1960 Fashion


At the dawning of fashion in 1960 popular clothing  was essentially unchanged from the 1950s. Not until the decade was well under way did one find distinctive differences manifesting themselves

Here is a sample of a dress offered to the masses by the large mailorder companies of Sears and Wards. The Fluid Silhouette stars for evening in the airiest and most feminine of fabrics, nylon chiffon. Softly draped bodice with billowy skirt worn over a bare-top, fully lined sheath which is, in fact, another dress. Back decolletage and zipper. French-contoured belt.


The Shape: Long and Mobile comes from Paris bearing those unmistakable couturier touches, intricate cut and superb detailing. Smooth-fitting, overblouse and box-pleated skirt copied in a textured rayon and silk. Fully lined overblouse zips in back

The historic record may classify 1960 as the most fashion conscious on both sides of the Atlantic. This would surpass its rivals of the trendy 1890s Edwardian and 1920s Flapper styles. Those two decades could not claim space in presidential election headlines as happened in 1960. Among headlines discussing/reporting United States presidential candidates, fashion was also a topic worthy of print. Controversy was fueled over the candidate’s wives’ wardrobes; including their taste, source; expenditures, and their rating among the international ‘best dressed.’

 Prior to 1960 there had not been clearly established independent viewpoints were established among the recognized fashion capitols (Paris, Rome, and New York City) of the world. Although France and Italy continued to wield the greatest influence, the United States of America now had a well recognized group of designers who were starting to be noticed for their original collections and that their designs were popular enough to be copied for production for ready to wear lines in main stream stores and catalogues. Until then, European centers were favored for popular priced American fashion industry as the designs were copied line for line in the United States, and the developing European ready to wear designs.

 New York and California led the way in sweeping 1960 design changes for the United States and the world’s 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. Mannequins with the darkened eyelids, whitened make-up, and cropped hair of the 1920s wore them. 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 1930s.

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).

In 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 de-signers 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.

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

Two main changes in coat fashions marked the year. An emphasis on shorter coats and a re-emphasis on sweepingly full coat shapes. On both sides of the Atlantic, all uncertainty disappeared as the public readily accepted the realized shaping and lowered waistline. Collections in both Europe and America concentrated on low-waisted silhouettes and also reintroduced the princess shape and the narrow tubular or oval outline with little or no waistline indentation. Even the most cautious woman seemed willing to accept the overblouse (comfortable to wear as well as fashionable) as a becoming change from the fitted bodice and constricting belted waist.

Other new style presented by 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.’

Day clothes remained simple and colorful. Sleeveless dresses dominated the ‘smart’ collections, usually layered by jackets or coats to form a costume. Many clothes abandoned collars in favor of contrasting colored piping, which was mirrored as edging on the jacket pockets and cuffs. Layered effects were important in fashion – popular pieces included tunic tops, tiered skirts, and hem flounces. Many designers used double layers of chiffon or print covered with organza to form a dress or a costume.

The growing American passion for travel was widely reflected in their fashion design, promotion, and consumer preference. Costumes designed to be worn on jet planes and adapt to a different climate upon 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 design. Weightless, porous fabrics and mixed fibers which rendered materials more crease resistant and easy to care for became important considerations to not only high fashion designers, but those designing for the volume produced clothing market. Paradoxically, 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 dressing gowns. Gold and silver brocades at $40 per yard, 24 carat gold lace and had embroidered and cut-work inserts from Madeira and Spain made the smart woman’ 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 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. Long haired furs such as fox, fisher and sable outranked mink as the elegant women’s favorite. 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.

Summing up the 1960 style of fashions describes the outline of the clothes in the main to be simple; the weaves and patterns of their materials, however was complex and high decorative. Printed designs, traditionally for Spring and Summer only, were used throughout the four seasons. These designs were largely based on abstract art, both in geometric forms and subtle, muted or strongly ‘offbeat’ contrasts. Flower patterns were large and misty, but 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 1900s.  These were used by the couture houses in New York and California as well as in Paris, Rome and London, and their waterlily, poppy and tooled leather forms were later repeated throughout the textile field.

Lastly, hair styles must not be separated from the fashion world. Styles changed radically from the beginning of 1960 with favored bouffant coiffures arranged in a high global shape with little or no wave until the Autumn’s debut of the short boyish haircut which was the ‘in’ thing by the year’s close.

*Autumn 1960, a 24 year old St. Laurent, who had succeeded Christian Dior at the latter’s death in 1956, was drafted into the French Army. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. The House of Dior announced Marc Bohan, their London designer, as St. Laurent’s successor.

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How hemlines changed and the maxi vs the mini