Fashion in The 1960s

1960 Dress



The 1960s decade may well be recorded as one of the most fashion-conscious periods in recent history, even more than the 1890s and the 1920s. Even the American Presidential election campaigns made fashion an issue, when the wives of the two Presidential candidates became the storm center of a headlined controversy over the source and cost of their respective wardrobes, their taste in clothes, and their comparative rating among the international "best dressed."

Two main changes in early 1960s coat fashions marked the year: emphasis on shorter coats and the reemphasis on sweepingly full coat shapes. On both sides of the Atlantic, all uncertainty disappeared as the public showed unqualified acceptance of relaxed shaping and the lowered waistline. collections in both Europe and America concentrated on low-waisted silhouettes and also reintroduced the princesse shape and the narrow tubular or oval outline with little or no waistline indentation. Even the most cautious women seemed willing to accept the overblouse (as comfortable to wear as it is fashionable) as a becoming change from the fitted bodice and constricting belted waist.

New types of soft fullness appeared: sometimes it was "full over full" expressed in loose box jackets over full skirts, or again in deeply bloused tops over circular skirts. Unusual "directional" seaming was employed to shape dresses and coats so as to achieve a full-flowing outline yet retain figure contours. Side-slanting folds, side fastenings on coats and dresses, side-to-side necklines, and a sideward plunge to daring evening necklines also pointed up the abstract effect in fashion, as opposed to a "period" look.

During the 1960s the different capitals of world fashion, Paris, Rome, and New York, seemed to have clearly established their own independent points of view. Although France and Italy continued to wield great influence on the popular-priced American fashion industry, by being copied and publicized in line-for-line copies made in America and also by means of the fast-developing European ready-to-wear industry, a well-recognized group of American designers exercised profound influence, both in their original collections and the copies made of their clothes. In New York, Norman Norell caused a worldwide flurry when he showed suits with tailored trousers and culottes replacing the usual skirts and retained their popularity throughout the 1960s. They were worn by mannequins with the darkened eye-lids, whitened make-up, and cropped hair of the 1920s. The Trigere collection in New York and the Galanos collection designed in California both included clothes with a slender, pliant, and flowing medieval echo which the fashion world cited as prophetic. Bill Blass of Maurice Rentner and Donald Brooks of Townley led a group of American designers in launching modern versions of the deeply bloused, bias-cut, low-waisted clothes of the 1930's.

The annual Coty American Fashion Critics' Award, most coveted honor in contemporary fashion because it is bestowed by a jury of more than 70 fashion editors, went in 1960 to four designers whose varied backgrounds reflect the multiple nationalities combined to form the new force of American fashion: young French-born Jacques Tiffeau (coats and suits), Italian-born Ferdinando Sarmi (afternoon and evening clothes), Austrian born Rudi Gernreich (bathing suits), and New Yorker Roxane of Samuel Winston (evening clothes).

The 1960s Paris and Rome designers continued to stress the abstract oval and tubular shapes, with high pointed hats, wide collars, armholes of almost cape-like depth, and skirts with fullness above a tapered hemline. The Paris versions expressed by Dior and Balenciaga counterbalanced a slender tube with a "bubble" skirt beginning below the hipbone. Rome designers such as Simonetta and Fabiani built their silhouettes on the unbroken oval shape with rounded width at the top and a very narrow hemline. Skirts in Europe were noticeably shorter than the standard American length.

Yves St. Laurent of Dior studded his Paris collection with bulky knit sleeves, knit turtleneck collars, and black leather touches which fashion reporters termed "beatnik." In the fall of 1960, 24-year-old St. Laurent, who succeeded Christian Dior at the latter's death in 1956, was drafted into the French Army, then suffered a nervous breakdown which hospitalized him. The House of Dior announced Marc Bohan, their designer in London, as St. Laurent's successor.

Day clothes remained simple and colorful. Sleeveless dresses dominated the smart collections, usually covered by jackets or coats to form a costume. Many clothes abandoned collars in favor of contrasting colored piping which also edged the jacket and pockets or cuffs.

Layered effects were important in 1960s fashion: tunic tops, tiered skirts, and hem flounces were strongly shown. Many designers used double layers of chiffon or print covered with organza to form a dress or a costume.

In the 1960s, the ever-growing American passion for travel was widely reflected in American fashion design, promotion, and consumer preference. Costumes designed to be worn on jet planes and adapt to a different climate on arrival were highlighted in several American collections. Virtually every leading designer stressed the multiple unit, quick-change costume. The swift changes of climate experienced by world travelers also affected the fabrics used in fashion. Weightless, porous fabrics and mixed fibers which rendered materials more crease-resistant and easy to care for became important considerations to high-fashion creators, as well as to those designing volume-produced clothing. Paradoxically, however, 1960 was a peak year for the use of extravagant fabrics of silk, wool, and linen. Vicuna, at $90 a yard, was used in women's tailored clothes and even in women's dressing gowns. Gold and silver brocades at $40 a yard, 24-carat gold lace, and hand-embroidered and cutwork linens from Madeira and Spain made the smart woman's party dress a thing of heirloom value. Silk tweeds and silk linen as everyday materials heightened the luxury of day and sports clothes. Fur trimming, fur linings, and fur accessories usually of precious leopard, sable, or mink added to the picture of fashion opulence. The fur turban was so popular that it was sold at low-priced hat bars. The alligator handbag costing $200 or more was cited as a status symbol among well-to-do women.

While the outline of clothes during the 1960s was in the main simple, as it was throughtout the 1960s,  the weaves and patterns of their materials were complex and highly decorative. Printed designs, traditionally for spring and summer only, were used throughout the four seasons; these were largely based on abstract art, both in their geometric forms and their subtle, muted, or strongly "offbeat" contrasts. Flower patterns were large and misty, also following the muted, darkened range for winter and the vibrant tones against white grounds in spring and summer. Liberty of London contributed an influential theme by reviving their "Art Nouveau" prints, originated in the early 1900's. These were used by the couture houses in New York and California as well as in Paris, Rome, and London, and their water lily, poppy, and tooled-leather forms were later repeated throughout the textile field.

Long-haired furs such as fox, fisher, and sable outranked mink as the elegant women's favorite furs. Fur coats followed the loose oval outline and were considered smartest when utterly simple in outline, usually deep-sleeved and collarless with the skins worked horizontally.

Hair played a strong and changing role in early 1960s fashion. The bouffant coiffure arranged in a high global shape with little or no wave was the prime favorite until the advent, in the fall, of the short boyish haircut, which seemed to be "in" by the end of the year.

The 1960s decade was a period of upheaval in the fashion world. During the sometimes chaotic fashion developments of the decade hems rose igher and dropped lower than in any other part of the Century. fashion idols shifted from a First Lady everday fashion novices like students, hippies, housewives and just about every level of the middle class. The Sixties were a decade of fashion extremes and no doubt one of the most important fashion decades of the entire 20th century.

The 1960s were a time of fast paced fashion changes. There were times when it seemed more chaotic than designed and many 1960s fashion fads did not survive into the 1970s. One change that did endure throughout the century and in to the next was in the field of fashion fabrics where every  decade since the 1950s and 1960s saw the full acceptance of man-made fibers which enabled the United States, at least, to simulate every known natural material, including leather and fur, and to come up with such previously unknown improvements as fabrics that need no ironing.

 Whether or not you were a fan of the fashion ideas of the Sixties you cannot deny they produced a major entertainment for a decade sorely in need of something to take its mind off war, assassination, racial-strife, and urban pollution.

When the 1960s began, there were few signs of fashion upheaval. Balenciaga and Givenchy, often dubbed "the Heavenly Twins," were two of the most popular during that time though there were many other fashion designers who left an impoortant indelible mark on the decade.

During the early years of the sixties fashions were generally characterized by hemlines just below the knees, a silhouette that mostly ignored the body, and a cleanly tailored look. "Accessorizing" was restrained, and the entire effect aimed at a ladylike, conservative appearance.


Jacqueline Kennedy's reign as a fashion idol signaled the first great change of the decade. TV had replaced the movies, which had previously supplied the feminine idols (with the notable exception of Audrey Hepburn) and the new First Lady came along just in time to fill the new gap. Yet by the end of the Sixties, she had lost her public power, largely through her second marriage, and fashion was taking its cues from the everyday unknown and unheralded women on the street.

But before that happened, Coco Chanel,who had returned to fashion in 1954 after retiring from an illustrous career in fashion, reached the peak of her new influence-around 1965-and a new designer in Paris had created a stir with what proved to be the only original couture look of the decade. Andre Courreges, who for years had been an assistant to Balenciaga, took the tailoring of his master and used it to create a space-age look. Working almost entirely in white, he gave his clothes the look of modern architecture, raised hemlines well above the knee, cut pants in a totally new way, and substituted slim white boots for shoes and in effect creating the ultra mod look.

But even Courreges wasn't entirely alone. Over in London, the "Mod" look had already been getting attention, especially in the clothes of a fashion designer named Mary Quant. She had ' already been selling her clothes through her own shop, Bazaar, and in the first years of the Sixties, she branched into manufacturing, and, through fashion magazine promotions, brought her short skirts, pants and boots to the United States. She was of course is credited with one of the iconic fashions of the 1960s, the miniskirt.

 Not all fashion in the early Sixties came from abroad. In the United States, Norman Norell also launched pants in a culotte style for wear as a suit in the city. The sensation was great, but brief. It was to be a few more years before pants for women became accepted, and there was lots of controversy whether classy restaurants would let a woman in wearingpants. I guess we've come a long way, bab


Pucci may, in the end, turn out to be the most important designer of them all. He was the only one to concentrate on fabric innovations. Every collection brought forth a new fabric In a stretch version, and his pioneering of stretch fabrics sparked the entire Sixties interest in fabric innovations.

As if the fashion designer scene weren't already sufficiently varied, along came the youth rebellion. It took the form of opposing any kind of designer fashion. The young went into army-navy stores for antique costumes and old military clothes (even while they participated in the anti-war movement). Barbara Streisand brought the "thrift-shop" look to national attention, and what with long hair, all kinds of odd pants, bits and pieces of anitques and a cult of the body they created a real fashion buzz.

Part of the youth rebellion was the black rebellion. Seeking a past to identify with, the black young went all the way back to Africa, and with their dashikis and jellabas, launched an "ethnic" fashion trend which has included ponchos, gypsy and peasant clothes, Indian costumes and other gear from every corner of the globe and era of the past.

As the Seventies began; in fact, the violent confusion of the times was thoroughly reflected in the fashion world. For the first time in history, hem lengths are wearable from the shortest to the longest. Legs revealed in fancy tights and hosiery, or covered up in boots. Pants got to go out for the  evening, while long coats are worn for day.

 Society, at the moment, no longer decrees what fashion women shall wear. Individualism has become paramount, as people despair of the world and turn to personal satisfactions. Many of the numberless fashions launched during the Sixties are no longer found but the trend in man made fabrics and the fashion world being empowered by the individual is a lasting tribute to 1960s fashio

Meanwhle, the sportswear trend launched by Chanel grew steadily. In this country, Rudi Gernreich, an Austrian-born designpr who had already changed the swimsuit look from a fancy, corselet look to a soft, stretchy maillot, and was already showing colorful, limp dresses with colored tights and matching flat-heeled shoes. He was to go on revolutionizing every fashion field he touched. When he won his third Coty Fashion Critics Award, which put him in the permanent Fashion Hall of Fame, he was cited as "the most influential fashion designer of the twenty years since World War II."

In the early Sixties, all the innovations were already present or being hinted at, but the general public held back. By 1963, for example, Jacqueline Kennedy had hiked her skirts only to the kneecap, and for her, pants and sportswear were things to wear only in private.

 Society women, who were beginning to be photographed in place of all those vanished movie stars, followed her lead. But they played an important role in the Sixties by becoming highly designer-conscious. It was these women who made Valentino of Rome and Yves St. Laurent of Paris the new couture kings, who brought to public attention such American names as Bill Blass, Oscar de La Renta, Geoffrey ' Beene, Chester Weinberg and Jacques Tiffeau. Other fashion designers carved out special niches for themselves, such as Emilio Pucci, whose widely printed jersey dresses became an international status symbol.


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