Bold colours, psychedelic prints, striking cuts, and rebelliously youthful attitude, the Swinging Sixties were a revolutionary time for fashion. The fashion of the 1960s was heavily influenced by the events that happened during the tumultuous decade. The Cold War, technological advancement, second-wave feminism, a growing youth culture, British invasion are only a few of the transformative social and cultural norms that had a profound effect on the trends that defined the decade. Looks inspired by elegance and simplicity of the 1950s were popular alongside bold and innovative designs by the new generation. Women were showing more skin than ever and for the first time, London was the centre of the fashion world instead of Paris. The fashion trends that defined the decade broke traditions and mirrored the social movements that were making headlines.

Early 1960s – Friends of my grandmother wearing dresses reminiscent of 1950s style

1. The Mini Skirt

The timeless fashion staple was created by British fashion designer Mary Quant in 1964, categorized as being a skirt with a hem six or seven inches above the knee, and named after her favourite car the Mini Cooper. The mini skirt became immensely popular with young women due to the creation of youth culture dubbed “Youthquake” and the rise of second-wave feminism. Prior to WWII, it was expected that people marry and settle down almost right after high school and start working to support their families. However, the advancement of technology and stricter child labour laws meant teenagers now had time to enjoy their youth and the freedom to create their own culture separate from their parents. The term “Youthquake” came to mean the power of young people to influence popular culture. For the first time in history, the idea of designing clothes that catered exclusively to mature and elite members of society began to shift as the influence and need to appeal to young adults became more important. Second wave feminism influenced women who wanted to have the right to decide what they wanted to do with their bodies, which included how they dressed. The mini skirt allowed women to express themselves and was considered a display of confidence. It represented independence and ingenuity and became a popular choice for revolutionary women of the time period.

1966 – My great aunt Bride with a friend

2. Beehives

In 1960, Chicago hairstylist Margaret Vinci Heldt was asked to create something exciting on the set of a magazine photoshoot, as at the time hairstyling was “dead”. And thus the beehive was born. The beehive is constructed by backcombing or teasing the hair with a comb, creating a tangled pile which is lightly combed over to make a smooth outer surface. The longer the hair, the higher the beehive. The hairstyle gained popularity because it stayed put no matter what. Celebrities like Brigitte Bardot, Aretha Franklin, and Barbra Streisand often sported the beehive, increasing its notoriety worldwide. Although it is no longer a popular trend in the world of hairstyling, the beehive has been adorned by celebrities and models in the 21st century such as Adele, Beyonce, and Amy Winehouse, proving its timeless appeal.


May 1970 – My Grandmother Marie with friends sporting a beehive and bubble sleeves reminiscent of late 60s fashion
1966 – My great Aunt Jean with a beehive and wearing a psychedelic print T-shirt

3. Space-Age Fashion

The Space Race of the Cold War not only influenced politics and scientific exploration but also contributed to the development of Space-Age fashion. Boxy shapes, thigh length hemlines, and bold accessories were all key essentials of space-age fashion. Heavily influenced by the modern art movement, space age fashion was a serious departure from the modest, sophisticated, and repressed designs of the 1950s. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and  PVC allowed designers to create garments with eye-catching shapes and plastic textures. Bubble dresses, helmet-like hats, plastic raincoats, and dyed fake furs were popular among young women to create a futuristic space-inspired look. Go-go boots were born out of the space age fashion movement and became a staple in many 1960s women’s wardrobes.

4. Pillbox Hats

The basic design of the pillbox hat was created by milliners in the 1930s. The pillbox hat is a small, brimless, round hat that features straight sides and a flat top. It was adored by many people because of its simplicity and elegance. They were usually monochrome and unadorned with accessories. The pillbox hat reached its peak popularity in the early 1960s and became a staple of the decade due to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Having previously never worn hats, Jackie Kennedy was so taken in by American designer Halston’s pillbox creation, she began to wear them regularly. During her husband’s inauguration, she wore a simple, bone wool pillbox hat which became her signature style and a staple for many women of the decade.

1965 – Rita and Tom, friends of my grandmother. Rita is wearing a pillbox hat

5. Hippie Style

Starting around 1967, youth culture started to shift both musically and fashion-wise. The fashions of the early part of the 1960s began to transform into a more laid-back, bohemia type of look. Ponchos, moccasins, love beads, peace signs, medallion necklaces, chain belts, polka dot-printed fabrics, and long, puffed “bubble” sleeves were popular fashions in the late 1960s. Bell bottom jeans and tie-dye shirts also started to become more popular and were worn by men and women. The laid-back style also saw women going barefoot and sometimes braless for the sake of comfort. American and European fashion trends started appropriating culturally unique aspects of many countries. Cultures such as India, Nepal, Morocco, and many African countries were used as a source of inspiration for fashion design in a blatant display of cultural appropriation. Many aspects of traditional wear were outright stolen and repackaged for American and Europe trends. Traditional garments and designs from Native American culture were also frequently used in mainstream fashion. Long flowing dresses, psychedelic prints, hemp, and the Woodstock look were common in the late 1960s and bled over into the early 1970s.



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