Fashions of the 1960s: Mods, Hippies, and the Youth Culture
Youth Movement of the 1960s
Fashions of the 1960s reflected youth. From the child-like short skirts of the mid-'60s to the costume-type outfits of the hippies, clothing took on new lines, color, and a reflection of vibrant optimism mixed with an idealistic yearning for a new egalitarian society.
The introduction of the birth control pill encouraged women to seek a new kind of freedom. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 increased interest in African cultures as well as interest in other ethnic groups. Western youth no longer saw themselves as a homogenized whole, but as a collection of tribes with a wide variety of interests and self-created roles.
The 1960s was a time of social and cultural change due in large part to population demographics. According to the US Census Bureau, 36% of the US population was under 18 in 1960. A youth movement was underway.
The youthful population of the 1960s wore short skirts, geometric prints, and bright colors. From the casual sophistication of the early '60s to the pop art and op art influences of the mods, dress styles went through radical changes. Women had never shown so much skin. Men grew their hair long. Young people rejected traditional clothing until the second half of the decade, a kind of style anarchy that created a new bohemian look introduced by the hippie movement.
Early 60's Fashion Icons
Post-war designer Emilio Pucci introduced tapered capri pants and new lightweight clothing that was perfect for travel. His wrinkle-free silk jersey made in bold colors and vibrant color combinations created a new casual style with a youthful appeal.
The youthful first lady presented herself with a natural yet sophisticated style in a manner that was classically simple. Mixing Parisian couture and a breezy, athletic American style, Jackie Kennedy favored boat-neck tops, trousers, and sleeveless dresses. Her formal attire lost the fussy look of the past, leaning toward clean lines and bright colors.
Audrey Hepburn, the muse of Herbert de Givenchy, became a fashion icon influential to this day. She was tall and thin, following an era when the feminine ideal was curvy and robust. In her flat shoes and dancer's stance, she created a youthful new look without flashy ornamentation that relied on a natural grace as depicted in her films Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany's.
A fashion model and muse for Mary Quant, Twiggy became a hugely famous figure in the early to mid-'60s. Thin to the point of emaciation, her androgynous appeal became the slouchy, big-eyed portrait of a modern girl. Her short, boyish hair and exaggerated eye make up gave her a unique look recognizable to this day.
Shrimpton was named Model of the Year by Glamour magazine in 1963 and was known for her long legs, pouty lips, and straight hair with bangs.
Mary Quant and the London Fashion Scene
A new affluence combined with affordable tuition allowed more kids than ever to attend college. The egalitarian influence of the newly educated lower class, mixed with the concept of the shared hardships during and following World War II, led to a youth movement no longer led by the elite. Young people rejected the snobbery of couture and the restrictive conservation of the post-war years.
In the Chelsea area of London, a haunt for artists and bohemians, the beatnik trends of the 1950s informed a look based on dancers' clothing, including short skirts, tights, and flat shoes. Carnaby Street, a fashionable shopping district in London, hosted the emergence of new, independent boutiques that focused on bold new styles.
Bazaar and the Birth of Mod
In 1955, Mary Quant opened her clothing shop called Bazaar, offering updated traditional styles and an informal shopping experience in a party-like atmosphere.
Designing clothes that offered greater ease of movement, Mary Quant introduced simple tunic style dresses that rejected the structured tailoring of the fashion establishment.
She featured jewelry created by art students in radically new designs. Her mini skirt was offered to young working women to enable them to run for the bus. And when gartered hose did not work with the short hemlines, she sold dancers' tights, then followed up with colored tights procured from theatrical manufacturers.
Bright colors and fabric patterns taken from children's wear mixed with bold geometric prints, puffed caps, and knee-high boots to create a modern, new look—Mod style.
The Abolishment of Dress Codes
In Britain, young working-class men began to adopt historical clothing based on Edwardian designs. From Edward VII's nickname, the Teddy Boys wore long, fitted jackets with velvet collars, brocade vests, and drainpipe trousers. Mods wore tight-fitting suits, grew their hair out like the Beatles and zipped around town on motor scooters. Rockers based their style on an American James Dean look with leather jackets and motorcycles.
Young men and women began to reject the dress codes of a conservative past when the elite establishment ruled fashion. People no longer dressed according to social position or time of day.
And while the British dressed up, Americans dressed down. Jeans, once the uniform of cowboys and farmers, became the symbol of a new laid back kind of freedom. College students who no longer saw themselves as an elite class dressed for the common cause, breaking down social positions that were identified by manner of dress.
Jeans became the signature clothing item of the youth movement. The once plain work garment evolved into sailor-style bell-bottoms that came, no longer just in blue denim, but in a rainbow of colors, often featuring embroidery and appliqued designs.
The Hippie Movement and Fashion
In the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, a group of young professionals, artists, and musicians began to adopt a new bohemian lifestyle. Like the Aesthetics of the 19th century, the new bohemians rejected the dehumanizing effects of mass production and consumerism, as well as the roles dictated by society.
Embracing an alternative way of living, the early hippies dressed in theatrical costumes and recycled clothing, often based on historic costume and folk dress. Wearing vintage clothes, or remaking garments out of old fabric, the hippies created a unique look based on individuality, creativity, and fantasy.
They incorporated fashions from other cultures and military surplus into curious combinations. Scarves and skirts were influenced by traditional Romani and European clothing. Middle Eastern kaftans, traditional African garments and fabrics, Indian prints, Native American influences, and the fringe jackets of American pioneers were also incorporated. All these mixed together to create an unstructured look that was both exotic and frivolous.
The whimsical independence of hippie style threatened the fashion establishment. Men grew their hair long. Women could no longer be told what to wear. Social position no longer dictated how a person dressed.
While hippie style introduced a new, ecological sensibility, the style eventually went mainstream. Hippie type clothes were worn by the wealthy elite and, eventually, became a mass-produced fashion trend that went against everything the original hippies stood for.
The use of drugs introduced an alternative perception. LSD created a heightened appreciation of color, texture, and line that informed fashion of the late 1960s. Colors bled into other colors and the geometric shapes of the early decade melted into amoeba patterns, vibrant swirls, and Indian paisley.
An essential component of the hippie style of the second half of the 1960s, psychedelic fashion often mixed with the tribal and folk costume clothing of the Haight-Ashbury scene. African patterns and clothing design, popularized after the Civil Rights Act, introduced tie-dyed fabrics and loose, comfortable dashikis.
A stereotype emerged: a young person in an Afro hairstyle wearing a tie-dyed shirt, peace symbol, and bell-bottomed jeans—the quintessential mass-marketed hippie, and a look that pops up every Halloween.
While psychedelia quickly lost steam due to over-saturation, the bohemian fashion trend of the hippies makes frequent comebacks that still influence fashion today. The long, hippie-style peasant skirt led to the maxi skirt, a short-lived ankle-length hemline that quickly died out but brokered an end to the dictation of hemlines by the fashion establishment.
Hair, Makeup, and Jewelry of the '60s
The early '60s saw bouffant hairdos that were less exaggerated than in the late '50s. A soft, slightly pouffed bob or shoulder-length flip was teased out at the tips for volume. Even the Mods, with their sleek hairdos, kept a bit of lift in the geometric cut bobs like the one worn by Mary Quant.
A smooth sleekness gave way to long, straight hair, worn with or without bangs or in a center part. Wavy-haired and curly-haired young women had their hair straightened or ironed it flat at home.
Hippie style encouraged a natural look that included long, straight hair as well as long, curly or wavy hair. Those with very curly Afro-textured hair types were allowed to grow their hair in a natural fashion, often cut in a slightly rounded shape to form an Afro. Young men grew their hair long or allowed curls to grow naturally.
Makeup ran the gamut, from the minimalist cosmetic style worn by Audrey Hepburn, to kohl-rimmed eyes of the Mods. While 50s makeup highlighted the lips, makeup of the '60s paid special attention to the eyes, with large false eyelashes and the exaggerated eye makeup worn by Twiggy.
Hippies generally eschewed cosmetics, but enjoyed face painting for special events, displaying images of daisies, rainbows, and other natural themes on their cheeks or foreheads. Body painting turned the entire body into a canvas. Unlike the tattoos of today, body art of the '60s washed off.
Jewelry went from the conservative, lady-like pearl (or faux pearl) necklaces of the '50s toward a variety of styles. Mods preferred obvious costume jewelry made of chunky plastics in bright colors.
As the more bohemian look of the late 1960s went mainstream, an eclectic variety of jewelry included long beaded necklaces, stacked silver bangles, woven leather bracelets, large stone rings, beaded headbands, and hooped or intricate dangle earrings. Flowers were often worn instead of jewelry or worn in a wreath on top of the head. Daisies were the predominant flower choice.
Shoes of the '60s
Young women of the early 1960s wore flat shoes and low-heeled pumps. Later, knee-high boots came into the mix, appearing in vinyl as well as leather. The tall, thin boots came in light shades and in colors. Later, wider, lower cut boots were called go-go boots and were often featured on popular dance shows on TV.
Young men wore low cut boots with Cuban heels, and zipped or elastic sides. Rockers and Americans who favored Western styles wore cowboy boots or motorcycle boots.
The hippies often went without shoes at all. Sandals came in Gladiator styles and flip-flops. Huaraches, a Mexican sandal with a woven leather top which had been popular for some years, was commonly worn by hippie types. Boots were popular as well as clogs and Doctor Scholl's wooden soled sandals.
1960s Styles Today
The whimsical freedoms of 1960s styles still influence the world of fashion. The comfort and freedom of movement that was popularized then is a concept that never really went away. Any day, you can see girls in mini skirts and knee-high boots. Clogs have become even more popular and come in many styles. And the bohemian style of the hippie movement has made several comebacks, which include psychedelic floral designs and the kaftans that were featured in the 2012 Spring Fashion Week.
Modern fashion shows and collections reflect the alternative styles of the 1960s, presenting a myriad of hemlines, trouser types, color blends, and clothing shapes.
For Further Reading
- Everyday Fashions of the Sixties as Pictured in Sears Catalogs by JoAnne Olian
- Sixties Fashion: From Less is More to Youthquake by Jonathan Walford
- Swinging Britain: Fashion in the 1960s by Mark Armstrong
- Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip by Phyllis Magidson
- Psychedelic Chic: Artistic Fashions of the Late 1960s and Early 1970s by Roseann Ettinger
- Fifty Fashion Looks That Changed the 1960s by Paula Reed
Questions & Answers
By the summer of 1965- how much of the hippie style was around for women especially?
The summer of 1965 saw a fledgling hippie movement in San Francisco and London. Young people were questioning the authority of the establishment and turning on the war in Vietnam, protesting nuclear proliferation, and baking the Civil Rights Movement. A group of writers, artists, and musicians in San Francisco had developed an interest in alternative lifestyles turning to the art and fashions of the turn of the last century, Eastern art and philosophy, and the iconic ideals of the American West. Vintage clothing shops soon popped up in London and New York, and young people often shopped for clothing at thrift shops where they matched their blue jeans with cast-off clothing of yesteryear.
Sonny and Cher with their hippie look sang "I Got You, Babe," and Barry McGuire displayed an anti-authoritarian stance against nuclear proliferation with the song "Eve of Destruction."
In 1965, San Francisco saw the emergence of influential bands like the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Ken Kesey had taken a group of characters on a cross-country road trip in an old school bus painted in psychedelic style to promote his book, "Sometimes a Great Notion." The Merry Pranksters made tie-dyed clothing and dressed in a manner more like a costume than traditional styles.
The Baby Boomers were not ready to grow up. Women turned on restrictive girdles and bras, let their hair grow long, and stopped wearing makeup.
Young ladies turned on the prevailing classic and pop art styles. They began to wear granny dresses, longer hemmed dresses based on the prairie or Edwardian styles. A home sewing craze allowed young ladies the opportunity to tweak homemade clothes with elements of folk designs.
The hippie look did not approach mainstream fashion until 1967 when the Summer of Love and the hippie culture made the cover of Time magazine.
Google 1965 images of bands and celebrities that I mentioned to get you going on a look.Helpful 14
"A home sewing craze allowed young ladies the opportunity to tweak homemade clothes with elements of folk designs." What are some examples of these folk designs described in this article?
In the 1960S and 70s, fabric was inexpensive. Most cities had several budget fabric shops. Many people owned sewing machines. Stores offered sewing lessons and girls learned sewing basics at school in home economics classes.
As clothing became more creative with the new bohemian and hippie fashions, a girl could take a basic sewing pattern and add details like embroidery, interesting edging, or the use of nontraditional fabrics. For instance, you could use fabric usually reserved for curtains to make a long vest, use upholstery fabric to make a coat. For a while, girls tore up the legs of old jeans, added pieces of other fabric or another set of torn-up jeans to make a skirt
One fun project for me was to make a pattern for a long dress and shorten it. I made the collar a Nehru style but used a different fabric than recommended, an Eastern European pattern. I also used the Eastern European type pattern for a wide belt and edged hem. The final outfit did not look much like the picture on the pattern. It was fun!Helpful 6