“The year 1968 was marked by the individualist in fashion, and by lawlessness. Anything went! Writing in the Christian Science Monitor in September, fashion reporter Patricia Shelton said: “Any genius can put a wardrobe together—all it takes is an artist’s eye for color, line, and rhythm; confidence; a little common sense and a good credit rating. Prices,” she added, “are going up.” At about the same time, English Vogue wrote: “Fashion is self-consciously sociological and frankly featherbrained. It’s classic and immediate. Nostalgic and now. Worldly and other-worldly. Whatever’s happening you are part of it and at last you can be yourself and look as you choose.”
In this mood of worldwide fashion permissiveness, what could be pinpointed as typical for 1968? The hemline as news had ceased to be. Youthful Londoners still wore their skirts to mid-thigh, but the general trend, insofar as the fashion establishment went—and this included the woman in the street—was to just short of the knees. (Mary Quant, one of the promoters of the mini, had declared, “It is now a classic and therefore boring.”) The mid-calf-length midi had, according to one fashion expert, “become merely an extra, whether as coat, cape, pants, or late-day dress.” U.S. designer Anne Klein had shown midi coats in her fall collection but cut them shorter “after getting the message from the stores’ buyers.”
The maxi length (with hemlines often extending to the ankles), which was launched in 1967, did not make any significant progress, despite sporadic boosting by leading designers in most of the fashion-producing countries. Norman Norell showed minis and maxis in his spring 1968 collection but ignored both in the fall collection.
Reviewing The Why of Fashion by Karlyne Anspach in the Guardian, Alison Adburgham wrote: “No one at this confusing point in fashion history would make predictions with any confidence. But I will hazard that when all the minis and maxis, the neo-1930s and the Victorian revivals have had their day, it may well be the casual yet well-groomed American way of dressing so fitted to modern life that will bridge the great divide now existing between young clothes and the rest.” This forecast was already showing signs of being justified by the sportswear influence that permeated the Paris and New York shows in the fall for formal as well as for informal wear. “The tennis sweater gathers sequins and goes to the Opera. The riding habit takes a skirt and goes to lunch at Le Pavillion,” wrote a New York fashion reporter.
The 1968 silhouette lay considerably closer to the body. Suit jackets were long, skinny looking, and, typically, belted. They were worn over skirts that were slightly flared or kilted. The London suit was in either plain shetland, overcheck, or flannel, or again in classical Harris or Donegal tweed. Blazer jackets went over the all-round pleated skirt of the print silk dress underneath. Closely belted wraparound “happi” jackets went over shorts or trousers.
The film Bonnie and Clyde, set in the gangster days of the 1930s, and later the Gertrude Lawrence musical Star with Julie Andrews in the title role, brought with them a nostalgic return to the late 1920s and early 1930s: cardigan jackets, berets worn low over the brow, soft curls, knotted silk scarves, jumper dresses and suits, and a general look of feminine softness. The trouser suit, after tentative efforts over the past few seasons to secure a foothold in fashion, appeared at last to be gaining ground. The wide-legged trouser suit launched by Yves St. Laurent, featuring a tunic top, loosely belted, topped by a long, clinging, button-through jacket, went some way toward reconciling the dual demands of practical comfort and femininity for the average woman. Of his “city pants,” St. Laurent was reported to have said: “I am convinced that trouser fashions are truly the incoming way to dress.” Despite an unenthusiastic reception from the press and initial hesitation among buyers, the final orders for trouser suits and culotte suits were reported to represent two-thirds of the total buying at St. Laurent’s fall-winter collection.
The unacceptability of trouser suits in many elegant restaurants continued to put off the press. The story went around of a trousered client who was regretfully refused admittance by the headwaiter of a well-known London restaurant and who, by way of reply, retired to the ladies’ room, removed her trousers, presented herself anew in her mini-length suit jacket, and was smilingly led to her table. Apocryphal or not, the story mirrored faithfully enough the crazy incoherence that was inherent in fashion at the time.
Wide belts were an essential feature of the new close-to-the-body silhouette. It was the “fit and fling” line and was to be found in dresses and suits as well as in coats. The firmly belted waistline tended to stress the natural turn of the hip. Geoffrey Beene created suit jackets with padded hips, the first to be used in dressmaking since “figures” went out of fashion. Was it a straw in the wind or the dawn of a new trend?
The new dandyism apparent at this time was expressed in romantic velvet trouser suits worn with frilly silk shirts; by Victorian braiding, jeweled and embroidered waistcoats, Byronic collars, swirling capes, cavalier hats, gold chains, and extravagant baroque costume jewelry. St. Laurent’s “George Sand” suits were held responsible for this fashion phenomenon, but its initial inspiration came no doubt from the passion of young Londoners for old clothes from street markets. Panne velvet was a case in point. “The kids have been wearing it in tenth-hand dresses to Chelsea parties and now it’s abundant in both couture shows and in our manufactured clothing,” wrote Lon. don fashion journalist Serena Sinclair. In 1968 Mary Quant put her mini shapes over trousers to create romantic silky ensembles trimmed at waist and neck with rows and rows of gilt chains. Sequin trimmings abounded in the Paris collections.
The flashback to the 1930s produced a feeling for supple, smooth knitwear characterized by long, belted jumper tops over flaring skirts. Or it was the hug-me. tight, casually belted knit dress. Turtleneck collars continued to be popular, but “V” necklines borrowed from the 1930s made their appearance. Wool jersey proved to be one of fashion’s favourite fabrics.
After a burst of frank flag colors in the spring, colors quieted in the fall to ladylike neutrals with beige and gray in the lead. Black staged a dramatic comeback and the “little black dress” tentatively returned to sophisticated favor.
Ireland continued to progress in the field of fashion, By 1967 clothing manufacture had grown to be one of the country’s leading industries, and Ireland’s first Fashion Fair was held in Dublin in April 1968. Donald Davies, whose shirtwaist dresses were already appreciated throughout the world, opened a shop in Paris’ West End. A newcomer to the Irish fashion scene was Thomas Wolfangel, winner of the Couture Class gold medal in the London Tailor and Cutter Exhibition for both 1966 and 1967, who opened his own salon in Dublin during the year.
The closing in 1968 of such well-known houses as Balenciaga and Castillo in Paris and Worth in London was symptomatic of the changing pattern of the industry since World War II. In the 1960s the old concept of haute couture was proving to be no longer valid, and younger, more resilient firms such as Dior, Venet, Courreges, Ungaro, and finally Givenchy; following the lead given by Cardin, were opening ready-to-wear shops and boutiques in many Western capitals and in leading provincial towns.”
Compiled from period encyclopedias, yearbooks and catalogs subject to fair use or public domain. My own edited versions of public domain material is protected by copyright.