By Lisa Cowell
More than fifty years have passed since the Sixties began to swing, changing the arts, society and fashion for good.
So you would think fashion might have caught onto a new era of groundbreaking fresh style. That is not the case.
Everywhere you look you see 1960s fashion still gracing our streets. Look into your own wardrobe and I challenge you not to find a pair of knee high boots or a classic shift dress.
Fashion Week’s around the world are almost saturated with sixties style every year. You cannot avoid the occasional animal print or skin tight legging on the catwalk.
Look at this year’s Autumn/Winter fashion, high street shops are bursting at the seams with faux fur coats and leopard print garments.
Why do the sixties keep coming back in fashion?
The constant reinvention of an era is nothing new to the fashion industry, English author Geoffrey Chaucer once said: "There’s never a new fashion but it’s old."
Chaucer could never be more accurate. In the early 20th century Dior’s 'New Look' introduced the 'waspie' waist which was an imitation of Queen Elizabeth I’s heavily cinched waist line, a look which has again been revived by celebrities like burlesque artist Dita Von Teese.
Over a century women have struggled to be equal, but in that time fashion has responded to social changes.
Post World War I saw the introduction of equal rights for women. Many cut their hair short in a political statement and started to openly wear make-up.
Women were blurring the lines between their male opposition proving they can work in factories and hold their own in times of anguish.
This was one of the first acts of female liberation that would be a stepping stone to future movements.
Mass production was now in full swing after World War II and Coco Chanel was the big name in fashion with her signature tweed suits and the birth of the 'little black dress'.
Coco Chanel once said: "Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape."
Fashion transformed after the war and it was all about complimenting the feminine physique.
Writer Fred Davis, Fashion, Culture, and Identity, mentions how even attitudes were changing in a want to be fashionable, he said: "The Great Depression that followed seems to have contributed a perverse luster to its chic allure."
After the Second World War soldiers were coming home to their partners, getting married and starting families which sparked the baby boom.
The post war baby boom saw an influx of young adults making their mark on the 60s. They had money to spend, class divides were at a low and there was a demand for a new funky fashion.
Author Hilary Fawcett explains the allure of the 60s, she said: "The period is one of high modernity, optimism, innovation as represented in the expanding media and commodity culture of the era."
Music was more influential and rebellious than ever before. Bands like The Rolling Stones and The Who were the children of the baby boom with new ideas, fashions, and did it all with a Rock n' Roll attitude.
Author Sean Egan, The Rolling Stones and the making of Let it Bleed, writes about the Stones in the sixties: "It was the year when the establishment of Great Britain decided to break the band who epitomised and figure headed a counter-culture that was threatening the censorious and authoritarian values of the old order."
By the mid 60s new freedoms were coming into power. The contraceptive pill was introduced, homosexuality was legalised and feminism was fighting hard.
A generation was experiencing a new wave of modernity. Drug use was becoming more frequent, people were more sexually liberated and fashion was making its stamp on the world.
The introduction of the department store was a leader on the high street for fashion but British designer Mary Quant introduced a whole new shop in 1955...the boutique.
In the book The Face of Fashion, Jennifer Craik said: "In 1964, Courreges launched his 'space age' clothes and Mary Quant her pop clothes. Both collections offered a new look for teenagers and young people."
Quant wanted the unconventional look in her clothes, accessories, and shop window.
Her shop window was famous for its quirky mannequin poses and 'most up-to-date hair cuts'.
She could give young people cheap 'throwaway' fashion; mass produced clothes that could be sold at an affordable price.
Craik describes fashion as 'no longer elite' making fashion available to all classes.
Writer Samantha Bleikorn, The Mini Mod Sixties Book, said in her book: "For young women, the rebellion against the hobbling effects of long skirts and stiletto heels that had been key parts of the haute couture that ruled fashion for as long as any teenager or twenty-some-thing could remember."
Youth culture was breaking old conventions and designers like Mary Quant were taking notice.
Her boutique, Bazaar, sold everything from vest dresses to feather boas and colours of metallic’s to lustrous primaries. She described her boutique as a 'little shop with funky clothes' and it would instantly catch on.
In the late 50s and early 60s a group called the 'Chelsea Set' emerged. They were young trendy females who embraced the fashion scene.
An article in the Independent interviews Diana Melly, a past employee of Quant’s, she said: "Mary was the undisputed queen of the "Chelsea Set". Bazaar was one of its main meeting places. That was part of the reason why I wanted to work there."
Bazaar was not the only boutique around; Biba was one of the biggest shops of London in the 60s. It was full of psychedelic patterned clothes with tiny waists.
The tiny waist phenomenon was pastiche of the Elizabethan times but is more fitting to the waif like models females were aspiring to be like in the 60s.
British model Twiggy is a mod symbol of the sixties who had a waif like frame that rejected the usual womanly figures that were seen before in the media like Sophia Loren and Betty Grable.
Author Hilary Fawcett explains how she succumbed to the fashion ideals of the 60s, she said: "In looking at photographs of myself through 1960s I see the process of shrinking from a voluptuous fourteen year old to a very skinny eighteen year-old.
"I was not alone and the cult of excessive thinness was all pervasive. This was the first generation of young people for whom fashion models had succeeded actresses and royalty as the defining female type."
The obsession to be thin and fit unattainable ideals is just like today’s society. We are constantly bombarded with edited images of beautiful models in magazines selling the latest fashions.
Modern day supermodels like Kate Moss and Agnes Deyn share the same waif like androgynous features of 60s model twiggy.
This was a popular look throughout the 60s that even Andy Warhol’s muse Edie Sedgwick took on.
The IT girl turned actor embodied everything fashion and was a face of new wave art.
Futurism and geometric patterns were everywhere in fashion, art, and architecture.
Pop Art was a new and controversial movement that caught on in the industry by artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
Author Jill Condra (2008) said: "The 1960s saw an explosion of styles in art...Optical Art.
"The most famous example of Op art crossing over into fashion was the Mondrian dress designed by Yves Saint-Laurent in 1965.
"He took popular blocky paintings of twentieth century Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and basically wrapped them around the female form in a simple shift dress."
Sixties fashion is easy to spot. Leather knee high boots, miniskirts and tiny shifts dresses almost saturated swinging London’s youth culture.
An article on BBC.co.uk by Steven Bannon talks about how the media perceived the new changes in the sixties, he said: "The Pill and the miniskirt seemed to promise some kind of utopia, providing the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity."
Women weren’t afraid to take a risk with make-up and false lashes, emphasising their femininity more than ever.
Come the 16th century people were branded 'shameful' by wearing outdated clothes just like how it is today in our fashion conscious world.
In the 60s feminism was strong and many women protested against fashion as they saw it to be 'restricting' and 'constructing' a false version of femininity.
In the book Fashion as Communication, Malcolm Barnard said: "According to Evans and Thornton, in the late 1960s and early 1970s 'the entire package of fashion was condemned by feminists'.
"Fashion and clothing were seen as constricting and that had to be escaped from or got out of."
But where there was protest there was rebellion.
One of the most memorable and 'outrageous' shops of rebellion in the 60s was Vivienne Westwood’s, SEX.
It was a place for punk clothing visited by bands like The Rolling Stones to promote their rebellious image by waiting paparazzi.
Musicians made the Mod and Rocker fashion popular which is still worn by young people today. The Beatles were all about the Mod look with trendy haircuts, smart shirts, and khaki parker coats.
Shari Benstock, On Fashion, talks about how clothes once thought of as 'poor' were now fashionable: "The 1960s exhibited a massive attempt to overthrow the cultural codes of the past, and fashion became an important element of the construction of new identities.
"Antifashion in clothes and attire became fashionable, and the subversion of overthrowing of cultural codes be a norm."
Today bands like Oasis and Blur are almost a tribute replication of the Northern working class generation of the 60s, still embracing the longer haircuts and classic Fred Perry T-shirts but with denim drainpipes.
The popularity of rebellion, music and fashion in the 60s complimented each other perfectly and has been created and modified by a modern society that has been inspired by the most influential decade in a century.
But the image of the 'swinging sixties' that is perceived in the world is not all what it seems.
Author Stella Bruzzi, Fashion Cultures, says: "The landscape of fashion in the twentieth century was mediated by film, photography and the fashion press."
Most of the blame for these idealistic 60s images of sexual promiscuity, drugs and rock n' roll was all controlled by the media into something desirable and worth profiting from.
Hilary Fawcett says how the 60s was more of a 'fantasy' than reality: "The fantasy of the 1960s as a period of free love, equality and pain free hedonism feeds in to the way in which these fashions are consumed."
It is certain the media shaped the 60s into a desirable decade that would in turn make the industry money but it could be said that the media simply highlighted what the public wanted to see.
Sixties magazines like Honey and Roxy were dedicated to fashion like our modern day Look magazine or Glamour.
Much like newspapers and films the public in sense control what is seen. Readers and viewers buy into mass production of what it is they desire and in turn companies respond to their audience’s wishes.
In the 21st century mass production has never been more popular with shop like Primark and Topshop. It is because of the public’s buying habits that 1960s fashion keeps repeating itself.
Jean Baudrillard (1993) says fashion is always retro and it is simply 'an immediate and total recycling of past form'.
We succumb to the 1960s ideals, changes and adopt it into our lives.
The 60s was a time of female liberation and finding freedom to express yourself on many levels which continues more than ever to this day but we think more in 'codes' of what message we are trying to project in our clothes.
Present young generations are probably unaware of how heavily influential the 60s is to music and fashion of today.
Without every small but important step from the Great Depression to the Post War Baby Boom we may have seen a more conservative, repressed 1960s.
Instead, the new wave youth culture of the 60s left a legacy of modern day liberated generations who share an ode to the swinging era and celebrate it in pastiche fashion.
Women’s History (2010) Available at: http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_coco_chanel.htm (Accessed: 30 November 2010).
Davis, F. (1994, p.64) Fashion, culture, and Identity. The University of Chicago Press Ltd.
Fawcett, H. (2010, p.2) Embodying the Second Wave: Revisiting 1960’s Fashion. Oxford University.
Egan, S. (2005, p.7) Rolling Stones and the making of Let It Bleed. Unanimous Ltd.
Craik, J. (1993, p.81) The Face of Fashion. London: Routledge.
Craik, J. (1993, p.81) The Face of Fashion. London: Routledge.
Bleikorn, S. (2002, p.20) The Mini Mod Sixties Book. Last Gasp.
The Independent (2010) London: The swinging sixties. Available at:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/london-the-swinging-sixties-513011.html (Accessed: 1 December 10).
Fawcett, H. (2010, p. 4) Embodying the Second Wave: Revisiting 1960’s Fashion. Oxford University.
Condra, J. (2008, p.168) The Greenwood Encyclopaedia of Clothing Through World History: 1801 to the present. Greenwood Publishing Group.
BBC (2010) The 1960s conundrum. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/lincolnshire/asop/people/60s_day.shtml (Accessed: 2 December 2010).
Barnard, M. (2002, p.142) Fashion as Communication. London: Routledge.
Bentstock, S., Ferriss, S. (1994, p.161) On Fashion. Rutgers University Press.
Bruzzi, S., Gibson, P. (2000, p.19) Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis. London: Routledge.
Fawcett, H. (2010, p.5) Embodying the Second Wave: Revisiting 1960’s Fashion. Oxford University.
Baudrillard, J. (1993, p.88) Symbolic Exchange and Death. Sage Publications.