The 1960s marked a huge change in the world of fashion. There was a high percentage of teenagers in the population because of the post-war Baby Boom and a high level of employment meant they had plenty of money in their pockets. Previously, fashion had been dominated by designers from Paris and Rome and aimed at a richer, more mature clientele. Now young people were ready for a style of their own.
The hub of this change was ‘Swinging London’ where pop music, fashion and a new attitude to life blended into a style that was copied all over the western world.
Home-grown designers such as Mary Quant introduced a fresh approach to clothes. They began to use a range of new, man-made fabrics; acrylics and polyesters, Bri-nylon and PVC. The subtle palette of the 1950s was swept away by bright colours and bold patterns, often inspired by the work of contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol and Bridget Riley.
The new, inexpensive fashions were sold through small, trendy boutiques rather than the emerging High Street chain stores or the traditional, more formal clothes shops. Self-service, pop music, low-lighting and quirky interiors were their trademarks and again London led the way with shops such as Bazaar and Biba and areas like Carnaby Street and the King’s Road.
The first half of the decade was dominated by the Mod look, sharp, well-cut suits for men, slim geometric shapes and shorter skirts for women. Hemlines had been rising since the end of the Fifties; in 1963 they were just above the knee. The French designer Andres Courreges included even shorter skirts in his 1964 collection, designed to be worn with his Go-Go boots, but it wasn’t until Mary Quant launched her own version a year later that the newly-christened ‘Mini Skirt’ really took off.
By the end of 1965 hemlines had climbed to six inches or more above the knee, which was considered incredibly shocking by some sections of society. In some European countries the mini was banned or allowed to be a maximum of four inches above the knee. As minis got shorter, traditional stockings and suspenders began to be replaced by another design of Quant’s; one-piece tights, in a range of ever-more outrageous colours and patterns. These allowed women to wear the shorter skirts without revealing too much but were not greeted with the same enthusiasm by many of the male population.
Another side-effect of shrinking hemlines was a change in the way tax was applied to clothing. Previously, skirts less than 24” in length were classed as children’s clothing and not subject to tax but in 1966 the rules were changed to take into account the trend for shorter styles.
It wasn’t just fashion designers that were hitting the headlines; photographers like David Bailey and Terence Donovan and models such as Jean ‘The Shrimp’ Shrimpton also became household names. Hairdressers played their part too, creating new and exciting styles to complement the new fashions. Vidal Sassoon’s geometric cuts such as ‘the wedge’ and Leonard of Mayfair’s ‘mop top’ style, created for The Beatles, were much copied.
Leonard also helped created the look of a 15 year old girl from Neasden called Lesley Hornby. He cut her hair into a boyish style that combined with her large eyes and thin frame to give her a waif-like appearance that fitted well with her nickname - Twiggy. After a photographic session arranged by her boyfriend Justin de Villeneuve, Twiggy was featured in all the leading fashion magazines and became a success almost overnight. Although she only modelled for around 4 years, later re-inventing herself as an actress, singer and TV presenter, Twiggy had a lasting effect on the world of modelling and became an iconic image of the Sixties.
At the beginning of the decade, fashionable menswear was sleek, slim-fitting and strongly influenced by Italian designers. Later a more flamboyant, ‘dandy’ style emerged, mixing cravats and flared trousers with frills, vivid patterns and fabrics such as crushed velvet - a world away from the kind of traditional menswear that had been around for the previous 150 years or so.
As for women’s fashion, hemlines had continued to rise, in fact the so-called ’micro mini’ was scarcely more than a very wide belt, but in the late Sixties calf-length midi and ankle-length maxi skirts became popular.
The end of the decade brought a conscious rejection of materialism for many as the Hippie movement spread from California and as people became more interested in Eastern cultures and philosophies. Ethnic garments such as kaftans and afghan coats became fashionable, Army Surplus shirts and combat jackets were worn with faded jeans and love beads. Flowers were worn in the hair and peace symbols and smiley faces painted on skin or worn as pendants or badges.
A lot of things changed in those ten years, fashion both reflected and influenced some of them, and was great fun along the way.