Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Impact of Swinging Sixties Style

pic from

The 1960s was a time of liberation and transition, and nowhere is this reflected better than in fashion. Stiff corsets, strict suits and seamed tights were things of the past, as women embraced their newfound freedom and society’s new permissive attitude. As far as fashion was concerned, anything went!

In Britain of the early 60s, a new Mod culture emerged. Fashion had previously been aimed solely at the wealthy and mature, but times were changing, with a shift towards targeting younger generations. Carnaby Street and the Kings Road in London became hotspots for new, trendy boutiques catering to the Mod look. For the Mods, fashion and music went hand in hand, and they pioneered the new 60s fashion scene. For example, trousers were now deemed acceptable for women, and lounge-wear became much more desirable. Boots – from knee-high to ankle-length – were very much the footwear du jour, and cropped, high-waisted, capri trousers along with loose, boxy shift dresses were also in vogue. It was actually Emilio Pucci who made the latter as popular as they became.

Of course, the one key fashion item of the 60s was the mini-skirt. Initially promoted by designer Mary Quant in 1964, by the end of the decade, every stylish woman in the western world was wearing them. The 60s was a decade of sexual freedom (aided by the development of the contraceptive pill) and as women’s position in society rose, so did their hemlines.  For Quant, it was all about having fun and doing something different. Referring to the knee-length dress, she said ‘It is now a classic and therefore boring’, which was an attitude many people had to various areas of life in the 60s.

Jean Shrimpton (pic from
Perhaps the most famous wearer of the mini-skirt was Jean “The Shrimp” Shrimpton, one of the original British supermodels. For the first time, models became celebrities, a feature of society that is evident today more than ever. Shrimpton (alongside others such as Twiggy) inspired everyday women with her skinny look and big Bambi eyes. Anyone who watched the BBC4 film We’ll Take Manhattan, will know how photographer David Bailey (with Shrimpton as his muse) transformed the fashion scene. The stiff, posed pictures of models in fashion magazines were replaced by informal ones in natural, relaxed positions.
Barnard and Gillan in "We'll Take Manhattan" (pic from
In the BBC4 version, Bailey was played by Aneurin Barnard, and Shrimpton by Karen Gillan of Doctor Who fame. The film is a stylish, chirpy retelling of the early careers of two of the most influential people in the fashion world, and tells the story of Bailey’s fashion shoot in New York (with his muse/lover Shrimpton as the model), battling against the old-fashioned resistance from British Vogue fashion editor Lady Clare Rendlesham. Whilst Bailey’s vision was fresh, exciting and new, Rendlesham (and most of her generation) wanted the same stuffy, boring fashion shots that the world was used to. Shots like Bailey’s had never been seen before, and it could be said that they defined the decade. According to Robin Muir, the Vogue historian, ‘It's hard to over-estimate their impact on fashion in that decade.’ Shrimpton ushered in a new wave of female sexiness.

In the BBC film, Bailey appears quite blasé about being asked to shoot for Vogue, and refused to do so if he wasn't allowed to shoot Shrimpton. In reality, however, he was apparently honoured and knew how much of a big deal it was. Shrimpton was originally a country girl, but with legs like hers in the era of the miniskirt, she became the model of the moment at the mere age of 19 after her Manhattan shoot was published. We’ll Take Manhattan has been well received, mainly due to its attention to detail – the New York scene and the clothes look authentically 60s, and Gillan’s costumes are practically identical to those of the actual shoot.

Vidal Sassoon (pic from
Beauty-wise, Shrimpton’s look is typical of the 60s – they focussed on large doll-eyes (false eyelashes were a must), and women increasingly had cropped, pixie-style haircuts, or left it long and straight, a look created by the hairdresser of the moment, Vidal Sassoon. All you have to do is take a stroll down the British high street or sneak a peak in the beauty pages of any women’s fashion magazine to know that these styles are still very much loved by all sorts of women today, from Emma Watson’s pixie-cut to TOWIE style false lashes.
However, if you’ve seen the musical and film Hairspray, you will know that the same Mod style was not adopted in America, where bouffant hair reigned the style pages. Similarly, the American hippy-look crossed the Atlantic later in the decade, bringing flared trousers, peace-sign medallions, moccasins, chain belts and psychedelic prints.

No-one can deny that the 1960s was one of the most important decades for fashion, evident in the current obsession with all things deemed ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’ from said era. From Mad Men to Made In Dagenham, we just can’t get enough of the swinging sixties. However, as well as inspiring television and films, 60s influences are very much evident in current fashion collections. For example, head-to-toe prints are ubiquitous in the Spring/Summer 2012 ready-to-wear collections, from Miu Miu to Mary Katrantzou. Equally, A-line boxy shapes feature in the Preen collection for Autumn/Winter 2012/2013. Pussy-bow blouses, flares and short, flirty dresses seem to be trends that have stood the test of time since the 60s. And it’s not only women’s fashion that is still being influenced by sixties fashion – what may seem as a new trend for skinny ties on men, is in fact a rather old one, initially popular half a decade ago. Beauty brands are also making the most of the desire for the 60s look, bombarding the public with new mascaras to help achieve the wide-eyed look that Shrimpton and co. pioneered.

The 1960s was an era of increased freedom in many aspects of life for women, and designers such as Barbara Hulanicki and Mary Quant helped them express this through style. Not content with just shaking things up for a few years, it’s safe to say that sixties’ fashion is still very much swinging today.


  1. The 60's is my most inspirational fashion period! Love the looks, the big hair and the deadly eyeliner!!!

    1. I agree... absolutely love it! I adored We'll Take Manhattan too.


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