“In the fashion world 1963 was the year Cleopatra died. Laid to rest with her were the cinched waist, the too-rounded hips, and the harsh painted eyes, lips, and complexion. It was a year marked by a return to softness and naturalness, a year in which traditional seasonal taboos were ignored and a number of colors, fabrics, and patterns were acclaimed as year-round staples. The fashion direction was dictated more by time of day than by temperature or locale. U.S. Independence. It was also a year in which Paris was forced to recognize the growing stature and independence of the U.S. fashion industry. Spending by U.S. stores and manufacturers in Paris reached an all-time low in 1963, with European and Japanese professionals accounting for the bulk of the buying. Although Paris remained the focus for haute couture, the United States excelled in ready-to-wear clothes with the couture look.
The only mildly sensational news from Paris was the re-turn of the near-princess pinched-waist coat and Yves St. Laurent’s assertion of the supersportive “young natural” look.
International Parallelism. Otherwise, a great deal of inter-national parallelism was evident. For example, the military look—with full collar; broad, square, padded shoulders; big, flapped pockets; double rows of brass buttons; optional vents; epaulets; and half-belt in back—was introduced almost simultaneously by the House of Dior in Paris and by Oleg Cassini in the United States.
On both sides of the Atlantic, coats were shorter, jackets longer, collars higher, shoulders wider, skirts straighter. Long, generous sleeves staged a comeback, and blouses played an important part in the layered costume look. There was a resurgence of interest at the top, with necklines muffled by day and plunging by night. Waistlines descended in the direction of the hip in daytime wear and climbed upward in evening wear. While daytime hemlines just covered the knees, hemlines in evening wear reached for the ground.
Fabrics. In general, fabrics received a good deal of attention. Tweeds were thicker yet lighter, knits more textured and varied, embroideries richer, silks softer, laces filmier. Wool emerged as one of the most dramatic fabrics for evening, usurping the province of velvet, satin, silk, and lace. Suede, versatile enough for day or evening, became high fashion, bridging the gap between sportive and dressy. A long-jacketed suit of suede was a mark of elegance.
Furs. Extravagant furs pervaded all areas of fashion; they were as much at home in the living room as on the ski slope, in town, or at the opera. Coats trimmed with mink, beaver, and fox proved popular, and the little fur was seen in the brief jacket, the stole, and the short cape.
Spotted furs, smart for casual daytime wear or for evening, were overdone. (Toward the end of the year good-quality Somali leopard was practically unobtainable.) Fake furs, such as simulated leopard, cheetah, and zebra, were seen in profusion in coats, dresses, shoes, hats, and bags.
Colors. New color contenders for 1963 were cranberry red, chocolate brown, and luminous green. Black and white were still the most popular colors for evening wear, but the violets, mauves, and fuschias were often seen. For day wear, colors were lightened and whitened. Pale blue and pink became acceptable for the cooler months and, hence, for year-round wear. Similarly, such warm-weather patterns as hound’s-tooth checks and Glen plaids—primarily in black and white but also in a variety of interesting color combinations—became cool-weather favorites. Blonde and tawny furs attained unprecedented popularity, and chalk white, oyster, bisque, and beige invaded the accessory field.
Shaped versus Eased Fit. Givenchy and Balenciaga were proponents of the carefully shaped fit and the carefully eased fit, respectively. The shaped fit was tailored with solid, molded seaming, whereas the relaxed, natural fit featured curved, stretched-out seaming.
Sportive versus Seductive Look. Another contrast was offered by the sportive, male-inspired look and the luxurious, ultrafeminine look. The sportive look thrived by day, the seductive look by night. The sportive look featured tweeds, mohairs, camel’s hairs, leathers, and furs. Heads were contained in clinging, helmetlike hats. Necklines were swathed in scarfs, stoles, cowls, cuffs, and turtlenecks. Weskits and cardigans covered undersweaters and tailored skirts, either plain-fronted, pleated, or ruffled. Knee-high boots encased the legs, or feet were enfolded in low, sturdy, thick-heeled ghillies. However shod, the “young natural” sported full-length, bulky, textured stockings in rib, cable, or herringbone designs in a wide variety of colors. Occasionally rose-patterned or open-weave hose were seen both day and night, and stockings were sometimes highlighted by gold and silver threads or embroidered at the seam.
Sheer stockings remained popular for after-five wear, however, with a tendency toward somewhat darker hues than previously seen. The ultrafeminine look featured bared shoulders, backs, and bosoms. Filmy framing ruffles added the illusion of innocence to this daring display of flesh. Sumptuous fabrics, furs, feathers, sequins, and beadings were worn in the evening, and nowhere did they partake of such vibrancy and extravagance as in the home itself.
More “Looks.” Jackets were longer, descending to well below the hipline, and were almost always double-breasted. Gabrielle Chanel, who continued to show the cardigan worn with a shirt and easy skirt, also revived the blazer. As a result, the navy blazer with brass buttons and patch pockets reappeared with a short skirt by day and was worn over a long sheath by night. After-five blazers also cropped up in white sequins, satin, and lace.
Directly related to the blazer were the riding suit and military coat. Cassini’s version of the riding suit boasted an important collar of black velvet, seamed-and-shaped tailoring, and flare from waist to knee.
The box silhouette in coats, manifest in the military look, was allied to the all-round straighter, more vertical look: a smooth, up-and-down line from widened, frequently squared shoulders to hemline with a gently eased back. Skirts were generally straighter and slimmer, fitting the hips more closely than in previous years.
The straight-line silhouette was also accented by slim tailored overblouses with full-length sleeves. Most suits were coordinated costumes with their own overblouses. Capes abounded: fitted coats with cape sleeves, jackets with cape collars, coats with contrasting overcapes, matching suit capes, and hood-and-cape combinations.
The highly successful layered look was evident in beach-wear. The two-piece swimsuit and bikini reigned supreme on the beaches and at resorts, but everyone seemed to be covering them up with see-through beach coats, dresses, and blouses of sheer fabrics to achieve a soft, subtle silhouette.
Loungewear. Loungewear came into its own in 1963. The trend in at-home fashions was toward the soft and easy, the long and luxurious, the colorful and romantic. Shifts retained their popularity, but the gentle fit with subtle bias cut and arched princess lines was often seen. Separates and layered separates also gained in popularity. Velvet was the most favored loungewear material, followed by crepe and chiffon, especially in floor-length empire gowns. Metallic brocades and beading were also seen quite often.
Foundation Garments. Lightweight spandex stretch fabric, which gave a better fit and more comfort, found increased use in foundations. Because this fabric could be dyed more easily than rubber elastic, color became more important. However, white remained the most popular color in foundations, followed by black, the beige-brown group, the pink-red family, and blue. A frosted look was achieved by using white stretch lace over colored fabric.
Jewelry. All that glittered in 1963 was not gold, but most of it was bold. Fake jewelry in large chunks and vibrant hues incorporated jet, pearls, rhinestones, quartz, and roughhewn phony gold. Women wore dangling earring clusters, massive bibs, mammoth medallions, huge cufflinks, and large brooches and pendants.
Hats. As a result of the new smoother hairdos, more hat were seen during the year and they were worn closer to the head. The year started with toques, turbans, and babushkas but then went on to brims, such as the fedora, bowler, helmet, and deerstalker. Finally, more flexible brims and crowns took over: the Dietrich snap-brim, the Garbo slouch, the Anzac,. the Argentine vaquero, the cowboy sombrero, the Canadian mountie, the D’Artagnan cavalier. Tip-tilted brims swept up in front or dipped down rakishly in back or to one side. Felt and velours were the most popular hat fabric, but organdy, textured wool, straw, leather, and spotted flu were also evident.
Makeup. Makeup techniques stressed the soft, natural look, cosmetics blending rather than painting, and the exploitation of natural skin tones and mouth and eye color. Rouge heightened color in cheeks and temples. Roundness supplanted sharpness and angularity. Bold strokes on eyelids and brows gave way to neat, steady, slightly curving lines Softened colors such as browns, grays, and taupes replaced darker eye shadows and liners. (One lightening trend that didn’t get off the ground was the bleaching of eyebrows.) The center of facial interest gravitated somewhat from the eyes to the mouth. Corners of the mouth were slightly rounded, and lips were filled in with soft colors in the coral-tawny-brown range or with a blend of tinted creams to induce a “no-lip. stick” effect.
The fashion of long gowns for dinner and the theater made exquisite evening hairdos more important than ever. As evening fashions became more formal, daytime fashions reached a new peak of casualness. For the first time in years, women needed two separate wardrobes and two different coiffures for day and evening. Gone was the basic dress and the “round-the-clock” coiffure.
One of the most important hairdos was the contour cut Created for daytime’s sportive look, this hairdo made the head appear smaller and more feminine. The hair was cut chin-length without layering and was shorter in the back than on the sides. This style could be turned into a beautiful evening coiffure by sweeping the longer sides up to the crown, thus permitting the application of hair pieces for a gala and completely different style. For evening, the emphasis was width back from the hairline, rather than height, and volume toward the back of the head. Also of major importance for feminine flattery were deep, brow-touching, flirtatious bangs.
Hairpieces and Wigs. Although wigs continued to be of interest, the hair fashion accessory that took first place in popularity in 1963 was the postiche, or hairpiece. Postiches were made on oval or cone-shaped bases with the hair dressed and set and ready for application to the coiffure. They were also attached to bandeaux, which clasped to the head in a flow of hair to be combed into the hairdo for extra fullness. They took shape, too, as crowns of curls, for curls began to be seen again for evening, topping a luxurious coiffure. They were made with real hair or with blends of hair and synthetic fibers, and they were available at widely varying prices.
Hair Accessories. Women took a tremendous interest in hair accessories in 1963. The soft and simple daytime hair-dos were a perfect background for headbands, barrettes, and bows, which highlighted the coiffure in a casual manner. The fabulous evening creations called for lots of glitter, which ran the gamut from diamonds to rhinestones in clips, combs, and bands. It was not unusual to see part of a woman’s collection of jewels set becomingly in her coiffure.
It is interesting that hairdressers were doing more than hair. The stylist was not only setting hair, but creating his own products, such as hair spray and other hair accessories. The European custom of having the hair set at home spread to the United States, and women began to engage hairdressers to come to their homes to comb out their hair before important occasions.”
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.