 1960’s themes to extremes. He made popular white boots and zombie glasses. Stark white, pastel, or checked fabrics were among the most worn.
In 1964 Courrèges presented a space-age series of clothes that proved influential in establishing white and silver as the colours of the season. In the same year, he introduced trouser-suits into his collection, and these subsequently entered mainstream fashion on a large scale.
Christian Dior “plunged necklines below the waist,” and armholes dipped, as well, in the following year. Yves Saint Laurent had fashionable society wearing Mondrian dresses in 1965 and Pop Art dresses decorated with comic strips a year later.
Fashion-conscious women had adopted higher, fuller hair styles by 1960, and a blown up air-filled effect continued to be used by many women throughout the decade, despite regular fashion reports informing women that it was no longer fashionable.
The biggest “hair” name of the 60s was probably Vidal Sassoon, who, in 1963, introduced the asymmetric 5-point style and the famous ‘Bob’ cut. He let the hair swing free and cut the style into the hair, eliminating the need for an hour in front of the mirror armed with hairspray and pins.
The bob proved very popular with young women, especially in London, and is still one of the most popular female haircuts.
The geometric style worn by Mary Quant was popular with young girls – It was very short, straight and severe, and was another speciality of Vidal Sassoon.
In the mid-60s (particularly during the Swinging London period) teenage hair was either very short (the 5-point and bob for example) or very long and worn fallen over one eye.
As the decade progressed and Mod segued into Hippie, the most memorable visual symbol was the long, flowing, often unkempt hairstyles of the Peace & Love era.
When men started to grow their hair long there was a tremendous fuss. Most older people saw these males as “scruffy, long-haired layabouts”.
Backcombing was an everyday part of arranging hair. Most styles were based on a beehive or birds nest front and to add still more height some styles, particularly for evening wear, crowned the beehive with a top-knot or a group of curls. The added top pieces were sometimes made of false hair. To hold the contrived styles in position they were sprayed with hair lacquer which tended to make them stiff and immobile.
There was really only one makeup look in the 60s – Very dark eyes paired with pale lips. Eyes were the main focus (no pun intended!) and were darkened considerably to contrast with the popularly pale faces. Dark kohl eyeliner and mascara were used extensively.
Lipstick became paler until girls began using white lipstick and could go no lighter. Iridescent nail varnish to match the lipstick usually completed the Mod/Go-Go look.
Dark plum shades of lipstick became fashionable later in the 60s, and by the end of the decade, makeup colours were inspired by the rainbow; violet eye shadow, blue eyeliner, indigo mascara, orange, pink or red pearl lipstick and green finger nails! Grooooovy baby.
For men, there was refinement rather than any real innovation. Suits became more tightly fitting, and Chelsea Boots became fashionable. For generations of men, the office shirt had always been white. Suddenly the trendy young man could cut a dash with waist-hugging shirts in a wide range of pastel shades.
In Britain, the Mods began as a minority group deeply concerned with their immaculate appearance, but from 1963 onwards they received national coverage and showed that men could care about the clothes they wore, an attitude that was to allow real changes as the decade progressed.
In response to the systematic rejection of fashion and clothing rules and conventions during the early 60’s, the second half of the decade witnessed extremes – hemlines reached unprecedented heights in the form of the Micro (1967), and true obsolescence materialised in the guise of the disposable paper dress (1967 onwards).
In addition, several designers introduced see-through clothing and in a few instances, such as in Rudi Gernreich‘s topless bathing costume, nudity was deemed acceptable (on the catwalks at least) as long as the face was fully made-up.
The Hippie movement, which first surfaced in California (and from 1967 onwards spread to the rest of the US and then to other countries), nurtured a form of anti-fashion in which virtually all types of clothing were permissible, whether long or short, new or second-hand, patterned or plain, as long as the materials were natural.
Despite a doctrine based on a rejection of uniformity, a distinct hippie style emerged, seeking inspiration from many sources, but utilising military uniforms and Indian and ‘ethnic’ clothing in particular.
The psychedelic imagery gleaned from the use of hallucinogenic drugs also affected clothes design, most notably in the exaggerated patterns and colours of the fabrics that appeared at this time.
The hippies showed off their independence and creativity with their own handcrafted items. Beads, leather, fringes, bangles, and vests represented the American Indian look. The hippie style tended to transmit signals of peace and love. Each personality had a fitting style of clothing.
Throughout the 1960’s, the distinctions between clothing made for men and that made for women became less and less obvious. But it was the Hippie style of dressing that that first introduced a truly unisex look; men and women wore their hair long and it was possible for both sexes to wear exactly the same clothes only in different sizes.
By the end of the decade, it had become established that any number of different styles could co-exist, and fashions were no longer dictated by the centralised couturiers. Such a climate encouraged an alarming appetite for different styles, and some clothes designers looked to the past for inspiration.
Revivals of past styles became fashionable, the most notable being the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles clearly seen in the clothes and graphics of Barbara Hulanicki’s Biba store.
- Afghan Coats
- A-Line Dresses
- Angel Sleeve Blouses
- Baby Doll Dresses
- Birthstone Jewellery
- Bobbie Brooks
- Body Paint
- Chelsea Boots
- Desert Boots
- Duffle Coats
- Empire Line Dresses
- False Eyelashes
- Go-Go Boots
- Loon Pants
- Love Beads
- Mary Janes
- Mary Quant
- Maxi Skirts
- Midi Skirts
- Mini Skirts
- Nehru Jacket
- Paper dresses
- Peasant skirts/dresses
- Tab Collar Shirts