During 1961, women's fashions continued in the relaxed outline of the previous year, but the transition toward a more fitted look was clearly indicated. Bias cut and diagonal drapery replaced the straight and tubular or oval silhouettes, bringing the natural figure into focus while retaining a feeling of looseness. The shoulder line remained basically natural, without padding, but the top of the shoulder was less apt to curve downward. An effect of width was achieved on some coats and suits by very low-placed sleeves which sometimes seemed to extend from a cape.
The fashionable "posture" was tall and willowy. Gentle gathers or bias flares at the front of suits and dresses, often with hidden side pockets (like a man's trouser pockets), enhanced the casual "slouch" effect. The long straight fall of soft material arranged in folds, pleats, or panels gave both cling and movement to afternoon and evening clothes. Full skirts were often formed of graceful bias godets with a border of decoration at the hem to make them stand out. The bouncy, petticoated, full skirts were worn only by the very young.
The unquestioned fashion influence of the year was the wife of the new president of the United States, Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Her bouffant hairdo, slender and loosely modeled sleeveless dresses, and youthful simplicity became the fashion ideal of millions. Mrs. Kennedy was the inspiration for many designers, including Oleg Cassini, whom she selected to create her official wardrobe.
The Over-all Fashion Picture. Spring and summer fashions emphasized lithe slenderness, mobile cuts, elongated bodices, and bared throats and arms. Waistlines were set low, left unbelted in princess lines, or loosely marked by looped sashes of leather or fabric. The shoulder line was lifted and firmed, with the deep armhole and the long, rounded back remaining in fashion. Skirts were the shortest they had been in years. Arms and necks were bared to look longer and younger. Bosom, waist, and hips were outlined beneath a lightly shaped silhouette which seemed to have an air envelope between the body and the garment.
By autumn, however, the waistline and hipline areas began to be redefined. Bloused tops were much more shallow. Princess dresses and coats were a great deal more shaped at the front, and loose overblouses were belted or sashed. Some of the avant-garde designers revived the high Empire bosom line marked by a fabric band or sash. The Pauline Trigere collection named this the "high-pitched" silhouette. The armhole grew smaller, which in turn gave the bosom area more definition. Bias-cut clothes clung much closer to the figure. Diagonally drawn, shallow drapery was used to mold the torso. Many draped evening dresses were drawn upward at one shoulder with the other shoulder bared.
As the torso became more fitted, the hemline dropped a little and took on more flare. Cone-shaped or bell skirts were set over interfacing to give a smooth, firm silhouette, above which was placed an overblouse or jacket. Many pleated skirts were shown beneath hipline jackets or long overblouses. Slender-looking skirts spread into walking width by means of deep, unpressed panels at front or sides. Wide flounces or borders of feathers or flowers appeared at the hemline of short evening dresses.
Suits and Suit-dresses. The simply cut suit with a buttoned jacket and easy skirt and the pastel-tinted but ultra tailored type with the open jacket and colorful overblouse were originated by Gabrielle Chanel. These basic styles were adapted by many designers in various ways and have long been a pivotal element in the well-dressed woman's wardrobe. In general, suit fabrics were textured and extremely colorful, with particular stress put on shades of red and brown. Suits of opulent or metallic fabric, either with a blouse or a simple 'gin dress beneath a short semifitted jacket, were the fashionable "uniform" for restaurant dining and the theater. The winter version of this costume was frequently trimmed, and sometimes lined, with mink or sable and worn with a small fur hat to match.
The "Snob Dress." The dress widely known as the "little nothing," or "snob dress," was perhaps the most typical look of 1961. Unlike the "little black dress" of the past, the "snob dress" was almost always in color and invariably in expensive or expensive-looking material. It was slim and casual in cut, usually sleeveless, with a high neckline and a loose or low-placed waistline. It was short, and its entire effect was that of offhand elegance as a background for jewels and/or furs. Many of these dresses became important evening dresses when ablaze of extravagant beading or sequins was added to their simple shape.
Knitwear. The easygoing air of fashion, intermingled with aophistication and rich detail, was also reflected in the introduction of knitted and leather clothes for city and evening wear. Designers of the haute couture in France, Italy, and America made some of their most elegant creations of knitted wool, silk, or metal threads. Knitted coats assumed soigne and citified outlines, and sweaters were shown in place of blouses with suits of the dressmaker variety. Knitted one-piece or very brief bikini bathing suits dominated the swim-wear field.
Evening Dress. The year 1961 saw the return of long evening dresses. These were more often slender than bouffant and frequently covered-up rather than decollete. Strapless dresses were worn with matching stoles or jackets. The dress cut in one long unbroken sweep from neckline to floor was considered very chic. It was molded to the figure more by bias handling of supple material than by the shaping of seams. Evening colors included navy blue and gray, new background shades which some designers considered as dramatic as black. Gold and silver brocades, fuchsia, orange, pink, a variety of blue and brown, or bronze used with pastels were typical of the year. There were also. many arresting combinations of black and white for evening wear. Patterned fabrics, from flowers to metallic herringbones and plaids, and sumptuous gold designs on chiffon contributed to the general feeling of richness and grandeur. There were many fur-trimmed evening dresses, including some trailing sable borders at the hem.
Outstanding Trends and Innovations. The costume look, planned from head to toe, was emphasized by designers in all fashion capitals. American creators Adele Simpson and Pauline Trigere introduced capsule wardrobes for jet travel with interchangeable parts designed to function perfectly in any climate and at any hour. These had as many as six separate matching parts: a coat which could also be worn as a coat-dress, a slip dress for evening with an over-bodice which converted it into a day dress, and an extra blouse and skirt or culottes to be worn with the coat.
The divided skirt, or culotte, was strong in spring and summer fashion, ranging from slim and boyish pant-skirts to ballooning harem trousers for evening. Several designers showed ball dresses with skirts invisibly cut like very wide, flaring trousers. By autumn, however, the trend had faded away except in at-home and active sports clothes.
The widespread interest in abstract and expressionistic art and also the nostalgic popularity of early films being revived on television were clearly reflected in fashion. The seductive bias cut of 1961 could be traced back to the fashions of the 1930's and 1940's, worn by such film stars as Carole Lombard, Marlene Dietrich, and Joan Crawford, as could the revival of their glamorous furbelows: ostrich feathers, blonde fox trimmings, daringly slinky black or sequin evening gowns, long glittering earrings, and deep cloche hats. Coats of pale fluffy furs and the siren furs, leopard and sable, also returned to fashion.
The smoothly modeled and odd geometric forms of modern sculpture were translated into fashion by interesting new ways of cutting clothes and by adding unexpected points or curves. Among the innovations in cut in 1961 were stiffened pyramid and obelisk silhouettes; oblique hemlines; upshooting points at the neck; skirts formed by the use of pleats and folds to create abstract patterns against the figure; and huge flat panels, their side closings accented with huge poster-size buttons.
1950s & 1960s