“An extraordinary diversity of images was available to the fashion public this year. On a short stroll along a fashionable city street one might come across a moon maiden in a silver miniskirt, Alice in Wonderland in a brief baby smock, or perhaps Anna Karenina in furred suit and high boots. Her escort might resemble an Edwardian dandy in floppy tie and floppier hairdo, a World War I doughboy, even a skateless Hans Brinker.
No big fashion wave inundated 1966, but there were plenty of currents to keep followers of the sport, both professional and amateur, keenly interested. Some stars rose; others fell. Some questions, like the one about waistlines, were settled. Others, particularly the burning question of hemlines, seemed answered in the spring but doubtful again in the fall.
The year had its share of surprises and paradox. In January a man from Dior was welcomed in Moscow, while New Yorkers, hit by a transportation strike, walked the cold streets bundled up like wanderers in the steppes.
Mrs. John F. Kennedy moved into the Valhalla of the Best-Dressed List (as a permanent member of the Fashion Hall of Fame) and was replaced by 22-year-old Mrs. S. Carter Burden, whose mother, Mrs. William S. Paley, was already among the immortals. Barbra Partisans, the singer who popularized the thrift-shop look, made The List for the first time.
The Waist. By early 1966 the waistline was lost forever. The fight to do away with it, begun by Givenchy in 1957, was finally won. The tent falling loosely from the shoulders was the silhouette of the year. In New York designer Norman Norell, forgetting his brief fling with the low-set belt of the 1930’s, showed loose dresses with equally loose sleeves. California’s James Galanos cut chiffons into kite shapes and sent them drifting in the breeze. In Paris, Alix Gres’s bone-less chiffons and tentlike brocades suddenly looked very new. Yves Saint Laurent’s most popular dress scarcely touched the body, although it revealed it. His short, loose dress was transparent, with bands of beading coyly placed to cover strategic areas.
Hemlines. Generally the hemline crept up and up: a conservative hemline revealed the knee, but many went several inches above. Even when they reached the upper thigh, no one raised an eyebrow—until the wearer tried to sit down gracefully.
In the spring Jacques Tiffeau, of New York’s Tiffeau and Busch, plunged several suit hemlines down to the calf and covered the rest of the leg with gaiters. The proportions seemed clumsy, however, and the long skirt didn’t get off the ground. But a compromise version turned up in the European fall openings when the houses of Fabiani and Dior showed long coats over short dresses and high-heeled boots. By the end of the year the attitude was wait-and-see but watchful.
Pants Suits. Women wore more pants and wore them in the streets of big cities. Partisans of the pants suit argued that women were wearing pants anyway and the suit was neater than haphazard tops and slacks. The boss still didn’t let his secretary wear pants to the office, and elegant restaurants still barred them, but defenses were rapidly crumbling.
The Military Look.
American college students had discovered the army-navy store long before 1966. Pea jackets, bell-bottomed pants, and khaki shirts were cheap, and the young liked them. The word got to Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, and when he came to the United States late in 1965 he particularly wanted to visit an army-navy store. Obviously he liked what he saw, because his spring collection resembled a military parade. Pea jackets and bell-bottoms were raised to haute couture, and fitted coats, bristling with brass buttons and gold braid, were the hits of the collection. The showings of Dior’s Marc Bohan also featured military coats, although his had a distinctly Russian flavor.
The young, chagrined that their territory had been invaded, repaired to the used clothing stores and emerged with doughboy jackets of World War I vintage. American sportswear designers promptly bought up khaki fabrics and began putting standup collars and brass buttons on everything.
The Contenders. No creator of impressive silhouettes rose to replace Andre Courreges. However, several new names were talked about in the fashion press.
Tzaims Luksus, a fabric designer who had received a Coty fashion award in 1965 for his startling prints, left his Vermont studio to show his first dress collection in New York. Luksus proved to be a devotee of the tent and the kite, which set off his prints to perfection.
Another fabric designer, Ken Scott, who is from the Midwest but designs in Italy, challenged the reigning Emilio Pucci in the realm of the printed jersey dress. Scott’s prints, described as gayer and softer than the geometric Puccis, were well received.
The most talked about and amusing of the new contenders was a Spanish-born jewelry designer named Paco Rabanne, who became a Paris couturier in the spring. Rabanne’s “sewing” was done with wire and pliers, as he assembled disks of multicolored plastic into dresses that clanked when the wearer moved. Rabanne’s fall collection used leather pieces instead of plastic ones.
The African Influence. North and Central Africa provided exotic inspiration for designers. Italy’s palazzo pajamas and India’s saris gave way to the loose robes of the Sahara region. A comfortable floor-length garment, variously called a caftan, a djabala, and a burnoose, appeared at the beach or at home in cotton, later went to parties in sumptuous silks embroidered with gold and beads. The handsome prints of the Central African tribes turned up in beachwear and dresses.
Accessories. As hemlines rose, heels dropped. The success shoe of the year was Roger Vivier’s patent leather Pilgrim shoe with a low heel and flat buckle. Brigitte Bardot came to New York with a wardrobe of these pumps and sent American shoe manufacturers rushing to their lasts. Another favorite was the tap dancer’s shoe, with bow tie, chunky flat heel, and round toe. The white Courreges boot was replaced by a high-laced affair like the shoes great-grandmother used to wear.
After years of trying, hosiery manufacturers succeeded in making textured stockings popular. Smooth nylons suddenly seemed too naked for brief skirts, and fishnet or crocheted stockings became commonplace. For evening there were silver or gold mesh stockings to be worn with matching flat pumps.
The rule for jewelry was the bigger the better, particularly for earrings. A young artist named Chrysta Olenska, who had been making necklaces of papier-mache, was noticed by large jewelry manufacturer, and a new fad was launched. Inexpensive papier-mache jewelry appeared all over America.
The Throwaway Wardrobe. An idea that once seemed rediculous—the disposable paper dress—became a sudden reality. Introduced originally by the Scott Paper Company as a promotional stunt, the dress was picked up by a number of manufacturers, and its price rose from the original $1.25 to as high as $40. There were simple shifts, ruffled styles, even a silver foil evening dress. Disposable materials also turned up in baby clothes, men’s underwear, and swimming trunks.
Hair style trends reflected the current desire of women to look romantic yet natural. The shape of the head was clearly defined: hair flowed in smooth, clean lines ending in soft swirls. Most women preferred longer hair—from chin length to waist length—but even short hair was softly styled. The look was totally modern and alluring. Women looked like women again.
Long hair was pulled back from the face and up at the crown in uplifting lines. In the back it hung loose or ended in a tiny queue held in place at the nape of the neck with elastic. Braids were very popular, especially for evening, either hanging straight down in back or looped in intricate designs around the crown. In some instances hair stylists added tiny wires to the braids so that they stood out from the crown in wide loops.
Short hair swept around the head to create an oval effect, framing the face and ending in swirls to simulate spun silk.
More women than ever owned either dynel or real hair pieces. “Falls” were particularly popular. These half-wigs, some as long as 36 inches, give the appearance of long hair: only the front of the wearer’s own hair is visible. Falls were priced from $150 to $750, depending on length, color, and weight. Braided dynel switches were also frequently seen, sometimes multicolored and attached with a large ring. Blunt-cut dynel switches were worn on top of the head for obvious artifice.
Coloring, like hair styling, emphasized the natural look. Beauticians tried to copy the appearance of natural hair, which has at least 22 different shades. Often, hairline hair was lightened, gradually growing darker in the back. A revolutionary machine came on the market this year that sharply reduced the time required for hair coloring.
Cosmetics. Beauty shop makeup departments were growing in popularity as women became increasingly- interested in learning to apply their own makeup well and in having more exotic makeup applied professionally for special occasions.
Sales of men’s toiletries, which hit the half-billion-dollar mark in 1965, were growing by leaps and bounds. Virtually every cosmetics house instituted a man’s line and moved from the usual after-shave lotions into treatment creams. Store buyers said that men were becoming more discriminating about colognes and were buying more subtle and expensive scents.
This was the year men’s fashions vied with women’s for change, novelty, and excitement. There were innovations which would have seemed unimaginable—or laughable—only a few years ago.
Mod Hits America. Many top American manufacturers embraced England’s Carnaby Street look, liberally importing talent and ideas from Europe. Before the year was out they discovered that their experimental mod-oriented lines were sellouts. It was generally agreed that mod styles, at present confined primarily to clothes for the younger generation, would soon influence more traditional areas of apparel.”
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 is protected by copyright.