“The 1960s decade may well be recorded as one of the most fashion-conscious periods in recent history, even more than the 1890s and the 1920s. Even the American Presidential election campaigns made fashion an issue, in 1960 fashion, when the wives of the two Presidential candidates became the storm center of a headlined controversy over the source and cost of their respective wardrobes, their taste in clothes, and their comparative rating among the international “best dressed.”
Two main changes in early 1960s coat fashions marked the year: emphasis on shorter coats and the reemphasis on sweepingly full coat shapes. On both sides of the Atlantic, all uncertainty disappeared as the public showed unqualified acceptance of relaxed shaping and the lowered waistline. collections in both Europe and America concentrated on low-waisted silhouettes and also reintroduced the princesse shape and the narrow tubular or oval outline with little or no waistline indentation. Even the most cautious women seemed willing to accept the overblouse (as comfortable to wear as it is fashionable) as a becoming change from the fitted bodice and constricting belted waist.
New types of soft fullness appeared: sometimes it was “full over full” expressed in loose box jackets over full skirts, or again in deeply bloused tops over circular skirts. Unusual “directional” seaming was employed to shape dresses and coats so as to achieve a full-flowing outline yet retain figure contours. Side-slanting folds, side fastenings on coats and dresses, side-to-side necklines, and a sideward plunge to daring evening necklines also pointed up the abstract effect in fashion, as opposed to a “period” look.
During the 1960s the different capitals of world fashion, Paris, Rome, and New York, seemed to have clearly established their own independent points of view. Although France and Italy continued to wield great influence on the popular-priced American fashion industry, by being copied and publicized in line-for-line copies made in America and also by means of the fast-developing European ready-to-wear industry, a well-recognized group of American designers exercised profound influence, both in their original collections and the copies made of their clothes. In New York, Norman Norell caused a worldwide flurry when he showed suits with tailored trousers and culottes replacing the usual skirts and retained their popularity throughout the 1960s. They were worn by mannequins with the darkened eye-lids, whitened make-up, and cropped hair of the 1920s. The Trigere collection in New York and the Galanos collection designed in California both included clothes with a slender, pliant, and flowing medieval echo which the fashion world cited as prophetic. Bill Blass of Maurice Rentner and Donald Brooks of Townley led a group of American designers in launching modern versions of the deeply bloused, bias-cut, low-waisted clothes of the 1930’s.
The annual Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award, most coveted honor in contemporary fashion because it is bestowed by a jury of more than 70 fashion editors, went in 1960 to four designers whose varied backgrounds reflect the multiple nationalities combined to form the new force of American fashion: young French-born Jacques Tiffeau (coats and suits), Italian-born Ferdinando Sarmi (afternoon and evening clothes), Austrian born Rudi Gernreich (bathing suits), and New Yorker Roxane of Samuel Winston (evening clothes).
The Paris and Rome designers continued to stress the abstract oval and tubular shapes, with high pointed hats, wide collars, armholes of almost cape-like depth, and skirts with fullness above a tapered hemline. The Paris versions expressed by Dior and Balenciaga counterbalanced a slender tube with a “bubble” skirt beginning below the hipbone. Rome designers such as Simonetta and Fabiani built their silhouettes on the unbroken oval shape with rounded width at the top and a very narrow hemline. Skirts in Europe were noticeably shorter than the standard American length.
Yves St. Laurent of Dior studded his Paris collection with bulky knit sleeves, knit turtleneck collars, and black leather touches which fashion reporters termed “beatnik.” In the fall of 1960, 24-year-old St. Laurent, who succeeded Christian Dior at the latter’s death in 1956, was drafted into the French Army, then suffered a nervous breakdown which hospitalized him. The House of Dior announced Marc Bohan, their designer in London, as St. Laurent’s successor.
Day clothes remained simple and colorful. Sleeveless dresses dominated the smart collections, usually covered by jackets or coats to form a costume. Many clothes abandoned collars in favor of contrasting colored piping which also edged the jacket and pockets or cuffs.
Layered effects were important in fashion: tunic tops, tiered skirts, and hem flounces were strongly shown. Many designers used double layers of chiffon or print covered with organza to form a dress or a costume.
In the Sixties, the ever-growing American passion for travel was widely reflected in American fashion design, promotion, and consumer preference. Costumes designed to be worn on jet planes and adapt to a different climate on arrival were highlighted in several American collections. Virtually every leading designer stressed the multiple unit, quick-change costume. The swift changes of climate experienced by world travelers also affected the fabrics used in fashion. Weightless, porous fabrics and mixed fibers which rendered materials more crease-resistant and easy to care for became important considerations to high-fashion creators, as well as to those designing volume-produced clothing. Paradoxically, however, 1960 was a peak year for the use of extravagant fabrics of silk, wool, and linen. Vicuna, at $90 a yard, was used in women’s tailored clothes and even in women’s dressing gowns. Gold and silver brocades at $40 a yard, 24-carat gold lace, and hand-embroidered and cutwork linens from Madeira and Spain made the smart woman’s party dress a thing of heirloom value. Silk tweeds and silk linen as everyday materials heightened the luxury of day and sports clothes. Fur trimming, fur linings, and fur accessories usually of precious leopard, sable, or mink added to the picture of fashion opulence. The fur turban was so popular that it was sold at low-priced hat bars. The alligator handbag costing $200 or more was cited as a status symbol among well-to-do women.
While the outline of clothes during the 1960s was in the main simple, as it was throughout the 1960s, the weaves and patterns of their materials were complex and highly decorative. Printed designs, traditionally for spring and summer only, were used throughout the four seasons; these were largely based on abstract art, both in their geometric forms and their subtle, muted, or strongly “offbeat” contrasts. Flower patterns were large and misty, also following the muted, darkened range for winter and the vibrant tones against white grounds in spring and summer. Liberty of London contributed an influential theme by reviving their “Art Nouveau” prints, originated in the early 1900’s. These were used by the couture houses in New York and California as well as in Paris, Rome, and London, and their water lily, poppy, and tooled-leather forms were later repeated throughout the textile field.
Long-haired furs such as fox, fisher, and sable outranked mink as the elegant women’s favorite furs. Fur coats followed the loose oval outline and were considered smartest when utterly simple in outline, usually deep-sleeved and collarless with the skins worked horizontally.
Hair played a strong and changing role in early 1960s fashion. The bouffant coiffure arranged in a high global shape with little or no wave was the prime favorite until the advent, in the fall, of the short boyish haircut, which seemed to be “in” by the end of the year.”
Compiled from period encyclopedias, yearbooks and catalogs subject to fair use or public domain. My own edited versions of public domain material including edited images are protected by copyright.