It’s very hard to say when fashion ‘started’. Historically, it largely depended on your social status. For example, Queen Elizabeth I was a highly fashionable lady and influenced her court, but did she influence the average person in the street…? The Georgian era – all that Jane Austen glamour – was also terribly fashion-conscious, which perhaps reached the aspiring middle-classes but not much further?
I would argue that fashion, as something we all have access to and are influenced by, really only started in the 1960s. As post-war austerity slowly gave way to a more stable economic situation, incomes rose and, with that, we had a little more disposable earnings in our pocket – with the growing department stores and ‘off the peg’ clothes shops very happy to help us spend it! Colour movies had us wanting to dress like film stars and the rise of the record industry had us wanting to copy our pop idols. (Am I starting to wax too lyrical…?!)
Perhaps this article should be called sixty years of popular fashion, as I suppose that’s what I really mean. It’s just a great excuse to reflect on the many changes in fashion and style that the last sixty years have seen. In this first blog, we look at the 60s, 70s and 80s, which all brought some very different styles!
The 60s was the era of young people. Their desire to stop dressing like their parents really pioneered so many fashion looks. New technology had created new fabrics that designers could exploit; everything from polyester, nylon and acrylic to Perspex, Spandex and even PVC were used. The dawn of the space age (Sputnik I had been launched in 1957) saw many fashion houses design for what they thought the future might look like. The 60s also saw the rise of the boutiques and more accessible designers; Mary Quant and Bibas are both great examples of these (but anything you said you bought on the Kings Road or Carnaby Street was bound to win you admiring looks!).
The 1960s was the era of the mini-skirt, bubble skirts and love beads. Women wore polka-dot fabrics and ponchos, men wore moccasins and medallion necklaces, and everyone wore frayed bell-bottom jeans! As the 60s gave way to the 1970s, fashion generally got a whole lot more relaxed…
Read more about 1960s youth fashion, with some lovely memories, in the V&As great online page here.
The 1970s was a decade that seemed to embrace everything. Whether you loved the hippy and psychedelic vibe of the Woodstock festival, you revelled in disco glitz, or you adopted the fledgling glam-rock look of the likes of Thin Lizzy and Roxy Music, the fashion world was as diverse as the world of music. Hair was generally worn longer, for men and women, and beards became rather more mainstream for the first time since the 1920s. Shoes were probably platform – the higher the better – and everything was colourful, preferably clashing.
In the 70s, the most fashionable women wore floppy Farrah Fawcett flick hair under their trendy headscarf, wore maxi-dresses with plenty of smocking or shearing and probably owned a pair of over-the-knee boots. If you couldn’t afford the punk looks of designers like Vivienne Westwood or Malcolm McLaren, you shopped the more affordable versions offered by the likes of C&A, Tammy Girl and Dolcis.
Take a trip down memory lane with this fabulous gallery of 1970s fashion plates from Harpers Bazaar.
Ah, who doesn’t look back to the ‘80s and think Ra-ra skirts and leg warmers? Or perhaps big shoulder pads and lots of bangles? As each generation in turn seeks to make its own look, so the 1980s ‘New Romantic’ generation turned its back on the too casual hippy and embraced an often smarter look. The jacket saw a comeback, for men and women, probably slightly over-large and with the cuffs folded back. Lace-trimmed blouses and waistcoats were popular and, if we weren’t wearing kitten-heel stilettos, we were probably wearing slouchy boots.
Teenage girls wanted to look like Madonna or Adam Ant, whilst their Mum’s styled themselves more on Crystal Carrington from ‘Dynasty’ (or Jan Howard from ‘Howards Way’ – did you know they have been repeating that on the Drama Channel?!). Our menfolk embraced colourful knitwear, or the aforementioned ‘Miami Vice’ pastel suit.
The 1980s also saw the rise of the Supermodel, with Janice Dickinson, Linda Evangelista and Elle Macpherson dominating the fashion press. But probably the most iconic dress of the decade was, of course, Princess Diana’s 140 metres of ivory silk taffeta wedding dress, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel.
Take a look back at the pop fashion of the 1980s with Marie Claire here.
Read Part 2 here, where I look at the 1990s right up to the present!