In fashion, the 1960s and the 1970s were decades of repeated revolutionary change. The youth explosion and mod craze of the early 1960s were followed quickly by the hippie look of the late 1960s, the antifashion trends of the early 1970s, and the punk and disco styles of the mid- to late 1970s. By the late 1970s, people throughout the West seemed content to wear "regular" clothes once more. Taken together, these high profile fashion fads forever changed the way the fashion industry worked.
Before the 1960s high-profile designers in Paris, France, and London, England, in cooperation with celebrity fashion trendsetters, had dictated the styles that were worn by people of all ages. Under this fashion system, news about what was stylish to wear came from the top down. Designers created a line of clothing, rich people bought the originals, and clothing retailers sold copies to the common man and woman. During and after the 1960s, common people, especially young people, began to exercise far more control in determining what was in style, and designers increasingly tried to keep up with the newest trends. Under the new fashion system, new styles were invented by people in hot cultural scenes or by rock bands; followers adopted and modified the new styles; and designers then copied the new styles and marketed them to the masses through a growing assortment of retail outlets.
Rebellious young people known as mods and rockers began to invent their own clothing in trendy parts of London. Women wore very short skirts, tall, brightly colored boots, and clinging, sleeveless tunics. Young men wore suits in bright paisley patterns, boxy jackets, and high-topped, black leather boots, or they wore leather jackets and shirts made of British flags, like rock star Pete Townshend (1945–) of the rock band the Who. The boldly colored new styles worn by men took a name of their own, the Peacock Revolution, and were striking because men's styles before this time were so conservative.
Vogue magazine, the world's premier source for fashion information, called this fashion upsurge "Youthquake." The fashion movement was led by young people, such as British designer Mary Quant (1934–), who shares credit with French designer André Courreges (1923–) for the introduction of the one garment most associated with the youth explosion: the miniskirt. Quant famously
The various London-based youth fashion fads dominated clothing trends through the mid-1960s, but soon a new trend took its place. Emerging first on the West Coast of the United States, the hippies were one of the most colorful and high-profile social movements of an interesting decade. Hippies rejected their parents' values about sex, work, and patriotism. They protested against the U.S. war in Vietnam (1954–75), switched sexual partners freely, experimented with drugs, and "dropped out" of regular society. They wanted clothes that reflected their values and adopted a huge range of diverse styles, from fringe looks that paid respect to Native Americans, to various exotic fashions borrowed from Indian, Asian, and other cultures, to hand-me-down and thrift store clothes that showed their rejection of materialism. Though hippie styles are usually associated with long hair, tie-dyed shirts, long skirts for women, jeans for men, and paisley and flowered patterns, in truth hippie styles were extremely varied.
The choices hippies made about clothing were a direct criticism of fashion, the system by which certain elite designers and trendsetters determine what everyone wears. Hippies wanted everyone to choose for themselves. Even though they tried to be antifashion, the fashion industry celebrated and borrowed from hippie clothing, making such things as the long wrap dress, the fringed shirt, blue jeans, and other items available to the masses. But in doing so the fashion industry recognized that its control was over.
By the early 1970s clothing styles had gone off in so many different directions that it was difficult for anyone to say what was in fashion and what was not. Men and women had a great variety of choices in what they wore. Men could still wear the standard business suit that looked much like it had in the 1950s, but they could also enliven their business look with brightly colored shirts, very wide neckties, or bell-bottom trousers. They could reject business attire altogether, wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt or even a jogging suit. Some women still discriminated between day wear and evening wear, but most women now chose from a range of dress styles depending on their personal preferences. Skirt lengths had changed so much, from the high-on-the-thigh mini to the knee-length midi to the ankle-length maxi, that anything was now permissible. And by the 1970s pants were so common among women that they no longer attracted any comment.
One of the ways that people could stand out in such a tolerant clothing climate was to be deliberately bold or shocking. Hot pants (extremely short shorts), huge bell-bottoms, vividly colored leisure suits, polyester shirts, and tight catsuits are all examples of clothing styles that flirted with being over-the-top, but were fashionable for a time.
The two most distinct fashion fads of the 1970s grew out of very different music scenes. In the mid-1970s a subgenre of rock 'n' roll called punk rock—loud, fast, and angry—helped give birth to an entire punk scene, first in London and then in other major cities in the West. Punks wore ripped clothes, wildly spiked hairstyles, and huge Doc Marten boots, among other things. A very different style emerged from the disco scene, a dance-based music and culture trend that flourished in New York City in the mid-1970s. Disco dancers wore formal-looking clothes in flamboyant cuts and colors, including leisure suits and extremely skimpy dresses.
After nearly two decades of absolute excess, clothing styles became somewhat more conservative in the late 1970s. Aided by the rise of Italian fashion designers whose clothes were elegant and restrained, people in general turned to comfortable clothes that fit the body's natural contours. The end result of these tumultuous decades, however, was that most people felt completely free to assemble their wardrobe from a variety of clothes that best expressed their personal sense of style, rather than from a limited set of clothes determined by a selective fashion industry.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Chenoune, Farid. A History of Men's Fashion. Paris, France: Flammarion, 1993.
Connikie, Yvonne. Fashions of a Decade: The 1960s. New York: Facts on File, 1990.
Contini, Mila. Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Edited by James Laver. New York: Odyssey Press, 1965.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Twentieth Century Fashion. Revised by Alice Mackrell. Lanham, MD: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992.
Herald, Jacqueline. Fashions of a Decade: The 1970s. New York: Facts on File, 1992.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.
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