Fashion in the 1960s

So you want to emulate a 60’s fashion icon.  Who can blame you?  From a fashion point of view, the 1960s were an exciting time.  The 60s were bipolar:  conservative and traditional, yet in-your-face and experimental at the same time.

1960 – 1964

If the 60’s were a person, you could say it was coming of age.  The first half of the 60s was akin to its “childhood stage.”  For the most part, it still followed fashion trends of the 1950s.  The look was conservative.  Dresses featured small waists and below-the-calf lengths.  Skirts were either full or pencil-cut.

Photo credit: (Accessed March 13, 2018)

The early 60s were also when we were in the elementary grades, in our own “childhood stage.”  We followed our mothers’ choices and our clothes echoed their taste.  “Little girl” dresses were characterized by puffed sleeves and full skirts.

Parties and special occasions often called for the use of a petticoat, which made the skirt look even fuller.

Schools had strict dress codes.  Being in an exclusive Catholic girls’ school, we also followed strict dress codes.  The school uniform featured a blue sailor’s collar with three thin white stripes, a white blouse, and a black cravat (or a blue tie for high school and college students).  Students in the elementary grades wore short-sleeved blouses, while high school students wore long sleeved ones.  The blue pleated skirt had eight white buttons around the waist.  We wore black Oxford shoes with white ankle-length socks.  We paired the uniform with a dark blue beret , which we wore during Mass in lieu of a veil.

Left: grade school uniform. Middle: high school uniform. Right: college uniform

The college uniform also used a sailor’s theme; however, the sailor’s collar was white with blue stripes, the reverse of the lower grades’ blue collar with white stripes.  The blue shirt had six buttons, formed into two vertical rows in front.  College girls wore low-heeled black shoes (socks were optional).

Most schools’ dress codes did not allow girls to wear pants, and Stella Maris was no exception.  Even when Girl Scouts engaged in activities when wearing pants would be advantageous (such as camping and horseback riding), they had to wear the pants under their uniform and roll them up to just above knee level so they wouldn’t show beneath their skirts.

Pants for females, in those days, had zippers on the side or in the back.  Only men’s pants had front zippers.

Although fashion in the early 60’s was generally “more of the same,” it was beginning to wake up when the United States elected John F. Kennedy in 1960.  The charismatic young president and his beautiful young wife, Jacqueline, took America and the rest of the world by storm.

Photo credit: (Accessed March 13, 2018)

Soon, women around the world were imitating Jacqueline Kennedy’s “signature style.”  As a result, well-tailored skirt suits with short, boxy jackets and a coordinated pillbox hat, oversized sunglasses, and short white gloves, were all the rage.

Bouffants (hair styled so as to puff out in a rounded shape), beehives,  and the French Twist were popular hairstyles that endured through the mid-60s.

Pearl necklaces and white gloves were popular accessories.

Pressures and tensions from the Cold War existed long before Kennedy became president.  The rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union were reflected in movies and other expressions of art.  Spy movies became popular, especially after the release of the very first James Bond film, Dr. No, in 1962.

Before Kennedy took office, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was steadly heating up.  Kennedy’s promise in 1961 to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade fueled the flames of the space race, and the world took notice.

The United States and other nations were healing from the wounds of World War II and were beginning to achieve economic stability and with that, had greater purchasing power.  At the same time, the ominous thought of possible conflict between the world’s superpowers invited an avenue for escapism, and this included art and fashion.

The Jetsons, a Hanna-Barbera cartoon about a space-age family living in the 21st century, debuted in 1962.  The futuristic family enjoyed all sorts of modern conveniences, including flying cars that folded into an attaché case, teleconferencing, holograms, robotic helpers, supersonic sports, people movers, and pneumatic tube transport systems.

By 1964, when the fashion world caught “space fever,” it gave birth to space-based couture.  Designers Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges led the space-age fashion revolution, as they embraced science and technology to dress the fashion world in new, innovative, futuristic designs and fabrics.  Pierre Cardin’s Space Age or Cosmocorps collection of 1964 employed shiny vinyl, skin-tight catsuits, high-legged leather boots and even helmet-shaped hats.  The fashion futurist juxtaposed contrasting materials, such as plastics and the finest couture silks.  André Courrèges introduced his Moon Girl look, a white and silver collection mainly characterized by the use of futuristic synthetic fabrics (like shiny, wet-look PVC and easy-care acrylics and polyesters).  He featured thigh-high skirts with minimalistic geometric shapes, pared with flat square-toed white boots.

André Courrèges Moon Girl Collection

In England, meanwhile, a British rock band called The Beatles was gaining popularity.  As the Beatlemania phenomenon took root in 1963, crazed fans around the world clamored for all things “Beatle.”   Young men copied their fashion style and “mop-top” haircuts.  The “British Invasion” of the United States and the rest of the world began when The Beatles appeared live on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 in front of an estimated 73 million viewers.

1965 – 1969

If the 60’s were a person, the latter half was its rebellious, growing up, burst-out-of the-cocoon stage.  From a fashion perspective, the late 60s were taking a radical turn.  Seeds planted in the early 60s were taking root and taking a life of their own.

1965.  What a year!  We had just completed our elementary education and began a new chapter as high school freshmen.  As newly minted teenagers, we were beginning to get our first taste of independence.  We were discovering who we were and were etching our own identity.

We were gaining greater awareness of what was going on in the world.  As the Vietnam War dragged on, the Philippines entered the scene by deploying 28 military personnel, including nurses.   Our Social Studies classes included discussions of whether the Philippines should send medical personnel, civil engineers, combat troops, or whether it should even participate in the war effort at all.  Philippine involvement through the support of civil and medical operations gradually increased over the years until 1969, when the Philippines finally withdrew its troops from Vietnam.

1965 was also the year Ferdinand E. Marcos was elected as the 10th president of the Philippines.  Together with his  wife, Imelda, the young couple kindled memories of the United States’ President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline.  Like Mrs. Kennedy, Imelda was young, glamorous, and always fashionably dressed.  She had aspirations to make the Philippines the cultural and fashion center of Asia.

Meanwhile, in London, England, Mod fashion was gaining mainstream acceptance by 1965.  The Mods (short for Modernists) were known for the Modern Jazz they listened to and for their own particular genre of dressing.  Their style was characterized by slim fits, narrow cuts and clean lines, similar the Beatles’ outfits during the early Beatlemania period.  Fashion was now wholeheartedly geared towards the youth.

Designer Mary Quant popularized the Mod look and gave it mass appeal.  She is also given credit for popularizing the mini skirt,  one of the iconic hallmarks of the 60s, whose hemline rose six to seven inches above the knee.  She named the skirt after her favorite car, the Mini-Cooper.

Stella Maris has many yearly traditions, and one of them is the Intramurals, which includes Cheerleading competitions.  (It should be noted that cheerleading in those days was nothing like the intense acrobatic routines done today.)  Classes chose a theme and chanted their cheers, as their cheerleaders (sometimes called dancers) performed their routines.

In its freshman year, I-Peach chose “Secret Agents 216” as its cheerleading theme, in a nod to James Bond, Secret Agent 007.  216 was their classroom number.   Cheerleaders wore peach-colored suits with pleated skirts and class members wore their P.E. uniforms.  The following year, II-Aquamarine had a space-age theme.  This time, everyone wore aquamarine dresses with a white V collar.

Another fashion icon was making her mark in the mid-60s: Twiggy.   Known for her “pixie look” with an extremely cropped haircut, Twiggy’s style was imitated by young women around the world, including teenaged Stellans.  Twiggy helped cement the popularity of mini skirts, shift dresses, and tent dresses.

André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin’s fashion influence also extended to the permeation of op art into clothing and accessories, with long, bold checks and geometric shapes.

Through it all, the shift dress remained a popular mainstay, with shortened hemlines, of course.

Naturally, short hemlines did not escape the attention of Stella Maris’ nuns and teachers.  School uniforms were expected to be a respectable length.  The rule was that the skirt had to touch the ground when we knelt down.  Not everyone followed that rule, though.

Fashion from 1967 to 1969 was marked by the “hippie period,” when hippie fashions gained more mainstream acceptance.  It was characterized by odd prints, inspired by “Flower Power” and psychedelic prints.

Hippie-inspired clothing was typically loose and made of natural fibers.  It included tie-dyed garments, headscarves, headbands, long beaded necklaces, fringed vests, peasant blouses, hip hugger bell-bottom jeans with flower patches and fringed ankles, and long, flowing skirts.  Footwear consisted of moccasins or sandals.  Women had long, straight hair and wore little or no makeup.

Photo credit:

While many of us adapted Twiggy-inspired hairstyles, some of us did not.  Those who had shoulder-length hair continued to grow their hair and blended right in with the look of the late 60s.

Bell-bottom pants were popular, and they were frequently worn with tight ribbed shirts.

When the movie, Romeo and Juliet, was released in 1968, it inspired the “Romantic Look” …  loose, flowing skirts with empire waists and “baby doll” dresses.  That look made its mark during prom.

So, although many people associate 60s fashion with Twiggy and  mini skirts, it was much, much more than that.  It was a time of growth, of experimentation, and limitless fashion.  If you want to emulate a 60s icon, there are several things you have to do.

  1. Pick a lustrum (five-year period) … early 60s or late 60s?
  2. Select a style.  For example:
    – Jacqueline Kennedy’s “signature style”
    – Space Age look
    – Mod fashion
    – Hippie clothing
    – Romeo and Juliet-inspired attire
  3. Accessorize appropriately (go-go boots, op-art earrings, hippie headband, etc.)
  4. Style your hair accordingly (teased, bouffant of the early 60s; short Twiggy hair; long, straight hair from the late 60s, etc.)
  5. Have the right attitude:  be fab, be outta sight.

Put these all together properly and you too can be groovy enough to rock the 60s look … just like we did!