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Fashion in the 1960s - Introduction

Clothing styles have always mirrored the prevailing attitudes of the times and this is certainly true of fashion in the 1960s. The decade was marked by sweeping social change and the domination of youth culture - baby boomers were growing up and demanded their own fashion style.

Designers responded with a much more liberal, daring approach to fashion, boasting colourful fabrics and bold designs.

The 1960s saw fashion reject the conventions and niceties of previous eras. Clothing broke with social traditions that dictated what could be worn when and by whom. In the past, attire had been divided in to 'formal' and 'casual' wear, and distinct separations were made between the styles of clothing worn by men and women. The 1960s, however, saw the emergence of unisex clothing such as denim jeans, which could be worn by both sexes.

1960s Mod fashion

Mod, short for 'modern', refers to a youth lifestyle that emerged from London during the 1960s, and quickly spread to America, Europe and Australia. Centred around London's thriving pop music, art and fashion scene, the mod lifestyle focused on innovation and the 'new'.

Mod fashion was slim fitting and featured bold geometric shapes. Colour was also a key concern - the conservative greys, browns and pastels of the 1950s were replaced by bright, wild hues. In contrast to fashion trends of the past, these garments were mass-produced and affordable.

Rising hemlines and the mini-skirt

The 1960s saw the appearance of the mini-skirt. Up until that time, skirts and dresses in Australia finished sensibly at the knee. New soaring hemlines created huge controversy when they first appeared, exposing centimetres of thigh never before seen in public.

At the Melbourne Cup in 1965, English model Jean Shrimpton created controversy by wearing a synthetic white shift dress with a hem high above her knees. She did not wear stockings, gloves or a hat. Shrimpton's outfit was considered scandalous, and made headlines around the world. By the end of the decade, however, shift dresses and mini-skirts had become widely accepted.

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Mini-skirts represent more than just a fashion landmark of the decade - they have become an icon of the general culture of rebellion that characterised the 1960s. Young people were rejecting the social standards of the past and so too was their fashion. Many devotees of the feminist movement of the 1960s also saw the mini-skirt as a claim to the right of women to proudly display their bodies as they wished.

1960s Fashion icons

Throughout the 1960s, a number of famous people sported distinct fashion styles that were copied all over the world.

British teenage supermodel Leslie Hornby, also known as Twiggy due to her stick-thin figure, was a fashion idol to young girls everywhere. Her short, boyish haircut and leggy, waif-like frame graced the covers of every major fashion magazine.

While 1960s fashion was largely youth-driven, fashion icons also dictated the style of older women. Throughout her career, movie star Audrey Hepburn wore simple, flat shoes, three-quarter length pants, and plain black shift dresses. Her clothing style and her beehive hairdo, would be copied by millions of women worldwide.

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Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of US President John F. Kennedy, became widely known for her beauty, grace and elegant style of dress. Her many public appearances popularised pearl necklaces, the pillbox hat (a small hat with a flat top and straight sides) and simple, big-buttoned suits.

1960s 'Hippie' fashion

Towards the end of the 1960s, the hippie movement had arrived in Australia. Many young people had become dissatisfied with the prevailing mainstream social values, considering them to be shallow and materialistic. Others strongly opposed Australian involvement in the Vietnam War. Whatever their motivation, many young people began embracing the values of peace, love and freedom and sought an alternative way of life.

Many people embraced communal living and a nomadic lifestyle, explored Eastern religions, experimented with drugs and adopted a rebellious style of dress.

Clothing styles and fabrics were inspired by non-Western cultures, such as Indian and African. Natural fabrics and tie-dyed and paisley prints were also popular. Many people handcrafted their own clothes and accessories and personal items were often decorated with beads and fringes. Bare feet or leather sandals were typical hippie fashion and flowers and peace signs became symbols of the movement.

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Both men and women let their hair grow long and men commonly grew facial hair.

The hippie movement also influenced other clothing styles. Denim jeans, which had remained a staple wardrobe item for many young people throughout the decade, were inspired by hippie fashion. New styles of denim jeans emerged, such as the bell-bottomed, tie-dyed, marbled and painted jeans.

Clothing fabrics in the 1960s

1960s fashion was influenced by the excitement surrounding space exploration and the first moon landing. Innovative synthetic materials like polyester, plastic, PVC and vinyl enjoyed huge popularity throughout the decade.

New blended fabrics were also developed, mixing man-made fibres with natural materials like cotton and wool. Prompted by the animal rights movement, new fabric technology also produced the first artificial fur and leather fabrics.

Improved fabrics and mass production techniques meant that clothes could be produced much faster and more cheaply than ever before. This, coupled with quickly changing teen fashion fads, meant that clothes were also discarded more quickly than before.


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