“Continuing the trend begun in the latter part of 1963, women’s fashions in 1964 moved still further away from the straight lines and extreme tailoring of “tough chic” to ever greater fullness, softness, and feminine detail. Some startling innovations also made fashion headlines, including the highly influential discotheque phenomenon, the short-lived lived transparent evening gown, and the more potent concepts of pants, culottes, and one-piece jumpsuits.
The Couture. As in 1963, Paris couture houses continued to experience further declines in business volume. Despite financial setbacks, however, Paris managed to maintain its position as a prime source of important fashion ideas. Yves St. Laurent made dress news with his tiers and tunics, while Cristobal Balenciaga, who also featured tunics, successfully re-introduced the dolman sleeve and the wraparound closing in coats and suits.
Although Andre Courreges was generally in opposition to the rounding and softening trend, he won great popularity and acclaim for his exquisite pure-line tailoring, and especially for his championing of pants for women, a campaign that received further impetus from Gabrielle Chanel’s less severe, small-scaled acceptance of the idea. The pants concept was also favored by American designer Norman Norell, who advanced the trouser suit for traveling and also presented his version of the culotte skirt.
Marc Bohan of the Paris House of Dior impressed the fashion world with outfits inspired by Russian styles, and America’s Oleg Cassini based his coordinated fall series for the House of Cassini on the Renaissance look. Rumblings of couture-to-come were also heard from budding young designers who were beginning. to be noticed in London and Madrid.
The hard-seamed, tightly tailored look bowed out in the spring, as did the masculine sportive look.
Taking their place was the super refined, ultrafeminine, gentle woman look—dainty, delicate, delectable. Ruffles, pleats, flowers, bows, billowy blousing, and subdued fabrics and colors marked the transition. A semblance of fit, however, did remain. While not snug by any means, the new shape was close from bosom to hip, accenting the midriff. From hips on down the emphasis was on the soft, the easy, the animated, the graceful. Skirts, wider-hemmed and a trifle shorter than in past seasons, rippled and swirled with a plethora of pleats, panels, and flares. Stockings, sheerer and barer than ever before, were delicately tinted to put just a blush of color on the legs and present a continuous flow of color from top to toe. Shoes were lower, airier, and more open on every side, exhibiting such interesting textures as patent, reptile, kidskin, and calfskin, and ranging in color from off-white through pale pastels and clear brights to two-tone combinations with contrasting toe or lacquered heel.
With the disappearance of the square silhouette, the over-all look became skinny. Slender sleeves were set into slim natural shoulders; coats and suit jackets were narrower, the latter being slightly fitted and relatively short. Collars became increasingly important, lapels were larger, and necklines were more open and still deeper and easier on dresses.
In dresses the stretched-out look prevailed, often on a chemise body—low pockets, low pleating, low belting in back. Waistlines rose for evening, but were low by day. For late day necklines plunged lower and lower, but were softened with scarves, shawls, stoles, and wraps.
Fabrics were generally smoother, simpler, more subtle. Leading were wools, linens, gabardines, silks, cotton piques, and lace, which was seen everywhere.
Black and navy were favored colors, with carnation red an up-and-corner. White, however, was at its height of popularity—whether used alone, or to lighten and soften brighter hues, crisp the navy or black of a suit, or bleach a grainy reptile bag.
In keeping with the ultrafeminine trend, hats became more sensuous and refined, with the emphasis on shape rather than ornamentation. The dominant shape was the big brim that spread wide; sweeping upward, plunging backward, or undulating in captivating curves.
The boy-leg bikini bottom, with its abbreviated trunks that teasingly concealed the very tops of the thighs, was worn low-slung and belted at the hip, and proved to he the year’s sexiest seaside style, even when coupled with a less revealing camisole top and/or front-buttoned overvest that masked milady’s middle.
Discothequery. The revival-with-a-vengeance of the black “little nothing” dress was inspired this time by the atmospheric conditions of the discotheque—a members-only night club where the prominent, the young, and the beautiful could literally let their hair down while contorting to the latest recorded dance craze. The so-called discotheque dress was shorter and swingier at the bottom, sparer and saucier at the top, with a deep ruffle-framed decolletage or bare back, or both, and the skinny of shoulder straps. The splurge of knee-baring discotheque dresses inspired a new length for slips and pettipants—well above hem height, but extended with flips, flares, and lacy flounces.
Designers also translated the discotheque trend into very black decollete knee-high or higher sleep-slips, sleep-shifts, and sleep-dresses, ruffled at the hem and edged with frilly lace at the upper plunge. The biggest boudoir fashion news, however, was the return of the pajama in luxury fabrics such as velveteen, crepe, jewel-toned brocades, and metallic knits.
The discotheque style also left its stamp on such accessories as gloves, bags, and jewelry. Discotheque gloves were most often black, usually of stretch nylon, satin, or lace, and not infrequently fringed with jet. Black alligator or lizard bags of the slim envelope or suspended-from-the-shoulder types were accompanied by a golden chain. Go-with jewelry was jewelry that moved—long, dangling earrings, low-slung pendants, and serpentine bracelets of gold encrusted with semiprecious stones.
Hosiery designers came up with the most delicate of designs for sheer, stretchy, lacy black stockings that lightly besprinkled, the legs with soft openwork patterns of stars, diamonds, crowns, medallions, snowflakes, and fleurs-de-lis.
Fall. With sloppy sportiness and masculine toughness re-ceding further and further into the background, the truly refined woman emerged even more markedly. The shape was basically skinny, enhanced by delectable curves and details. Sleeves—raglan or set into natural shoulders—were somewhat looser and more deeply cut than in the spring, natural waists were more easily belted, and collars were accorded less importance. jackets appeared longer, frequently descending below the hipbone, and were usually wrapped or fastened to one side, swathing the body at close range.
Skirts still burst out at the hemline and swished about in a bevy of panels and pleats. Coats still favored shaped fronts with eased backs.
Flatter-surfaced fabrics supplanted the formerly popular bulky mohairs and tweeds. By day, there was a tendency toward darker colors in the beige-to-brown range, wine reds, and steel grays, and more black than ever by night.
Shoes with higher heels and higher cut over the instep were adorned with prominent buckles, bows, and tongues. Textured stockings of stretch lace, nylon, or knit dressed up the rest of the visible expanse of leg.
Cloves broke out of their traditional mold and began sporting sumptuous bead- or gold-embroidered cuffs. Hair was worn shorter and slicker to accommodate fall’s new smaller-brimmed and brimless head-hugging hats.
Fall Into Winter. Fur coats were narrower, with more action topside. Shoulders were curved, arched, and sloped downward; sleeves and collars were also more tapered in favor of less bulk. The newest way to close a coat was off center—buttoned, belted, or clutched.
The year 1964 will be noted for the advent of the discotheque and its influence on fashions and hair styles. The popularity of the small dancing club with music supplied by disc jockeys was the rage that set people and hair swinging. Women of every age wore their dance dresses short, their stockings lacy, and their hair smooth, shiny, and swinging to accompany the twist, frug, shake, monkey, mashed potato, and other fashionable dances of the year.
This was a year of fashion attention-getters characterized by originality and exuberance. The elegant pants costume, newly fashionable for evening wear, was a far cry from the mannish outfit popularized by Marlene Dietrich in the 1930’s (inset). Textured stockings, introduced tentatively in the late 1950’s, became a fashion sensation. The variety of patterns, as seen in the gaudy pin-wheel, included gossamer-sheer styles with painted flowers for evening wear, lacy designs for day and evening, and striped patterns for casual wear.”
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.