Youth Power: How the Fashion Changed?

In the 1960s, baby boomers reached their teens, and the era of mass production and mass consumption was in full swing. In 1961, the Soviet Union launched the first manned space flight, and in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The May Student Uprisings in Paris occurred in 1968, and the first landing on the moon was achieved in 1969. In the midst of such explosive drama, the young generation sought its own distinct mode of expression, and the powerful new American culture was an obvious choice.

The voice of the young was heard in the lyrics of British bands like The Beatles and their concerns were portrayed in the French cinema movement of Nouvelle Vague.  Fashion, too, took to presenting fresh and bold emotions. The young found that displaying their physique was the most effective means of setting themselves apart from the older generation. In 1964, American designer Rudi Gernreich introduced the topless bathing suit, the “monokini,” which clearly represented a new concept of the body: a “body consciousness.”

Mary Quant

A dress exposing the legs up to the thighs was tagged the “mini,” and proved a simpler and more practical method to express die same concept. Bare legs in women’s fashion, which also appeared in the 1920s, developed through various conceptual stages in the 1960s. Marshall McLuhan insisted that clothes were an extension of skin, and Yves Klein expressed his thoughts in his artwork “Anthropometry.” London designer Mary Quant also played a hand in bringing the “mini” into the world of fashion and into acceptance as a normal style of the twentieth century. The same can be said of André Courrèges minidresses, displayed against the powerful background of Parisian haute couture.

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Before the shock waves created by the mini-skirt had subsided, a women’s pants style came into its own in the world of fashion. Although the garçonne style of post-World War I had introduced an androgynous look featuring tailored jackets as a form of women’s fashion, trousers at that time were meant to be worn only indoors or on the beach. In the United States, jeans, clothing originally designed for manual labor, became casual attire for both men and women in the 1930s. Then, after World War II, trousers found acceptance as women’s casual wear. The trend influenced high fashion, and when Courrèges presented a pants-style evening ensemble in Paris in 1964, the taboo on pants for women in haute couture was finally broken. Pantsuits became the talk of the town.

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Dresses also caused a stir. In his 1964 Space Age Collection, Pierre Cardin unveiled designs for future-oriented dresses shaped in simple geometric patterns and made of inorganic materials. Making his debut in haute couture in 1953, Cardin buried the classical elegance of 1950s fashion, but his minimal clothing was more in sync with the soon-to-be thriving prêt-à-porter. In 1959, Cardin presented his prêt-à-porter line for the first time as a member of the Chambre Syndicale, the monitoring body of haute couture in Paris. From this position of strength, he was able to pioneer the system of a ready-to-wear business operated by an haute couture designer house. Moreover, in 1960, he broke into the field of men’s clothing, which up until then had been the closely guarded purlieu of tailors in a system that had remained largely unchanged since the French Revolution. Cardin anticipated the arrival of the “unisex” trend, a powerful shift in sensibility that fed into the hippie movement. By the late 1960s, men wore their hair long and donned brightly coloured clothing with lace and frills, earning this period of fashion the apt sobriquet the “Peacock Revolution.”

peacock fashion

Yves Saint Laurent, a standard-bearer among young designers, was also extremely sensitive to social trends. He became independent from the House of Dior in 1961, and opened a prêt-à-porter boutique named Saint Laurent Rive Gauche in 1966, introducing a line of women’s tailored pants for city wear. The May Student Uprisings in 1968, which had a profound impact on French social values, also contributed to the spreading popularity of the pants style. In yet another move which fell in step with the times, Saint Laurent created a manifest fusion of fashion and art in two of his dresses, the “Mondrian Look” in 1965 and the “Pop Art Look” in 1966.

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New manmade materials opened up various possibilities for minimal fashion in the trendy futuristic and synthetic styles of the 1960s. Although Elsa Schiaparelli had experimented with manmade fibers in clothing from as early as the 1930s, her attempts had been regarded as radical anomalies. In the world of haute couture, Paco Rabanne debuted sensationally in 1966 with a dress constructed almost entirely of plastic. It was Rabanne who first systematically moved beyond the idea that only fabric could be used to make garments, and he continued to adopt metal and non-woven materials for clothing.

plastic fashion

The reliability of mass-produced manmade fibers supported the development of the ready-to-wear industry. In 1935, Dr. W. H. Carothers invented nylon, the first manmade fiber, at the DuPont Company in the United States. In 1940, the company launched nylon stockings, which quickly became enormously popular. Further manmade fibers for clothing were soon introduced. Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) put polyester on the market in 1946, and DuPont developed stretchable Lycra in 1958. In the early days, manmade fibers were thought of as an inexhaustible and inexpensive substitute for costly natural materials, but in the mid-twentieth century, synthetic fabrics also began to be appreciated for their various superior functions and their unique textures.

mini skirts

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