fashion, 1960s

fashion, 1960s
   The emergence of British fashion during the 1960s as a leading force in international style and design is linked with its decisive role in the development of pop culture. Early 1960s fashion emphasized the eminently modern values of visuality, immediacy, shock, change and novelty. The designs of Mary Quant, Tuffin and Foale, Ossie Clark, John Stephen and Barbara Hulanicki socially participated in the general transformations in British culture characteristic of the decade at large. The vibrantly pop-futurist designs of Quant and Clark selfconsciously used the language of fashion and style to signify the birth of the new mood of affluence, the death of the old culture of class deference, and the utopian desire for youthful sexual freedom. Mary Quant and her partners opened the celebrated boutique Bazaar on Kings Road, Chelsea, in 1955. Quant was determined, in her own words, to develop an ‘absolutely Twentieth Century fashion’ and she played a central role in changing the economy and culture of London’s fashion industry. Where postwar London fashion had continued to connote exclusivity, elegance and expense, the fashion values of the young designers accented inclusivity, experimentation and ‘fun’. Quant saw the conservative fashion industry as outdated and irrelevant, and cultivated an insistently young and modern woman’s fashion style. Her ‘Chelsea look’ made extensive use of synthetic materials such as plastic and PVC, and mixed spots, stripes and checks in self-conscious violation of traditional canons of good taste. Her design philosophy was summarized by the aphorism: ‘good taste is death, vulgarity is life’. Quant is most famous for the design of the mini skirt and for promoting the concept of the ‘total look’ in which separates, coats, footwear, accessories and the short, angular ‘bob’ hair style (launched by Vidal Sassoon in 1963) were coordinated to produce a single aesthetic effect. The concept of the ‘total look’ was a defining motif of 1960s fashion, and was cultivated by important designers such as Barbara Hulanicki of the popular and lowpriced Biba label.
   Sally Tuffin and Marlon Foale set up their design partnership in 1961 at a small showroom on Carnaby Street. Like most of the young designers, Tuffin and Foale were trained in the well-funded art schools and colleges of 1950s Britain. The influence of teachers of fashion such as Janey Ironside of the Royal College of Art was to prove enduring for their students. The Carnaby Street showroom of former RCA students Tuffin and Foale, much like Quant’s Bazaar, represented a new development in fashion marketing. Fashion was integrated into the youth-coded environment of the boutique, a cultural space filled with pop music and poster images of pop stars and 1960s models (see models, 1960s). London’s young designers also refused the elegant atmosphere of the classical couture show; instead, their fashion shows were ‘happenings’, alive with pop music and action, young models and media stars. Tuffin and Foale are best known for their innovative curtain lace dress suits, bicycle dresses, op art graphics and prints, and most famously of all, the trouser suit. The trouser suit broke with conventional forms of female dress, and predictably received derisive commentary in the mainstream press. However, Tuffin and Foale’s bright, slim-fitted but soft jackets and matching hipster trousers were enormously successful and endlessly reproduced in inexpensive imitations.
   Carnaby Street was also home to London’s first menswear boutique, opened by John Stephen in 1957. Stephen modified the traditional masculine scheme of jacket, shirt and tie through the use of unorthodox and bright colours and close attention to contemporary tailoring and style. Recognizing that male interest in fashion was culturally coded as homosexual, Stephen deftly manipulated the hyper-masculine image of boxer Billy Walker in publicity campaigns designed to appeal to both gay and straight consumers. His pioneering strategy worked for two reasons: his clothes were inexpensive, and their youthful and sexualized urbanity appealed to the discriminating fashion consciousness of the mods. By 1966, Stephen operated nine menswear boutiques on the by now internationally famous Carnaby Street, and went on to design non-traditional, multi-coloured kaftan suits, calf and knee length ‘furry’ white coats, and other ‘kooky’ sartorial emblems of the mid-to-late 1960s psychedelic style.
   Television was an important vector for the national proliferation of the styles and attitudes of mid-1960s ‘swinging London’. New youth-targeted television shows, particularly Ready, Steady, Go hosted by fashion icon Cathy McGowan, were central to transmitting ‘the look’ across the UK. Barbara Hulanicki anecdotally recalls the affective value with which she and other designers invested McGowan’s wardrobe on Ready, Steady, Go: ‘Would Cathy wear a Biba dress or a Tuffin and Foale?… I was green with envy when she chose “Tuffy Fluffies”.’ The fashion sensibility of the young designers, particularly their commitment to the ‘total look’ concept, was also reproduced in the stylized ensemble of sets and costumes in television pop series like The Avengers. In fact, the popularity of Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale and later Diana Rigg as Emma Peel owed much to their costuming, by Michael Whittaker and John Bates respectively. The impact of this mode of television programming combined with new systems of fashion distribution/ retailing, including boutiques in provincial towns and cities and young fashion sections in department stores, to produce a mass teenage fashion culture in the UK.
   By the end of the 1960s, the nostalgic and naturalist ideology of the hippies, and their preference for second-hand garments, non-western styles and all-natural fabrics challenged the futurism of 1960s pop fashion. Hippies rejected the urbanism and artificiality of pop fashion by appealing to the anti-commercial values and heterogeneous styles of the ‘counterculture’. Hippie ‘anti-fashion’ was sartorially eclectic, and this point alone indicates that the design imperative of the ‘total look’ was in crisis.
   See also: models, 1960s
   Further reading
    Hulanicki, B. (1983) A to Biba and Back Again, London: Comet (a case study in 1960s fashion and celebrity).
    Quant, M. (1966) Quant by Quant, London: Cassell (Quant’s vivid and detailed autobiography).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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