While there is a tendency to think of the Sixties as a whole unified decade, in terms of fashion it must, in fact, be viewed as two separate and quite distinct parts (if not more), with the early years clinging doggedly on to modifications of Fifties styles and the later years exploding into the wild fashion frenzy for which the decade is possibly best remembered. The 1960s was an important decade for fashion because it was the first time in history that clothing was geared towards the youth market; and featured a wide number of diversified trends. It was a decade that broke many fashion traditions, mirroring social movements during the period. Previously, fashion houses designed for the mature and elite members of society; however, during the enormous social and political revolution that transpired in the mid-Sixties, the power of the teenage and young adult market was too great to ignore. They led with new and radically innovative fashion styles, with little girl/woman androgynous looks for women that swept away the sophisticated sweater girls of the early sixties.
Fashions in the early years of the decade reflected the elegance of the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. In addition to the pillbox hat, women wore suits, usually in pastel colors, with short boxy jackets, and over-sized buttons. Simple, geometric dresses, known as shifts, were also in style. For evening wear, full-skirted formal gowns were worn; these often had a low decolletage and had close-fitting waists. For casual wear, Capri trousers were the fashion for women and girls.
Stiletto-heeled shoes were widely popular. As the traditional men’s suit drifted away from pale, toned shades, menswear was now bright and colorful. It included frills and cravats, wide ties and trouser straps, leather boots and even collarless jackets. Ties were worn even five inches wide, with crazy prints, stripes and patterns. Casual dress consisted of plaid button down shirts with comfortable slacks or skirts. In the middle of the decade, culottes, box-shaped PVC dresses and go-go boots were popular. The widely popular bikini came into fashion in 1963 after being featured in the musical “Beach Party”.
It’s easy to associate all 1960s fashion with short skirts, but the short skirt was not really worn by many until 1966 and not nationwide until 1967. Just as in the 1920s, for half a decade clothes still showed signs of belonging to the late fifties. The fore runner of the mini dress, the straight shift, which had developed from the 1957 sack dress, was still well below the knee. Pleated skirts set on a hip yoke basque were worn with short sleeved over blouses which were cut not unlike the shell tops of today. Straight skirts had front and back inverted pleats called kick pleats and were ideal for doing the twist dance craze as they allowed the knee to move freely. Straight sweater dresses in lambswool or the synthetic acrylic variety called Orlon were worn belted with waists nipped in became fashionable. Pencil skirts were still worn with sweaters or even back to front cardigans that had been pressed super flat. Before the days of tumble dryers, many women lay their washed rung out knitwear in paper tissue and then brown paper. They put it to dry under a carpet for two days. When it was removed from the tissue, the footsteps that had pounded over the knit gave it a flat dry cleaned as new appearance. Laundering of delicates could still be a problem, but everything changed when mass produced synthetic garments arrived.
Most importantly, in the early to mid-1960s, the London Modernists known as the Mods were shaping and defining popular fashion for young British men while the trends for both sexes changed more frequently than ever before in the history of fashion and would continue to do so throughout the decade. The Mods (short for Modernists) were characterized by their choice of style different from the 1950s and adopted new fads that would be imitated by many young people. As the Mods strongly influenced the fashion in London, 1960s fashion in general set the mode for the rest of the century as it became marketed mainly to young people. They formed their own way of life by creating television shows and magazines that focused directly on their lifestyle. The Mods’ lifestyle and musical tastes were the exact opposite of their rival group known as the Rockers. The rockers liked 1950s rock-and roll, wore black leather jackets, greased, pompadour hairstyles, and rode motorbikes. The look of the Mods was classy; they mimicked the clothing and hairstyles of high fashion designers in France and Italy; opting for tailored suits, which were topped by anoraks that became their trademark. They rode on scooters, usually Vespas or Lambrettas. The Mods’ dress style was often called the City Gent look. Shirts were slim, with a necessary button down collar accompanied by slim fitted pants Levi’s were the only type of jeans worn by Modernists. Flared trousers and bell-bottoms led the way to the hippie stage introduced in the 1960s. Variations of polyester were worn along with acrylics.