The swinging sixties: Fashion History 1960 - 1970

The psychedelic, swinging '60s, was an era characterised by a sense of liberation and a desire for self-expression among young people. The youth of the time enjoyed a higher income than previous generations and eagerly sought a unique wardrobe that allowed them to break free from the constraints of their parents' fashion choices.

London became a hub of fashion revolution, with small independent boutiques catering specifically to the young fashion market. Designers such as Mary Quant and Biba opened their doors to these young fashion enthusiasts, creating a close connection with their customers and swiftly meeting their desires. Soon enough, the iconic London Kings Road and Carnaby Street boutiques became the go-to places for the young to witness and be seen in the latest fashion trends.

The introduction of the contraceptive pill coincided with the rise of the mini-skirt. The availability of effective contraception allowed women control over their bodies and sexuality. Fashion became a means for women to express their newfound sexual freedom as they embracing shorter hemlines, breaking away from the conservative fashion norms of previous decades. Mary Quant, one of the pioneering designers of the time, championed the mini-skirt, and it soon became a symbol of rebellion and liberation.

As the decade progressed, hemlines rose from mid-thigh to daringly short micro minis. However, by the end of the decade hemlines had returned to more modest mid and maxi lengths.

The 1960s was a time of innovation in materials, with the fashion industry embracing new manmade fabrics like PVC, acrylic, nylon, spandex, and perspex. These materials paved the way for easy-to-wear and easy-to-care-for clothing. Iconic items like PVC "go go" boots, acid-coloured tights, and Pop Art paper dresses made from cellulose, rayon, or polyester became emblematic of the decade. Pop culture icons, such as The Beatles and model Twiggy, influenced fashion trends and became style inspirations for many. Mod subculture was its sharp stylish clean lines, bold patterns and vibrant colours was also a dominant influence on 1960s fashion. Popular clothing for Mods included the iconic mini-skirts, shift dresses, tailored suits, bold accessories, and the adoption of innovative materials like PVC.

The Space Age and the advancements in technology inspired a futuristic aesthetic in fashion. The fascination with space exploration, science fiction, and the "space race" influenced designs featuring metallic fabrics, futuristic prints, and silver accessories. The desire for a modern, forward-looking style was reflected in clothing choices that incorporated elements like vinyl, silver fabrics, and large zippers.

At the beginning of the sixties, older women still opted for the sheath dresses and skirts with hemlines below the knee, but as the decade unfolded, the dress code of tailored outfits relaxed as public figures like Jackie Kennedy began to favour shorter skirts.

Towards the end of the decade, theatrical fashion and flared trousers became popular for both men and women. The growing awareness of international events, such as the Vietnam War, and the increased affordability of aviation were reflected in the fashion choices. Eastern cultures, particularly the aesthetics of India and Japan, influenced fashion trends. The rise of the hippie movement also brought a focus on bohemian and folk-inspired styles, drawing inspiration from Native American, African, and other ethnic traditions.

While hats were not as ubiquitous as in previous decades, they still held a place of importance, particularly for special occasions and formal events. Popular hat styles were the:

  1. Pillbox Hat: The pillbox hat was a significant style in the early '60s. This small, round hat featured a flat crown and no brim, with its simplicity and clean lines it was versatile and could be easily paired with a variety of outfits and hairstyles. Pillboxes were worn in a variety of ways. Initially they were worn perched on top of the head or to the front at an angle until the iconic Jackie Kennedy began wearing her pillbox on the back of her head. Placing the hat towards the back created an unobstructed view of her coiffed hairstyles and face.
  2. Cloche Hat: The cloche hat, with its close-fitting bell-shaped design, continued to be a popular choice throughout the 1960s. This hat style, which originated in the 1920s, had a resurgence during this era. Cloche hats were often made of straw or felt and could be adorned with bows, ribbons, or floral accents. They were worn low on the forehead, sometimes over-sized, to frame the face.
  3. Floppy Hat: As the decade progressed, a more bohemian and free-spirited style emerged, and floppy hats became increasingly popular. These wide-brimmed hats added a touch of drama and whimsy to outfits. Made of materials like felt, straw, or fabric, floppy hats featured a soft, unstructured design. They were often adorned with ribbons, feathers, or floral embellishments and were favored for their ability to shield the face from the sun.
  4. Beret: The beret, a classic French-inspired hat, experienced a surge in popularity during the 1960s. This soft, round hat, usually made of wool felt, could be worn in various ways, such as tilted to one side or pulled down over the forehead. Berets added a touch of effortless chic to outfits and were often paired with mod-inspired or beatnik-inspired ensembles.
  5. Veiled Hats: For formal occasions, veiled hats were a fashionable choice. These hats, typically featuring a small brim or fascinator-style design, were adorned with delicate veils that partially or fully covered the face. Veiled hats added an air of mystery and sophistication and were often worn to weddings, cocktail parties, or other special events.

Hair accessories ranged from functional to fashionable, adding an extra touch of style and flair to women's hairdos. Popular hair accessories were headbands, hair scarves, hair combs, clips and barrettes, hairnets, snoods and floral hair accessories.

As throughout twentieth century fashion, hat choice were interlinked with hairstyle of the day. Hairstyles in the 1960s ranged from sleek and sophisticated to voluminous and bold Hairspray had firmly established itself as a staple product in the beauty industry and a was a go-to tool for achieving the hold and durability to maintain structured those styles such as the beehive, bouffant and flipped out curls.

©Isabella Josie 2021 All Rights Reserved.