A Style Merry-Go-Round: Fashion From the 60s

Em Poncia looks at the 60s, a decade in fashion that subverted norms and looked further afield than Europe.

Fashion in the 1960s teetered constantly, swinging between wildly different styles and attitudes in the span of a few short years. It was the first time that menswear had seen significant change in maybe a hundred years, the decade of the mini skirt, and the time that the hippie second-hand aesthetic was born.


The elegant and feminine styles that we associate with the 50s did not immediately disappear on the 1st of January 1960. Graceful tailoring and matching skirt suits remained popular, especially amongst older women and at the beginning of the decade.

Jackie Kennedy was often seen sporting suits designed by Givenchy or Balenciaga, both of whose designs remained classic in this period and did not adapt to newer, street styles. Audrey Hepburn’s most famous look, her black dress and pearls from Breakfast at Tiffany’s [1961], also reflects 50s femininity, with its longer hem length and high neckline. Hepburn’s personal style in this decade only followed new trends to a point. At her wedding to Dr. Andrea Dotti in 1969, the pink Givenchy mini dress she wore was more reminiscent of the Mod style from the middle of the decade than the contemporary fascination with Eastern style.

Men’s fashion at the start of this decade was much the same as it had been for many decades. No bright colours or patterns had been popular in the 1950s, and the most common colours were grey, brown, and blue.

Mods and Sods

In the middle of the decade, youth culture saw a massive uptick. Young people in this period had the most disposable income they ever had since the Second World War, and they were using it for self-expression. Fashion, as such, began to be less about emulating the mature, older woman, and more about young women expressing their playfulness and personality.

Youth became “a la mode”. The style was known as ‘Mod’ (modern) and grew from around 1955 to reach its peak in the middle of the 1960s.

As such, the old-fashioned department stores went out of style, replaced by boutiques in hip and happening areas of London like Carnaby Street or Kensington Market. These shops interacted with their customer on a much greater level than the old ateliers had, and as such were much more capable of catering to their immediate fashion wishes. Mary Quant, the iconic 60s designer who first designed the mini skirt, set up her shop Bazaar on the King’s Road. London became the centre of modern, youthful fashion, earning it the nickname “Swinging London.”

The style that grew out of this newly youth-focused culture was one that favoured bright colours and prints, silhouettes that were easier to move about in, and man-made synthetic materials. Polyester, rayon, PVC, and other non-natural fibres were embraced as the future of clothing production and utilised to make stylish clothes quickly and cheaply.

André Courrèges, one of the designers who embraced the use of cheaper materials to achieve his artistic vision, featured a lot of metallics and bright whites, with futuristic photoshoot concepts where models wore bright coloured wigs. High-fashion in this era saw a trend of space-inspired garments, such as his 1964 Space Age collection.

Men’s fashion followed a similar pattern in this period, gaining brighter colours and bolder patterns. The tailoring for men’s suits also changed— ties became wider and new shapes, such as turtlenecks and wide collars, entered the mainstream. Men’s boutiques such as Granny Takes a Trip and Hung On You became famous for serving the modern man’s style needs.


An abrupt and distinct turn in trends occurred at the end of the 60s. Tired of the consumerist aesthetic, there was an increase in popularity for second hand clothes that echoed the art nouveau and old Hollywood aesthetics.

Styles from South Asia also came into the Western fashion world. Often attributed to the Vietnam War and student uprisings in France, Pop fashion started to be seen as materialistic and out of touch. Kensington Market became the place to find items from a range of non-Western cultures, and many high fashion designers also embraced the emerging hippie aesthetic. This new look, in addition to increasing the scope of European fabrics and silhouettes, served to homogenise the rich, various cultures of the East.

In particular, Zandra Rhodes’ work brought together the now once again lowered seam length, old Hollywood kaftan, and Eastern styles, as did clothes by designers Foale and Tuffin. Betsey Johnson’s designs also embraced the bohemian free spirit that was to carry over into the 70s.

Men’s fashion in this period conversely reverted to the styles of the 30s and 40s. As people began to buy more of their clothing second hand, the looser and wider styles of these bygone decades crept back into streetstyle. However, the end of this decade saw men able to wear their hair long, and jeans and flares became acceptable male clothing.

A very significant decade in fashion, the 1960s was a seesaw of styles and fashion ideology. Holding it all together though is the importance of streetwear. Where before designs had trickled down from the top haute couture designers into the mainstream, designers were now taking notes on what people on the ground were wearing. Fashion became much more democratised, even standardised, as clothing was almost all ready-to-wear and not based out of ateliers’ studios. It was truly a decade that revolutionised not just style aesthetics, but the mindset behind trends.

If you want to read more of Em’s work, you can find it on her twitter @emponcia

Images via Unsplash and Pexels

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