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Swinging Back in Style: Revisiting Iconic ’60s Fashion Trends

–Jayna Rohslau

The YouthQuake. Grown-ups in their staid button-ups ruled it a disaster, and the media warned that societal collapse was imminent. The kids, knowing they weren’t alright, cheerfully informed their parents where they could shove it and went about forging their respective paths. On the road, in the hallways, and in green spaces on campus – this preternatural disaster blew the world over with its vivacity and daring. 

Nothing like a little disaster for sorting things out. Along with music, style signaled the latest developments like lightning before the era’s thunder of social change. Fashion served as a formative aspect of protest culture during the ’60s– women’s liberation, Vietnam, and Civil Rights– as well as a herald of change within the government’s previously conformist landscape. Although Jackie Kennedy continued the ’50s trend of timeless elegance, more often than not, the gloves came off as designers increasingly took cues from their youthful clientele.

With the ’60s in the rear window, viewing it through rose-colored lenses is easy. Yet let’s not reduce the era into a single, faded snapshot. Instead, let’s shoot the stars in their candid glory, aiming to capture the swinging, chic, flower-power moment as it develops. Here are some modern trends that we wear in living testament to this incredible era.

Viewed through the lens of different subcultures and styles, here are the ’60s trends that continue to inspire us today.

It’s a MOD mod world!

“Gone is the once-upon-a-daydream world. The dreams, still there, break into action.”
Vogue, 1965

“People should understand that they can’t dress in a normal, traditional way. We are entering the world of tomorrow.” –Pierre Cardin

Known as the swinging city, London emerged as the epicenter of hedonism, music, and excitement. Armed with ingenuity, designers blew smoke and mirrors in the face of conventional wisdom. Models like Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, and Penelope Tree were famed for their micro-minis; legs for days extending into nightlife where their style hit the ground running. And let’s not forget Twiggy, who ruled as the Queen of celebrity models with alien-like proportions perfect for space-age couture.

Fast fashion speeding ahead? During this era, Mary Quant popularized the mini and the beginning of what is now known as fast fashion marketed towards younger women. In this era, they made the first ‘disposable dress’ out of paper and rejected the constraints of the fashion industry’s cycles: Quant produced as many as twenty-eight collections during her early years. 

Despite this move towards consumerism, however, quality and originality remained premiums. Rather than the 21st-century capitalist hellscape, mix-and-match fashions defined the ’60s as a new playground where designers could bounce fresh ideas off the walls and into unique boutiques for eager shoppers. For the first time, the ball was in the court of young mods sympathizing with the devil and consorting with controversy. 

turtleneck

What do pretentious intellectuals, trendy schoolgirls, snapping tortoises, not to mention your grandma have in common? All can appreciate a good turtleneck. From the knit edition popularized in the French New Wave classic Breathless to Warhol’s iconic uniform, turtlenecks exploded in popularity due to their versatility and general icon status.

babydoll dresses

You can always go downtown. Anya Taylor-Joy wore a flouncy number for Last Night in Soho, and you can wear one tonight to go out on the town. As the sexual revolution raged in the ’60s, these loose garments became the preferred alternative to the suffocating bodices inexplicably popular in the previous decade. And of course they were revived in the ’90s by grunge girls like Courtney Love.

micro-mini

The Girl of the Year in 1967 is wearing what the Girl of the Year in 2023 would undoubtedly covet. So long, old femininity. Hello legs. In short, the mini skirt served as a symbol of a new age in fashionable female liberation.

space age synthetics

Life in plastic, isn’t it fantastic? Long before the Barbie movie, designers like Courreges anticipated the future of fashion. Taking cues from American advances in space, they formulated looks in various new fabrics and textures such as PVC, nylon, and metallics. These designs set the pace of technical progress to the present, where new cyber-infused styles and next-level innovative fabric technology take off to unprecedented destinations.

swing coat

In 1966, Coco Chanel pronounced the designer Courreges deplorable, “This man is trying to destroy women by covering up their figures and turning them into little girls.”

This is ironic because she was a Nazi agent. If she considered herself the pinnacle of mature adulthood, no wonder young people instinctively smothered her ideal in fabric. Retaining their childhood sense of fun, for mods boxy dresses could double as coats and other coats parodied military styles; playful styles to feed our inner children.

go go boots

These boots were made for walking –all over your friends, lovers, enemies, and anyone who dares to doubt your stylish authority. Nancy Sinatra (shown here) sang this song despite songwriter Lee Hazlewood’s thoughts that “it’s not really a girl’s song.” What’s that noise? It’s the sound of Nancy trampling that statement into the mud. Follow Nancy’s example by wearing an audaciously covetable pair in white.

pop art palette

In 1965 Yves Saint Laurent created shift dresses based on Mondrian paintings. The result? Instantly iconic.

And while this might not appear impressive in a photo there was considerable technical intricacy behind the simple lines of these collarless and sleeveless dresses.

In order to recreate the solid colors bordered by black lines, the squares were inlaid and combined from inside the dress, rendering the seams invisible to the naked eye. The restrained silhouette dictated the technique.

ballet flats and mary janes

Beat it, girl. These shoes offer even less support than a stereotypical ‘60s husband. Which is not to say that they don’t pay off because they are more comfortable than heels, and unlike your ‘60s, hopefully ex-husband, you can beat them up without fear of serious repercussions. In fact, the ability to easily run around town in these slippers is one of their great charms. You may be physically shorter wearing these but your spirits will soar.

jumpsuit

Originally intended for parachuters, the jumpsuit should still be your go-to when you want to take an adventurous leap into the social setting of your choice. First pictured in Vogue in 1964, the full body look is certainly more striking than the parachute cargo style pants common on the streets today. Whether you choose to wear a sportswear look or leather for the club, you’ll perform an aerial strike with icon status.


Lady like (as in “the First Lady”)

“One should always dress like a marble column.” -Jackie O

“Fashions fade, style is eternal.” -Yves Saint Laurent

For women seeking timeless appeal, the hyper-feminine model of the ’50s ruled. Dress codes continued to shift as well. Diamonds were a girl’s best friend in the ’40s and ’50s. But in the ’60s pearls were the constant companion to gamine stars like Audrey Hepburn. The boundaries of femininity were more fluid as hemlines rose, colors bloomed, and pants emerged as appropriate for the first time. Fashion’s boundaries also expanded as American and British designers became as influential as their French couture counterparts.

Jackie Kennedy-Onassis is heralded as the first time the First Lady meant fashion. Synonymous with a classy take on trends, she was the blueprint, the pink (pillbox hat) print, and the imprint for generations of countless admirers. As a Washington woman in the spotlight, Jackie dressed up politics, lending glamour to what was considered dull.

Proponents of elegant fashion understood that if looks could kill, grace and poise would disarm. In a time when women expressed discontent with their primarily domestic lives, fashion was a vehicle into the public sphere. Any woman could emulate Audrey Hepburn by wearing the ubiquitous ‘little black dress.’ Like Hepburn, the adoption of classic pieces could signify upward mobility even as one moved within the confines of the status quo.

shift dress

Mod and ladylike proponents both adored this silhouette. An enchanting belle born from pomp and circumstance. Jackie was a secret lover of the A-line models pioneered by French designers like Balenciaga, Givenchy and Christian Dior. At the same time, she was a torchbearer to American designers like Oleg Cassini and women across the country quickly followed her lead.

skirt suit

Be the power couple you want to see in the world by pairing a boxy jacket with a skirt, proving the business of fashion is serious. Rejecting the slim-fitting garments of the decade prior, keep the world guessing because don’t worry darling, you are a force to be reckoned with.

menswear for all

Yves Saint Laurent launched the debut of his ‘Le Smoking’ collection in 1968 which challenged gender norms by featuring women in traditional suits. People were alarmed because if a woman can wear a suit, obviously the next thing she will do is stop cleaning the house and take over the world. What could possibly be worse? At the time, the designer noted: “For a woman, the tuxedo is an indispensable garment in which she will always be in style.” Women. You can’t live without them, especially once they have rooms and most crucially suits of their own.

pencil skirt

Sharpen your look by winnowing down your lower half to a point. After all, the pencil skirt is mightier than the sheath dress. That’s how the saying goes and this 50s trend was more resilient than ever into the early 60s, trickling down from the wardrobes of sex symbols to become a practical staple as women entered the workforce in droves.

little black dress

Polished and glistening to a tee, the LBD is the perfect wingwoman – a garment that doesn’t speak loudly or outshine your colors but still manages to capture your candid self in the best lighting. If you don’t know what to wear to all tomorrow’s parties, you can’t go wrong with the most elegant of cult classics.

oversized sunglasses

The takeover of your face is not a hostile one. In fact, a fashionable coup should be welcome as oversized glasses are both impossibly glamorous and a impossibly effective way to hide a hangover.


Le Hippie

“Turn on, tune in, drop out.” –Timothy Leary

Not all who wander are lost. Inspired by the previous decade of beat poets and activists, ‘60s hippie style became the chill, upstate sister to mod’s glitzy city-based materialism. Loose, unstructured and unconcerned with frivolities, hippies didn’t care about new boutiques and runway shows when the establishment could be forgone entirely.

Hippies, often reincarnated Beats, followed the rhythms of their own beat – hence the name. Simultaneously they understood the importance of uniting in pursuit of a cause. Freedom of speech, civil rights, ecological and antiwar movements knit together in a patchwork quilt. While historians recognize that the Summer of Love was largely a media fabrication and hippies encompassed diverse subcultures, this Season of unity was no construct. In today’s divided world, this cult of togetherness has largely lost resonance. That said, we should strive to recall the original meaning.

Unlike other subcultures, the hippies didn’t spend a lot of money on trends or compel followers to buy a Breton top or leopard print coat in pursuit of an illusive ideal. The approach still applies. Rather than remaining entranced by the phantom of mindless consumerism, become enlightened by the spirit of the movement: choose garments that reflect your unique persona.

bell-bottom jeans

After decades spent in the trend cycle spotlight, nothing could seem more intuitive or basic than a pair of blue jeans. It is hard to comprehend a time when you had to sneak out of the house wearing jeans as a harbinger of teenage rebellion, but to be fair, it is hard to comprehend that today women are still not paid the same as men. When you are feeling extra indignant, drag your pant legs in the mud as a metaphor for progress.

pictured: the iconic Jane Birkin

chain belt

Subtly reveal your tortured disposition through a belt with chain links. ‘60s belts often featured designs like circles and squares, so when you pull it on, you also convey your keen appreciation for geometry. Liking math should be a capital offense, but somehow wearing this belt is not. Peace out, I guess.

psychedelic

These dark cafe days can be brightened up with a dose of eccentricity. Spiraling has never been more tempting. Channel Pucci for your 60s revival of the dopamine dressing trend. If you’re feeling positively dotty, polka dots were on the upswing during the 60s and were often incorporated into psychedelic patterns influenced by Liechtenstein and the work of other pop artists.

flower-power

This English rose has thorns. Both a cult classic and favored by cults the world over, the phrase ‘took the world by storm’ is overblown and inaccurate when florals for the Summer became a virtual hurricane.

paisley

I saw the best minds of my generation wearing Paisley print shirts. Although this may be a totally misappropriated quote, we would argue that the spirit is not wrong. The Beatles had an obsession with the print during their Eastern-inspired phase and we all know how the world obsessed over the Beatles. Top designers of the era like Saint Laurent, Biba and Jean Muir all incorporated it as paisley came to be one of the greatest signifiers of the Summer of Love.

peasant-core

In a supremely premature precursor to the 2020 cult classic MidSommar, hippies decided that the obvious candidate to replace mainstream fashion was the historic look of the European lower classes. Fabrics were loose and so were ideas as free thinkers and ideas proliferated. Still, one has to question the thought process here. After all, no one is as chill – or parties harder – than the farmer who labors in the field from sun up to sundown? Perhaps this collective decision was the result of the psychedelics.

afghan coat

Taking inspiration from the East, this dubiously named garment will lend a much needed sense of glamour to your life on the road. Whether making a stop at a gas station, rolling a joint or rolling around in a field somewhere, the fur from this coat will not necessarily keep you warm during your travels but the cool factor will ensure you can continue along the well-trodden, beaten path of romanticizing your life.


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