Combined with music the fashion trends of the 1960s reflected the strong currents of change whirling through society during this decade.
The Peacock Revolution
The 1960s were a period of major change and experimentation. It is no surprise that the fashion industry was so greatly influenced by the growing trend to break from the old and try new things. The Peacock Revolution is one example of the bold fashion changes taking place in the 1960s.
The Peacock Revolution sparked a major change in the way that men dressed, creating an emergence of bright colours and flamboyant styles. Suddenly, men were trading their old style of fashion for velvet Edwardian suits, bright coloured and psychedelic patterned shirts, jackets, and ties. Even footwear began to change, as men were seen wearing Chelsea heeled, pointy-toed boots. These new looks were completed with longer and bolder styled hairstyles for men.
Music icons, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, carried a heavy influence on the fashion trends of the time. These popular bands embraced the trends of the Peacock Revolution, causing the men of the time to more readily make this bold fashion leap.
Previously known for their conservative suits and clean-cut image, the Beatles completely changed the way that they dressed to mirror the unisex trend sparked by the Peacock Revolution. Instead, the Beatles were making their appearances in striped bell-bottomed pants, paisley scarves, and flowered shirts.
The Rolling Stones added more momentum to the growing trend of Peacock Revolution fashions as well, by opting for this bold and flamboyant style of dress. They were soon appearing in open silk shirts or vests that revealed their chests as well as hip hugger pants and psychedelic prints.
It is no surprise that with such huge icons of the 1960s embracing these new fashions, that men all over the world followed this new trend. The Peacock Revolution finally allowed men to express themselves more openly through fashion. With all the previous fashion constraints completely gone, men were enabled to boldly express their sexuality and learn to preen like peacocks in Edwardian suits, Nehru jackets, bold psychedelic colours, and patterns.
The Peacock Revolution was truly that, a fashion revolution. Gone were the old, drab, dark coloured suits and outdated concepts of how men were supposed to dress. This period of change and experimentation played a key role in changing men’s fashion forever.
Counterculture of the 1960s
British counterculture fashion in the 1960s was something to behold but counterculture fashion was not one large, amorphous entity, but rather a grouping of many different styles that developed among separate groups.
Most of the groups were organized around, as you may have guessed, around music and specific bands. There were some common elements in all the styles though, and it really is these common elements that have come to symbolize counterculture fashion in the historical memory. Think of long, flowing robes, flower prints, over-sized sleeves and trousers, scarves blowing in the wind. These individual elements, which originated in the lower classes and youth communities, were eventually all co-opted by high dollar fashion designers in an ironic twist.
But let’s go back to that statement: the “lower classes.” Most counterculture fashion was not actively thought out or planned. Instead, poor, young music-lovers would steal clothes from shops or buy them second-hand off of their friends and mash all of these clothes together. This random mishmash evolved over time as these unknowing fashionistas’ wardrobes got wilder and ever more random. It was all a result of a scavenger mentality, the relentless recycling of commonly available clothes, and the fashion trends of the decades preceding the ’60s.
Whatever could be found cheap or free was an eligible fashion item for a ’60s counter culture teen. Add to this the celebration of “ethnic” culture and fashion among would-be revolutionaries and counter-culturists and you had a truly psychedelic mix of clothes. You could find a teenager on the street wearing a frock from the 1930s, a fitted jacket from the 1950s, an over-sized hat from the 1920s, his friends’ father’s trousers, and a Mexican honcho. None of these items were likely to be picked out, but they made a strong fashion statement, nonetheless.
Unfortunately, these stylings were picked up by culture-conscious fashion designers, who began to export these outfits from the streets of the UK to the fashion runways of Paris. Once this started happening, counter culture fashion started to become the fashion of the dominant culture, and the youngsters began moving on, until in the ’70s you could find girls wearing home-knits and long, Amish-style skirts as an active rebellion against the co-option of the counter culture fashion of the ’60s.
The 1960’s 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.
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.
Simply put, haute couture is fashion that has been specifically designed one piece at a time and is frequently exhibited as artistic examples of the upper reaches of a fashion designer’s artistic vision and aesthetic vision for clothing. Translated literally from the original French, the term means high dressmaking, and it is exemplified by the most innovative and frequently downright bizarre creations to be strutted down the catwalk.
While outsiders of the fashion world often view haute couture as representing the pinnacle of self-indulgence and vanity in the fashion world, it is actually the true playground of the fashion industry where designers are encouraged to show off what they can really do without worrying about the opinions of a small minded public. Today, haute couture is seen as the hallmark icon of all that is avant garde in the fashion world, but it is a relatively recent phenomenon that finds its origins amongst the rapid cultural changes of the mid-20th century.
While true haute couture is entirely a feature of modern fashion, it finds its roots in the glamorous age of the court at Versailles in the France of the 18th century. As the centre of the fashion world for Europe during that time, nobles and other elites who travelled from elsewhere to France would return home with the latest of French fashion. The would then show of the new designs at home through the use of dolls or hired models.
This tradition evolved slowly over the following two centuries but the same basic idea was there until the cultural revolution of the West that is typically attributed to having climaxed during the late 1960s. New young designers such Dior and Balenciaga began establishing couture houses with the intent of creating collections of single pieces that were not meant to be models for clothes to be worn by the public.
Following in the footsteps of modern artists who were creating “art for art’s sake,” this new breed of designers were creating fashion for fashion’s sake: pieces that simply exemplified the aesthetic values that the designer wished to express through the form of clothing.
Today, haute couture is at the centre of the artistic side of the fashion industry. Following in the footsteps of those revolutionary early designers of the 1960’s, new fashion designers are continually appearing eager to challenge the status quo of fashion. Haute couture in the modern world serves as a kind of zeitgeist, a sounding board that reveals the nuances of modern values as they present themselves in the physical forms of ever changing and evolving fashion aesthetics.