The 1960s were years of great social upheaval and cultural change. Both were reflected in the ever-changing world
of women's fashion, where the centre of gravity switched from Paris to London.
Only two decades in the 20th century have gone into history with names that suggested they were fun to live in, 'The Roaring Twenties' and 'The Swinging Sixties'. The 20s 'roared' and the 60s 'swung' for remarkably similar reasons. Both were times of economic boom and social change, to which young people responded with daring fashions and wild music that shocked their elders. The main difference was that only the upper and middle classes got to
'roar' in the 1920s, but everyone got to 'swing' in the 1960s.
At the beginning of the decade, women's fashions were still dominated by 1950s styles. Fitted bodices and full skirts were still pretty popular, and suits were much in evidence, although severe styles were giving way to a softer look created by Coco Chanel. Chanel suits were typically made in well-cut woollen fabrics and edged with fancy wool or silk braiding in a contrasting colour.
THE CHANEL LOOK
The total Chanel look included formal accessories - gloves, handbags with chain handles and two-tone sling-back shoes. Jackie Kennedy, America's First Lady, who did much to promote this feminine style, completed the outfit with a matching pill-box hat. A change came when clothing manufacturers realized that British teenagers had plenty of money to spend on clothes, but didn't want to dress for dinner or attend balls. London's 'Mods' were creating a new style out of their passion for interchangeable separates and French and Italian
ready to wear designs.
Young British designers fresh from art school set out to cater for the new market, and boutiques sprang up all over the country. At the same time,
The Beatles were spreading English street culture round the globe. Carnaby Street was established on the world fashion map, and Swinging London was born.
Styles changed rapidly. Many were suited to mass production, and the time between a new look being introduced and appearing in high street shops shortened dramatically. However, the days of slavish devotion to trends were over. Young people wore what they felt like wearing. Girls often wore a microscopic mini dress one day, and had their hemlines round their ankles the next.
Trouser suits vied with dolly girl outfits. Waists disappeared and daring crochet tops and dresses exposed all when slips and bras were abandoned. Jeans, hipsters, bell-bottoms, flares and stretch-pants with stirrups all came in; some stayed, others went just as quickly.
Near the end of the decade, the hippies arrived. Their beads, bangles and long flowing garments reflected an oriental influence and a much more romantic mood.
The cult of the young in 1960s Britain, spearheaded by popular music's Beat Boom, proved contagious. Brash new fashion designers reflected the contagious excitement of the times, using new materials, bright, primary colours and bold new shapes and cuts to create clothes that flew in the face of the conventions of haute couture.
1960s FASHION COLLECTOR'S NOTES
The 1960s are recent enough for garments to turn up in attics and trunks. Flea markets, car boot sales and stalls in antiques markets will all bear careful searching, while textile auctions may also be a valuable source. Among names to
look out for are Chanel, Courreges, Zandra Rhodes, Janice Wainwright, Mary Quant, Biba, Jean Muir and John Bates.
If you plan on building up a collection, it's best to specialize. You could concentrate on certain designers, but it's easier to go for a style or material. Plain and crushed velvet were popular for all sorts of garments, as was leather, which had the reputation of being 'kinky'; long leather boots - as worn by Honor Blackman in
The Avengers TV series were known as 'kinky boots'. Shiny synthetic fabrics with a leather texture were the basis of the 'wet look', cheaper than real leather and an essential part of the 'kinky' wardrobe.
Complete ensembles are very desirable. Accessories such as cheap, fun jewellery, 'kinky boots' and shoulder or handbags all add to the fun.
Always look carefully for signs of damage, repairs or remodelling before you buy clothes. Check seams, pockets and buttonholes for tearing. Velvet may have 'bald' patches where the pile has worn away; check the elbows of jackets and the seats and knees of trousers. Make sure that all buttons are present and, if not, that they will be easy to match. Buttons were often custom-made as decorative features and matching them may well prove difficult.
Old clothes always require special storage. They should be kept out of extreme heat or humidity, while strong light will fade colours and rot fabrics. Pack clothes away individually in acid-free tissue paper and avoid folding as much as possible. 'Wet look' garments are especially susceptible to cracking along folds.