The fashion of the Sixties

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

 In the 50s, fashion was dominated by the tastes of the wealthy, mature elite, but by the early 60s, young peoples incomes were at its highest since the end of WW2. This increased economic power fuelled a new sense of identity and the need to express it. The fashion industry responded by designing for young people in a way that no longer simply copied the styles of the older generation.

The Beatniks and Mods (short for modernists) were very influential in the early 60s. A great reference for this is the Beatles film 'A Hard Days Night'.


Mods were as committed to European-style clothes (characterised by high-impact colour and line) as they were to American soul and R&B music. They helped focus the tastes of young people everywhere and inspired the looks of bands such as The Who and The Beatles. Mod fashion was identified by mini-skirts, jumpers, shift dresses, patent rain trenches, patent gogo boots, and tights. 


In the post-war years, novelist Jack Kerouac coined the term "beat generation" to describe a group of creative, intellectual, anti-conformists. Then in 1958, an American news columnist described the individuals within this generation as 'Beatniks'. Beatniks emphasized the expression of freedom and creativity in their work and this was reflected in how they dressed. Their dark, form-fitting fashion was simplistic yet rebellious, and that was exactly its appeal.

The rise of the boutique

Boutiques were small, self-service shops set up in London (centred on Kings Road and Carnaby Street) by designers who aspired to offer affordable fashions to ordinary young people. They offered a very different experience to the formal ‘outfitters’ and old-style department stores that came before. Being 'on-the-ground', enabled designers to get to know their customers and cater to their needs quickly. Designers Mary Quant and John Stephen were pioneers of this new form of retail, both opening their stores in the mid-50s. They both stocked hugely influential fashions that initially nodded to the mod aesthetic of bright, tailored minimalism.

The mini-skirt

One of the major breakthroughs of the 1960s was the creation of the birth control pill, allowing women to explore and indulge in their sexuality. This was embodied through the mini skirt, popularised by Mary Quant, eventually becoming the most iconic look of the decade as young women enjoyed their newfound freedom.

Space age

As the decade continued, dress codes became more and more relaxed, demonstrated through looser tailoring and the decline in accessories such as gloves and hats, even Jackie Kennedy began to favour shorter skirts. High-end fashion also embraced the new wave of informality. André Courrèges began releasing his angular mini-dresses and trouser suits, often produced in what became known as a ‘Space Age’ colour palette of white and silver, paired with astronaut style accessories such as flat boots, goggles and helmets.

Eastern influence

By the late 1960s, style had become quite theatrical. Fashion sanctioned longer hair for both men and women, as well as a flared outline for trousers. Men enjoyed the newly granted freedom to be flamboyant, wearing suits accessorised with bright, bold shirts and high-heeled boots, and, increasingly, as clothes became more unisex, shopped in the same boutiques as women. With the war in Vietnam and student uprisings in France, opinion-formers began to disapprove of Pop's materialistic sheen. People moved towards Eastern culture for inspiration. The ideas and mix-and-match aesthetic of California's hippy movement crossed the Atlantic, giving people free rein to 'live different', and to sport clothing from a range of non-Western cultures. Fashion leaders began to sport long, loose and layered outfits, inspired by second-hand, or 'vintage' styles, often from the late nineteenth century and the 1930s. London's Kensington Market became a mecca for young people wanting to create their own alternative look, selling a huge amount of colourful garments, mostly sourced from India. 

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