1960 Retro Fashion History
At the beginning of the retro 1960s, the American woman was dressing in the manner of the 1930's. Strict, well-tailored suits were de rigueur for day wear. For evening, she wore either the same strictly cut suits in de luxe fabrics or slinky, bias-cut crepes. . Her hair and her make-up were fairly natural. Hair was worn shoulder-length and casually turned under by day, often wrapped up high at night. 1960s make-up was unobtrusively becoming, with more and more emphasis on eyes.
By the end of 1960, the well-tailored, well-behaved young woman just described had been replaced by the flapper of the Twenties her hair was as short as it could be without being shingled (and some top models even went in for shingling), her make-up (white face, charcoal-blackened eye-lids, and red, red lips) looked more like that of pantomimist Marcel Marceau than that of a healthy young woman. Her clothes had the spineless, waist-less look that years earlier had become known as the debutante slouch only this time the look was built into the clothes. This represented 1960 fashion at its most extreme, however, and there were many concessions to femininity before one reached this point. There they were, however the unshaped day dresses, the beaded evening tubes, and the garish make-up that seemed to set the clock back 40 years.
Strict tailoring, always loved by American women, came into its own at the beginning of the year. No designer worth his salt could resist the temptation to pare a little off the suit, coat, or dress he was working on. Ben Zuckerman, always a high priest in the fashion world, turned out as handsome a crop of suits, coats, dresses, and even evening costumes as could be found on the American scene. All were tailored within an inch of their lives, yet displayed the inimitable softness that lesser designers envied and women coveted. One of his best suits, a brown-and-beige tweed, had the classic tailored elegance of a man's fine suit: narrow, flat collar, sleeves set high on the shoulder, jacket cut with very little emphasis on the body beneath it. The skirt was short, slim, and somehow feminine.
Shoes for this tailored 1960 daytime dressing were lower-heeled, often oval, instead of pointed, at the toe. Shiny, crushed glace kid gloves were part of this look, as well as feminized bowlers or soft slouch hats. Often a fur collar softened an otherwise man-tailored costume. In a gray-flannel suit, for example, where the jacket was cut like a man's smoking jacket and the skirt knifed into pleats, the soft touch was a collar of fur hair seal instead of a velvet collar. The same theme was repeated on other suits but with different furs: nutria, red fox, and opossum were great favorites. These were the more conservatively cut suits, however. Actually, the most fashionable suits were those that were the most strictly tailored; they deviated not a jot from their line, bearing neither trimming nor added softness. Characteristic was a mustard-and-white herringbone tweed, double-breasted and jacketed down to the middle of the hips (no waist indication here), with lapels and pockets slightly larger than life to carry so much jacket so far. It, too, was by the ubiquitous Ben Zuckerman.
In all this rash of tailoring, many coats seemed vastly less mannish than the suits they covered, i.e. Zuckerman's beautiful, spare capes, as narrow as they could be without impeding the wearer's pace. For all their strict simplicity, they were faintly nostalgic and definitely romantic. One of the best of these, in taupe wool, had a small, rolled, black Persian-lamb collar and was worn with a Cossack hat of the same fur. Another, by Trigere, resembled Superman's cape of green tweed, it had wings instead of sleeves, the wings gently folding in toward the hem.
Of the coats, in 1960, that were genuine coats, most were influenced by the trench coat and, for daytime, looked their best in fairly bold tweeds or plaids. Most coats were strictly belted in glossy leather at the waist, or at least sashed, and many were double-breasted. Some had no buttons at all but wrapped around the wearer, with the sash pulled tight and then knotted.
Running counter to all this tailoring was another current, also from the Thirties simple, untrimmed dresses, often cut on the bias, to snuggle under one of the tailored coats or a long-haired, simply cut fur coat. Donald Brooks of Townley, long an exponent of on-the-bias cutting, did some of the best of these dresses for daytime and evening. One, in off-white jersey, had a high, cowl neckline, short sleeves, and a swaying skirt cut on the bias so that it moved as the wearer moved. Another, in mauve jersey, draped from a high yoke down to the waist and around to the back, had a simple gathered skirt. Wide belts marked the waists on both of these.
Brooks's evening clothes were the softest, most feminine of the season. His love of slim fullness and subtle allure showed up best in his black silk-crepe dresses; one had a back cut down to the waist, a high, halter neck, a bias-cut, flowing skirt. Other designers relied on fabric for elegance and kept on cutting like tailors; typical was a Murray Nieman evening suit, the jacket of gold lame, the strict, floor-length skirt of black velvet, and the shirt underneath of white satin. A theater suit by John Moore of Talmack was cut exactly like his daytime suits, with a cardigan jacket, a tight, slim skirt, and an unadorned overblouse the only difference was the fabric, which was white silk matelasse. Another theater or cocktail suit, cut just as strictly by Ben Zuckerman, consisted of a gold brocade cardigan jacket, a camisole top, and a slim skirt. Inside, one finally found softness a sable jacket lining.
Also from the Thirties was one of the year's most popular fashions, the slinky beaded dress cut as simply as a slip but glittering for all its worth (and its worth rose with each bead). Most of these appeared in white, silver, or gold and only at top-level prices, but, by fall, they had burgeoned into the sine qua non for late-day wear.
The news from Paris bore out the American collections with one exception Yves St. Laurent's tunic. For day, he showed it in gray flannel, long-sleeved and muffled under an Edwardian dog collar of pearls. He showed it in a variety of luscious stuffs for evening, including one beaded silvery-white tunic, sleeveless but also muffled chin-high with pearls. There was some intramural altercation as to hem lines, but most French designers agreed on two inches below the knee, and American designers concurred.
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