I’ve found that a reference to specific decades disorients me faster than any new urban dictionary lingo does. So, in the realization that I actually love learning about cultural history, and in an effort to educate myself (and hopefully give something of value to you), I’ve decided to do a blog post series on decades. I’m going to try to use fashion to talk about music, art, culture and more in specific decades. Here’s one on the music, social movements, and style of the ‘60's.
One of the most fun and spontaneous inventions of ‘60's fashion was the miniskirt by Mary Quant.
She was quoted saying "It was the girls on the King’s Road [during the “Swinging London” scene] who invented the mini. I was making easy, youthful, simple clothes, in which you could move, in which you could run and jump and we would make them the length the customer wanted. I wore them very short and the customers would say, 'Shorter, shorter.'"
With the sexual revolution and second wave feminism underway, the rising hemline wasn’t all that appalling. First wave feminism focused on women’s voting rights, while second wave Feminism focused on broader issues such as work place equality, home life & reproductive rights. A popular slogan of the movement was “the personal is political” – private issues such as access to birth control, subversion of traditional family structure and women’s clothing became matters of conversation. Asking for shorter skirts – whether to feel sexually liberated or just for comfort – was just a part of gaining more control over one’s private life. What’s funny is that it’s a common notion that mini sexualize women and undermine their agency. However, the fact that women invented and wore them from their own choice, without male pressure shows it was really a win for the girls.
Mary Quant named the miniskirt after her favorite car - the mini. As a playful and daring style icon, she made quite an interesting, customized version of the mini car, which let’s face it, many of us would love to own. This was part of the inspiration behind my recreation of a ‘60s outfit.
Here I’m playing with both the minis as well as drawing from Mary Quant’s style. Through my thigh high socks, kitten heels, bright colors, playful poses & backgrounds I’m expressing the fun, carefree side of Mary Quant as well as channeling the “Swinging ‘60's” vibe. I’m wearing a mini A-line dress, which was one of the favorite silhouettes at the time. My hairstyle, an exaggerated bouffant with out-curled hair and a ribbon, is an earlier ‘60's trend as well.
Mary Quant’s style was often characterized as Mod: it featured androgynous looks with cropped and highly stylized hair. Mod subculture was popular amongst the young and was centered around a rebellion. After the war, the youth wasn’t contributing to the household income anymore; they had dispensable money that they could spend on developing their style, which is why so much of this mod subculture involved expression through fashion and style. For example, women’s androgynous looks with men’s hairstyles subverted traditional gender roles, while the miniskirts challenged sexual conservatism. As opposed to consuming passively, mods took a lot of pride in expression through fashion – whether it was through customization, or making sure that their style was representing something essential about them. Rebellion can be a great inspiration for style – John Lennon from the Beatles, disenchanted by the economic clashes reflected in the education system, adopted a Teddy Boy style with greased back hair, slim ties, and trousers. In fact, Teddy Boy Style was a major precursor for Mod Style for men. This sense of rebellion was inextricably linked with a desire to look tough – John Lennon’s look was this mixed inspiration of the Beatniks and Rock stars.
This brings me to the music of the '60’s. There were, of course, the Beatles, inspired by rock ‘n’ roll and constantly challenging what was considered pop. Traditionally looked at as a pop rock band, they experimented with many genres either through covers or by incorporating a variety of influences into their work. This ranged from eastern music, psychedelic, blues, girl bands and rock ‘n’ roll – you name it and they did it. Some of my favorite songs by them are "A Day in The Life" and "Strawberry Fields Forever". Another important category in the ‘60's was girl bands like the Marvelettes and the Shirelles, who relied on vocal harmony and featured a lot of Doo-wop. The Beatles did a cover of the song "Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes. Surf Rock was also a prevalent genre – The Beach Boys, often considered the American Equivalent of the Beatles, defined it. They were very popular for their vocal harmonies, however, their main strength lay in how they beautifully captured the universal heart throbbing struggle of the youth and made it compelling with their dedicated perpetuation of the skillfully constructed California ideal. Check out "California Girls" for their ode to the Sunkist State.
Just the way the Beach Boys’ success hinged on the promotion of a fantasy, America is infamous for perpetuating an ideal. However, the widespread devastation caused by WWII was deeply disillusioning, which made it hard for people to lose themselves in a fantasy. America needed an eloquent and hopeful figure that would nurse it back to idealistic nationalism. John F. Kennedy served as this figure – he represented a booming, hopeful future and gave hope for a morally inclined government. This is why his assassination in 1963 was absolutely devastating and served as a defining moment of the the decade. To this day it remains a matter of great interest, and the movie Jackie reveals his wife, Jackie Kennedy’s emotions with the assassination. In the movie, she maintains exposure and seems to deal with the incident well on the outside, however internally she battles with a lot of conflict, self-doubt, and depression. What’s particularly interesting in the movie is there’s one fleeting moment after the funeral when she sees multiple mannequins dressed in her signature style, and feels surprised with a hint of happiness for being admired, whether for her style or her outward display of composure. I particularly liked this part because fashion, although considered frivolous, functions in small ways to uplift people’s spirits.
That scene is actually a reference to the fact that Jackie Kennedy had a huge impact on fashion in the 60’s - Her signature style included the pillbox hat, wool suits, white gloves and pearls and women lusted after what she wore. Her stubborn, individualistic and grand vision with an intense love and respect for art was what made any project she undertook such an admirable vision. From planning the funeral and decorating the White house to finding the perfect dress to wear, Jackie always had a grand vision which she immaculately brought to life. Her style has left an indelible mark on fashion and is constantly referenced even today.
This was just a peep into the events and people of the ‘60s that particularly struck my fancy. Fashion, I believe, is a great way to get a glimpse into multiple aspects of a culture and a time. It can mean so much more than just what you put on everyday and I hope this makes you curious to find out more about fashion and the ‘60's!