MODe: Fashion in the 1960s

IMGP4319There is still a bit of tweaking to be done, but our new show at the Fashion History Museum is now open. MODe looks at the phenomenal changes in fashion that occurred between 1960 and 1970.

For three centuries, women’s fashions had been almost exclusively the invention of Parisian couturiers, but by the early 1960s the haute couture tradition was in jeopardy as new sources of style were on the rise from: London, New York, Florence, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Madrid, Rome…


Early 1960s garments including Balenciaga and a Davidow copy of Chanel.

Early in the decade, fashion was under the influence of Internationalism, a global style of modernism where fashion interpreted the ‘Less is more’ modernism mantra through garments of pure line with spare ornament. However, this didn’t mean plain and boring. Textiles featured texture, and the art scene was at a peak of creativity. By mid decade Minimalist and Abstract art styles were augmented by Pop, Op and Psychedelic movements that found their way into fashion prints.


Boutique vinyl dress and psychedelic dresses by Ken Scott and Dynasty

Futurism and nostalgia both fueled fashion as some designers looked to new materials like paper, metal, and plastic for space age inspired styles while others looked inside Grandma’s trunk for Victorian coats and Jazz-Age heirloom dresses for ideas.

Left to right: pink silk chiffon print dress, unlabelled, spring 1968; sequined green silk dress by Oscar de la Renta for Jane Derby, c. 1968; Yellow silk backless dress by Heinz Riva, Rome, c. 1966; gold and silver lame evening gown and coat by Richard Tam for Sara Fredericks, spring 1968.

Mid 1960s evening wear including Oscar de la Renta for Jane Derby; Heinz Riva, Rome; and Richard Tam for Sara Fredericks.

The 1960s were all about change, largely caused by the shift in demographics that began with the first wave of post-war baby boom children coming of age early in the decade. As this generation grew in size, young people realized they had the power to reinvent the world around them. The rules of fashion broke down as young men and women chose comfortable, informal styles.

London became the centre of a boutique revolution created by the young independent shopkeeper-designers who ‘geared up’the mod generation and launched the ‘British invasion’ of fashion that accompanied the music revolution that swept around the world. As the younger generation became more restless, fashion became more radical, resulting in anti-establishment styles typified by American Hippies on the West Coast.

Doing Your Own Thing - Hippy and other attire of the late 1960s including a photo print pantsuit of the crowd at Woodstock, c. 1970

Hippy and other attire including a photo print pantsuit of the crowd at Woodstock.

It could be said that the 1960s saw the death of fashion and the rise of style. By 1970, everything had changed from the way things had been just ten years before – the styles, markets, materials, demographics, inspirations and definitions of fashion were all new. ‘Take it from me,’ said designer Betsey Johnson in a 2003 article ‘There will never be another chunk of time of such pure genius… it was the first and last time that fashion really, really changed.’

The exhibition closes March 16, 2014.

4 thoughts on “MODe: Fashion in the 1960s

  1. It looks amazing! Interesting quote from Betsey too – something to think about and debate whether or not she’s right. Would certainly argue that fashion in the 1910s changed just as dramatically, if not more so, than during the 1960s, although to be fair, the war certainly was very much a trigger/catalyst… but we ARE looking at a pretty incredible, massive change in fashion over 20 years from 1905 to 1925, even more dramatic than during the 1960s.

    • Although, as you point out, the changes go beyond simple stylistic ones – virtually every aspect and angle and approach changes.

      • I think it’s fair to say though that it was the last time there was THAT much change in fashion in such a short period of time. Otherwise, I would agree with you that the 1910s were more radical than the 1960s.

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