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Swinging Sixties

The 1960s is one of the most interesting eras in the history of fashion. The gorgeous Parisians, the ideal of 1950s fashion, were replaced by the youth born after the war and thirsting for freedom, rebellion, and the fashion revolution. The capital of world fashion has moved from Paris to London, which, thanks to Time magazine, has acquired the concept of swinging. And later, the entire era of the 1960s began to be called swinging because the British fashion of those years influenced the world fashion industry.

The main style icon in the 1960s was model Twiggy. Thinness, androgyny, pixie haircuts, long eyelashes, and double eyeliner became fashionable. Style icons of that time were also models Jane Birkin, Jean Shrimpton, Patti Boyd, Veruschka, singers Nancy Sinatra, Cher, Françoise Hardy, actresses Sharon Tate, Catherine Deneuve, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Ursula Andress, Mia Farrow.

Among the style icons of the 1960s, I cannot mention Edie Sedgwick, the party girl and favorite of social photographers, muse of the cult artist Andy Warhol. Edie embodied the image of the swinging sixties: she wore a short haircut, mini dresses, long earrings, and made bright makeup for her eyes. Sienna Miller played her in Factory Girl (2006).

Those who were not ready to cut their hair short wore the Babette hairstyle, which became fashionable by the actress Brigitte Bardot after the release of the movie Babette Goes to War (Babette s'en va-t-en guerre, 1959), or a high ponytail.

In the USA, the super-high hairstyle beehive was fashionable.

Not all people were young and not everywhere youth fashion was appropriate even for the young. The style of sophisticated femininity with elegant dresses, tweed suits, gloves, pearls, pumps with low heels also had a place to be. The styles of the dresses were different from the previous decade: the waist of the dresses shifted higher, the colors became brighter, the styles were straight or A-line. The icon of this style was the first lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy, whose style was copied around the world. Jacqueline loved to wear pill hats and large sunglasses.

Coco Chanel's tweed suits, which symbolized high social status, were very popular. The costume variations are still created by the brand in each collection. One such suit I saw at the exhibition "Magicians of Parisian Fashion, 1920-1999" from the Alexander Vasiliev Foundation (Vilnius, 2018):

In the capital of the United Kingdom, conceptual street retail was emerging at the time, centered around Carnaby Street and Kings Road, where alternative boutiques with vibrant clothing for young people flourished.

One of the most famous stores of the time was Bazaar on Kings Road. It was oriented to bohemian artists, writers, students, and the area audience with a philosophy of life against the parents. It was opened by the inventor of the miniskirt, Dame Mary Quant, with her husband, Alexander Plunket Green. The miniskirt revolutionized the world of streetwear and became the symbol of the swinging sixties.

After opening legs with a miniskirt, Mary began production of tights, which she dyed in all colors of the rainbow and placed prints on them: from her brand logo (in the form of a daisy) to geometric abstractions. Mary Quant launched the inexpensive Ginger Group clothing line, which included V-neck a-line aprons in wool jersey in trendy colors of mustard, plum and tawny.

At that time, clothing brands did not mass produce their cosmetics, this trend was started by Mary. Special emphasis was placed on eye cosmetics, and waterproof mascara was presented. Mary Quant was a style icon of the era, women copied her style of dress and geometric haircut, which was created by hairdresser-stylist Vidal Sassoon.

Last year, I was lucky enough to attend the Mary Quant retrospective exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), which featured over 400 items of clothing, accessories, sketches, photography, and cosmetics. Six months before the exhibition, the museum asked the public for the brand's clothing models. The exhibition featured over 30 exhibits from personal archives and over 50 photographs with personal stories.

Photos from the exhibition :

Another iconic store of that time - Biba on Abingdon Road - was opened by Barbara Chulanicki. Biba was not just a shop but a meeting place for young people. You could meet there Twiggy, Cher, Yoko Ono, and Miya Farrow. For a long time, Biba has been the only store where customers were allowed to try out cosmetics on themselves before purchasing them.

The first flight into space and the landing of the first man on the moon influenced not only science but also fashion. Jean Shrimpton for Harper’s Bazaar, 1965. :

André Courrèges who also considered himself the creator of the miniskirt presented his first Space Age collection in 1964 and extended the cult of youth to French catwalks. He replaced the little black dress with a little white dress, creating silver-colored clothing and headwear that looked like helmets. He also brought into fashion white low-heeled ankle boots, which were later called go-go. They became an essential part of the dance wardrobe of the mid-1960s.

Courrèges began using synthetic materials such as PVC and vinyl. Following him, other designers began to experiment with synthetic materials: Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin, and Paco Rabanne.

Pierre Cardin’s space collections:

Paco Rabanne created collections of metal and plastic.

Jane Fonda in costumes designed by Paco Rabanne in the film Barbarella (1968):

Audrey Hepburn in "Two for the road" (1967) wore a futuristic mini-dress by Paco Rabanne made of reflective rhodoid discs connected by metal rings.

I saw this dress at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow. :

In the same film, Audrey wore fashionable large Oliver Goldsmith glasses with white plastic frames. Audrey also wore Oliver Goldsmith glasses in How to Steal a Million (1966).

In the 1960s, painting again entered fashion. Based on Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans (1962), Campbell's company produced paper Souper Dress that anyone could get after sending them one dollar and two labels from the soup.

In 1965, Yves Saint Laurent presented a collection in which he paid tribute to the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. Saint Laurent created straight dresses, without collars and sleeves, depicting copies of the painting Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue (1935). The dresses have acquired the same museum and artistic value as their original paintings. I saw one of these dresses at the aforementioned exhibition about the magicians of Parisian fashion.

The Mondrian collection was complemented by laconic Pilgrim shoes with a long flat square toe and a large buckle, designed by Roger Vivier. The shoe model became popular after the release of the film Belle De Jour (1967) starring Catherine Deneuve. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis loved to wear these shoes.

This was not the only collaboration between Yves Saint Laurent and Catherine Deneuve in cinema. The actress became his muse back in 1965 after he created for her a white dress with red embroidery on the chest and sleeves for the event with Queen Elizabeth II.

Later, he also created costumes for La Chamade (1968), La Sirène du Mississippi (1969), Liza (1972), The Hunger (1983).

In his Fall / Winter 1966 collection, Yves Saint Laurent showed colorful pop-art dresses. The dresses with the silhouettes of naked women were inspired by the paintings of Tom Wesselmann.

In the 1960s, Saint Laurent created for women's fashion tuxedos and leather jackets, safari style, unisex and animal prints.

Another tandem of fashion designer and actress - Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn - added a lot of chic costumes to the treasury of fashion history. Their collaboration and friendship began in the 1950s when he created costumes for her for the film Sabrina (1956). The film won the only Oscar and it was for costume design. But the award went to Edith Head, not Givenchy - because she was in the titles of the film. Although Edith created one dress for Audrey, in which she appears at the beginning of the film. In the 1960s, Hubert de Givenchy dressed Audrey Hepburn in the films Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Charade (1963), Paris When it Sizzles (1964), and How to Steal a Million (1966).

In the early 1960s, designer Valentino Garavani began his career. He created the legendary White Collection (Collezione Bianca), which, in contrast to the fashionable bright outfits at the time, was called colorless by critics. Part of this collection was Jacqueline Kennedy's wedding dress, in which she married Aristotle Onassis. A photo of Jacqueline in a lace dress with long puffy sleeves, a stand-up collar, and a pleated skirt, appeared on all the front pages of the press - this was the best advertisement for the Valentino Fashion House. The fashion house has become a symbol of luxury.

In the late 1960s, a hippie movement began to promote love and peace. Children of flowers wore ethnic clothes made from natural fabrics, handmade jewelry. Tunics, ponchos, caftans, bell-bottomed jeans, colorful prints, unusual contrasts, fringes, do-rags, and scarves became fashionable.

In the USSR, during the Khrushchev Thaw, fashion lagged behind world trends, the culture of dressing well was not welcomed, and the dandies were persecuted. Textile factories sewed the same type of tasteless clothes. Thanks to the earliest smugglers, the Western fashion spread first among the children of the party elite, and then among the working class throughout the country. Closed shops were opened, in which goods were issued in exchange for coupons and certificates, which were received by those who worked abroad (diplomats, sailors, pilots). The rest, who wanted to look fashionable, had to sew and knit.

As in Europe, clothes made of synthetic materials were in demand in the USSR. Bright makeup with black arrows and a lot of mascara on the eyelashes, Babette hairstyle, bob, short haircuts, wigs, and hairpieces became popular. Women started wearing stilettos, even in winter. In the late 1960s, women began to wear miniskirts and trousers, which prevented entering schools or official events. Among the outerwear at the height of fashion were Italian raincoats from Bologna, which were not taken off even in summer.

In the mid-1960s, Vyacheslav Zaitsev came to work at the All-Union House of Models, who adapted modern Western trends to the existing reality. He dressed the wives of party leaders and cultural stars.

Despite the Iron Curtain, albeit with a delay, the swing movement penetrated the USSR.


Fashion historians and analysts often compare the 1960s with the 1920s: fashion styles without an accentuated waist in fashion, the length of the skirt shortened, women wear short haircuts, and bright makeup. For more information about women's fashion and 1920s style icons, read the Roaring Twenties post.


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