1960s fashion remains as vivid today as it was when it first appeared. The 1960s was the decade in which strong currents of change and mind expansion swirled through society, culture, art, and music.
Britain in the sixties was akin to a man at the end of a long hard road of mourning. The fresh scars of WW2 still plagued the psyche of the proud nation, but she was still alive.
That cagey old lion, Winston Churchill, made it halfway through this decade as if it really was just about passages, and the passing of the torch.
Like a mourning man begins to realize after a time, life goes on. The early sixties brought rumblings of another sort: youth, yearning to be heard. In 1959, the year preceding this prescient decade, these youth could not relate to the 85-year-old, wheelchair-bounded Churchill, and as a result this great man, a stalwart of the nation, was ushered out the door of public service. Some would say, unceremoniously.
But could you really blame the youth? Did they not have lives of their own? They were having their own psyches upended by those mop-haired phenoms from Liverpool known as the Beatles, whose entire band-life ranged from the start of the sixties until its end. And those straggly Rolling Stones did their raving best, too, to propel this new generation forward. The whole time was about passages. Time to move forward into the future, they said.
It’s not that these youth didn’t appreciate the likes of Churchill. Quite the contrary. Like it was aptly said down through the years and was pertinent at that time, to the victors belongs the spoils. This generation was spoiling to forge ahead with new life, new attitudes. This called for a complete breaking from the horrors of the past.
To achieve this turnaround, they needed to shed the mores of the day. They needed new hairstyles, longer and more feral, to go with their new music, and new clothes, more colour-splashed and less binding. They heard the rumblings reflected in the spirit-freeing lyrics of the Stones and Beatles, and they went along. They needed to— and they wanted to as well.
The Brits of the sixties were sharing a parallel odyssey with their brothers and sisters in America, even sent them a friendly British Invasion by way of thanks. Soon all were learning to enjoy the spoils of their allied quest together. The youth showed the way.
The 1960’s saw a complete pendulum swing in fashion from the early part of the decade to the end–from wholesome and clean cut to carefree and unconstrained. Perhaps no fashion decade saw more of an influence from music than the 60’s.
In the early 1960’s, fashion still leaned toward the modest, with hemlines at or below the knee and hats and gloves still in style. The shirtdress was an extremely popular choice from teens to homemakers, and the Chanel suit remained a hit with the upper class.
Cotton fabrics such as madras, seersucker and dotted swiss were immensely popular in the 60’s and were the materials from which shirts, suits, shorts, and dresses were made. Clothing made from bleeding madras, a type of plaid madras cloth made with handmade dyes which were not colourfast, was all the rage. Each time the piece of clothing was washed, the colours would run or “bleed” creating a different look each time.
Music in the 60’s had quite an impact on fashion. In the early 60’s, there were the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and other California surf bands with their songs about beaches, surfing, girls and hot rods. Fashion during this time tended to show a clean cut, wholesome look with button down short-sleeve shirts and slacks for the guys, and A-line or empire waist dresses for the girls. Girls were starting to prefer slacks over skirts and the Capri style of pant continued its popularity from the late 50’s, but overall, women’s fashion was still considered modest.
With the arrival of the Beatles came collarless jackets and tight-fitting jeans. However, it wasn’t long before their psychedelic phase ushered in more Indian influences such as the Nehru jacket and bell-bottomed pants. Experimentation with drugs, especially psychedelic drugs, seemed to heavily influence fashion as more “hippie” styles emerged such as suede-fringed vests, tie-dyed t-shirts and bell-bottom jeans.
By the end of the decade, America was in full psychedelic mode and fashion became synonymous with the music. The unconstrained attitude of the young people saw skirt hems rise well above the knee in the mini-skirt, and necklines drop with the halter tops. Dresses were free flowing and colourful, with tie-dye designs as well as paisley and flower prints.
The Swinging Sixties shook up more than just the political landscape of the United Kingdom, it mobilized a generation of youth whose pursuits created a platform of change that shaped the rest of the century. Teens and young adults looked to actors and musicians to define their political ideas as well as their style, altering their tresses to emulate the changing tides of opinion.
In the early 60’s, the United States’ First Lady Jackie Kennedy took hair to new heights by popularizing the bouffant; a curled and highly teased hairstyle. The original bouffant became more complex by the mid 60’s, as hairstyles for women climbed even higher, culminating into the classic beehive, a hairstyle that required a revolutionary new product known as hairspray, and sometimes a hair piece dyed to match the wearer’s hair.
Men in the early 60’s began to grow their crew cuts out, and many created a variation of the female bouffant themselves, with hair combed back and to the side, styled with a wave.
Support for feminism, civil rights, and social change gathered momentum as the 60’s wore on. Protests against the Vietnam War lead to an emphasis on peace and equality, causing the strings of traditional, conservative fashion to slowly unravel. In the latter part of the 1960’s, many women joined the workforce, abandoning the time-consuming beehive for softer, easier hairstyles, such as the flip hairdo.
As women began to see themselves as equals in society, some adopted short, cropped cuts traditionally worn by men, putting a feminine spin on modern masculinity. British supermodel Twiggy donned one of these cropped, angular cuts, moving hairstyles away from the curls craze to straighter, sleeker hair.
Following the lead of popular singer Cher, some women began to grow their hair out, opting for long tresses that were either ironed straight, or loose and wavy, played up by headbands and barrettes. Influenced by the Beatles’ mop tops, young men grew out their hair into shaggy dog, choosing a messy, less styled look that represented their rebellion against the rigidity of the previous decades.
As the 1960s came to an end in the UK, hairstyles for men and women alike was moving towards the long and free flowing hippie hair that characterized the 1970s.
The 1960’s were a time of change, for throwing out the past and creating a bold new future. The music became progressively more psychedelic, societal norms turned upside down, and fashion was no exception with bold new colours and shapes replacing those of earlier eras.
The first part of the decade was characterized by ladylike fashions with clean shapes and bright colours a la Jackie O’s iconic fashion. As the decade continued, the mod look with its short hemlines and pop art influenced patterns became widely popular. Britain, and most especially London, was the unarguable leader of the 1960s fashion revolution.
If there is a quintessential 1960’s look, it might possibly be Mary Quant and the daring miniskirt which revolutionized fashion. Quant popularized the look by hiking the hemlines up 6-7 inches and pairing them with simple accessories that only emphasized their youthful attitude. Quant’s design became known as the Chelsea Look and was widely worn by “it” girls throughout Britain and eventually all over the world.
The popularity of miniskirts meant that women needed leg wear that would help cover their legs as well as keep them warm. Pantyhose were invented in the 1960’s and quickly took the place of stockings as the leg wear of choice for fashionable women across the globe.
Mod often paired pop art colours and patterns with simple shift dresses or pinafores to make a new statement. They often chose go-go boots in vinyl and other modern materials to accompany their short hemlines. Eventually, boots went above the knee and hemlines rose even higher. The British Invasion was twofold, taking the world by storm via their music and fashion.
By the late 1960s fashion trends changed again towards a more natural “hippy” look. The women’s liberation movement took flight and encouraged the burning of bras and girdles which seemed to represent women’s previous oppression. Peasant skirts, granny dresses, love beads, halter tops, and blue jeans became de rigueur for college students as well as burgeoning fashionistas. For the first time in fashion history, women began to wear blue jeans and trousers on a regular basis.
The music scene of the sixties was a time of dramatic changes, reflecting the changes taking place in society at large, as well as being an instigator of some of those changes, and the epicentre of the beginning of the music that defines the sixties was Britain. Before the Beatles, the nascent British music scene was percolating in London and the North, working class youth and art school dropouts in the early sixties were engaging in factions of Mods and Rockers, rioting over rival stylistic choices.
Leaders of the Mod music scene who went on to become major internationally known acts were bands like The Who and The Kinks, and the early Rolling Stones, who were fashion icons of that scene. The music was an outgrowth of the skiffle band scene of the Fifties, but American R & B was an enormous influence, making it unique and distinct from its antecedents.
The 1960s fashion of the Mod scene was all about pegged pants, Chelsea boots with pointed toes and Cuban heels, tight suits and well-kept bowl haircuts, shorter dresses and hair for woman, and designers such as Mary Quant were big.
Favoured transportation were highly customized Italian scooters, laden with lights and mirrors. It was a more conservative look when compared to the Rockers, who were emulating American bikers, influenced by icons like Marlon Brando and James Dean. The Teddy Boys, also known as Edwardian’s, wearing velvet waistcoats and brothel creepers, were also part of the Rocker side of things. American Rock & Roll and R & B, and big motorcycles, were preferred by Rockers and Teds.
By 1964, The Beatles were dominating music internationally, and spawned imitators by the dozens, as well as influencing already established artists. At first fairly conventional British pop music, The Beatles became increasingly more conceptual and controversial as the decade wore on, with recordings like the White Album and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band intended to be received as a whole, rather than a vehicle for hit singles. This was new to pop music, and influential on British and American artists alike.
Even the Rolling Stones competed in this field with the album Their Satanic Majesties Request, to mixed critical reception. There was increasingly more drug use associated with the already notorious music business, again reflecting and influencing the changes in social mores everywhere, as well as exploration of spirituality taking place, both of which influenced popular music. British artists were in particular fascinated with sects of Hinduism, and many made pilgrimages to meet with various spiritual leaders, with very mixed outcomes, though the inclusion of a more international array of instruments, styles, and musicians had a generally positive outcome in the longer term.
While many people may remember the 1960’s as a time when hardly anyone was wearing shoes at all, the truth is the world of shoes changed dramatically during this revolutionary period in history. Take a short journey with me through the evolution of shoes.
In the first few years of the 60’s, modesty was queen. Jackie Kennedy was the first lady and she wore tasteful Chanel suits with sophisticated pumps or flats to match. Society as a whole followed this fashion example, with simple designs gracing the feet of men and women of all ages.
Pop music began to infuse the culture in the early 60’s, with the Beatles blowing up the charts and turning American youths’ eyes toward the UK music and fashion scene.
The civil rights movement and general social unrest did a lot to change fashion in mid-1960. People began to revolt against the status quo in everything from career choices to fashion statements. Footwear began to take on an adventurous flair, with slingback heels and shoes made out of outlandish materials (can anyone say alligator skin?!).
In 1966, Nancy Sinatra came out with the popular music anthem, “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” The song rose to the top of the charts and people everywhere began to sport the go-go boots that Sinatra made so popular.
By the final years of the 1960’s, the hippy movement was in full swing. Musical geniuses like The Doors, Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin (along with copious amounts of narcotics) had America’s youth dancing their way into a full-blown revolution against societal norms.
Footwear became “anything goes”, with the modest pumps of the early 60’s replaced with anything from flip-flops to shoes made of organic materials. The styles were outlandish and psychedelic, with wild patterns and unusual heel heights, such as platforms.
In addition, the 1969 landing on the moon captured enormous media attention, as well as the hearts and imaginations of American citizens. Space-influenced shoes therefore became popular, comprised of metallic materials and the like.
The 1960s were a decade of unmatched change, upheaval and creative expression. Simply looking at the feet of the public during this time can give you good feel for the era and all that occurred in music, society and fashion.
The 1960s was a time of turbulence, change and excitement, especially for the youth culture. A generation came of age transforming society and culture with their music, political views and desire for change. Even the cars of the time reflected the decade, which started with the day-glow optimism of youthful excitement and ended with a psychedelic storm of a counterculture unlike anything the world had previously witnessed.
During the early part of the decade, autos like the Renault Dauphine were simple and compact. With Jukebox Jury and a booming economy, teens clamoured to buy the newest music. With Cliff Richard and the Shadows playing in the background, the peppy, convertible Facel Vega Facellia mirrored the optimism of the early 1960s. For friends driving to the cinema to see Psycho or hitting the record store for the newest Beatles’ release, cars echoed the simple pleasures of the earlier part of the decade.
By the mid-1960s, mods were on the scene decked out in Levi’s and Doc Martens, listening to the Who’s “The Kids are Alright” and “My Generation.” Cars, like the Buick Electra, became cruising machines. The wildly cool Morris Minor 1000 was the kind of ride that got people noticed, and the Kink’s single, “You Really Got Me,” got young people dancing. Society was changing and people sought more opportunities for social mobility. Women were gaining equality, and for the first time, youth culture began to make its own mark.
As the decade wore on, a new counterculture began to emerge. The rugged, wide Chevrolet Impala was full of muscle, and plenty of youth blasted Hendrix on the speakers as they transformed the society around them. As a reaction against the social norms of the time, young people questioned the world around them. Gone were the days of compliant youth, following societal expectation without question.
A fear of nuclear destruction led to political protests and social upheaval. On the road, the Austin Gypsy was a hefty vehicle, perfect carrying large groups of students and hippies around the countryside, looking for meaning, stimulation, peace and love. In 1969, the “Giant Killer,” the sleek Mini Cooper was released. With miniskirts and mini cars, the decade came to end, but the spirit of the times and the impact of a generation live on.
The 1960’s ushered in a remarkable period of change that affected every aspect of society, especially in culture, music, and fashion. It was the atmosphere and music that influenced the change in fashion. Arguably, no other decade experienced as much change.
The period began innocently enough but by the end of the decade, things were drastically different. The hippie movement, a subculture that rebelled against authority and the order of society, initiated the change; this style dominated the decade. Their music and clothing reflected their philosophy of change.
Initially, reflecting their rejection of the establishment, the fashion styles became much more casual. New uses from denim, cotton, and eco styles permeated their wardrobes.
Bell bottom pants and denim jeans that were decorated with patterned beads or flowers became their clothing standard. Hip hugging styles with wide, leather belts worn by both men and women became part of their nonconformist fashion trend which made it quite easy to distinguish.
Skirts styles were long and flowing, sometimes in tiers, and patched with brightly coloured material.
Colourful tees in floral prints or tie-dyed styles were popular; the more colourful and flamboyant, the better. Women wore halter tops while the men sported leather vests.
Finishing off the look were leather sandals and colourful headbands worn, many times, with a large flower. Accessories were important to complete the look. Large, baggy purses along with chains and beads completed the outfit along with the necessary peace symbol locket.
The change in clothing trends of the decade was influenced strongly by the music of the era. While there were four different styles of music that dominated the early part of the sixties, rockabilly (Elvis ), DooWop, California surfing, and Motown, it was the emergence of the British groups that changed rock and roll to rock.
The music evolved and became rougher and more violent aimed at changing the establishment and the clothing trends closely followed. Psychedelic music, which tried to replicate psychedelic drug experiences, became popular with songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles or “White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane. Clothing styles soon followed with bright, bold, colourful psychedelic shirts.
The sixties were a time of change in the atmosphere, the music, and the clothing.
1960s Style Icons
The fashion industry of the early 1960s was predominantly a hold-over from the late 1950s. Cold War jitters and a stable British economy – the Pound was exchanging at 2.75 US dollars from 1950 to 1970 – encouraged the maintenance of the status quo. The icons with the most influence on fashion were high-profile personalities: Bridget Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy. Most were US film icons. The UK wasn’t silent, they simply weren’t heard on a world-wide scale.
Until 1963. That’s the year Mary Quant brand was established in the US. Fuelled by the massive explosion in the population of young people born at the leading edge of the Baby Boom just reaching their teens, they had “Daddy’s money,” disposable income. TV became available in colour. Dr. Who premièred in the UK on the same day President Kennedy was assassinated. The world was ready for “something new,” and that something was Mary Quant’s brainchild, the mini skirt.
In the US, well-heeled boarding schoolgirls went to London. Exchanging the ubiquitous pleated plaid kilts – the de facto uniform – for “the Chelsea Look” proved British fashion wasn’t just a raging fad; it was a wild-fire.
When the lads from Liverpool made their presence known on the Ed Sullivan Show, they changed men’s hair styles, their influence still apparent today. And the US woke up. England – it took a while, but they got used to calling it the UK after a while – was cool. It was hot, happening, and not merely tragically hip.
The US fashion landscape changed with “The British Invasion.” Unlike the last attempt in 1814, this one was a total and complete victory. Young UK pop music stars replaced screen stars as the primary influence in fashion for young people. The older generation had their own fashion icons, but they tended to lag the leading edge of the wave.
For the most part, the Vietnam War had no significant impact on the UK. However, the war did serve to drive the market and desirability of fashion, and the UK was quick on the uptake. Designers flourished, and through the 1970s, the more outrageous, the better. Not even the anti-establishment, anti-war counterculture was immune from British fashion trends.
Bra-burning, the advancement of Civil Rights in the US, and protests – whether peaceful or violent – made fertile ground for UK fashion designers, pop star influences, and models the world over. But the best barometer of the era to measure the UK impact on fashion was the US.
The 1960s were a time of social upheaval and revolution, and the clothing of the era reflected this turbulence. Inspired by musical groups like the Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and Rolling Stones, fashion catered to the young.
The Young Modernists, or the Mods of the early 60’s, dressed in sleek styles like tailored suits, slim trousers and anoraks. They wore their hair in dandified mop tops, with long sideburns. Girls wore their hair and hemlines short and opted for boxy shift dresses and go-go boots depicted in many films, as well as the A-line dresses and pill box hats favoured by Jackie Kennedy and Jean Shrimpton.
Audrey Hepburn popularized the skinny jean, while Twiggy was an icon with her boyish bob, false eyelashes and iridescent eye shadow. Many girls aspired to have her slim shape, often going to the great length of starving themselves in order to acquire it. They also found more ways to show off their figures. The bikini came into fashion after the famous movie the Beach Party, starring Franky Avalon. Both Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton developed elite status as supermodels, the first of their kind.
As the decade continued and the Hippie style came into being, clothing became even looser, hair for both sexes became longer and more flowing, reflecting a desire for freedom of movement as well as freedom of expression. As the feminist movement progressed many women even went bra-less in order to make a statement.
Unlike the more wholesome image of young people in the 50’s, the Mods and Hippies of the 60’s wanted to overturn outdated modes of behaviour, and to experience life to the fullest, without guilt. The music of the Beatles and Rolling Stones celebrated sex and their music lyrics tended to be more explicit than their 50’s forebears, who used euphemisms and flowery phrases.
Psychedelic colours reflected the effects of the hallucinogenic drugs of the time, like LSD, marijuana and cocaine. The daisy became a symbol of peace and love, and people wore flowers in their hair. By the end of the 60’s the term “flower children” was used to describe the peace-loving, free spirited young people who yearned for a utopic society based on mutual love.