1960s Fashion Trends
For The 1960 Fashion Year
At the beginning of 1960, the American woman was dressing in the manner of the 1930’s. Strict, well-tailored suits were de rigueur for day wear. For evening, she wore either the same strictly cut suits in de luxe fabrics or slinky, bias-cut crepes. . Her hair and her make-up were fairly natural. Hair was worn shoulder-length and casually turned under by day, often wrapped up high at night. Make-up was unobtrusively becoming, with more and more emphasis on eyes.
By the end of 196o, the well-tailored, well-behaved young woman just described had been replaced by the flapper of the Twenties—her hair was as short as it could be without being shingled (and some top models even went in for shingling), her make-up (white face, charcoal-blackened eye-lids, and red, red lips) looked more like that of pantomimist Marcel Marceau than that of a healthy young woman. Her clothes had the spineless, waist-less look that years earlier had become known as the debutante slouch—only this time the look was built into the clothes. This represented fashion at its most extreme, however, and there were many concessions to femininity before one reached this point. There they were, however—the unshaped day dresses, the beaded evening tubes, and the garish makeup that seemed to set the clock back 40 years.
Strict tailoring, always loved by American women, came into its own at the beginning of the year. No designer worth his salt could resist the temptation to pare a little off the suit, coat, or dress he was working on. Ben Zuckerman, always a high priest in the fashion world, turned out as handsome a crop of suits, coats, dresses, and even evening costumes as could be found on the American scene. All were tailored within an inch of their lives, yet displayed the inimitable softness that lesser designers envied and women coveted. One of his best suits, a brown-and-beige tweed, had the classic tailored elegance of a man’s fine suit: narrow, flat collar, sleeves set high on the shoulder, jacket cut with very little emphasis on the body beneath it. The skirt was short, slim, and somehow feminine.
Shoes for this tailored daytime dressing were lower-heeled, often oval, instead of pointed, at the toe. Shiny, crushed glace kid gloves were part of this look, as well as feminized bowlers or soft slouch hats. Often a fur collar softened an otherwise man-tailored costume. In a gray-flannel suit, for example, where the jacket was cut like a man’s smoking jacket and the skirt knifed into pleats, the soft touch was a collar of fur—hair seal—instead of a velvet collar. The same theme was repeated on other suits but with different furs: nutria, red fox, and opossum were great favorites. These were the more conservatively cut suits, however. Actually, the most fashionable suits were those that were the most strictly tailored; they deviated not a jot from their line, bearing neither trimming nor added softness. Characteristic was a mustard-and-white herringbone tweed, double-breasted and jacketed down to the middle of the hips (no waist indication here), with lapels and pockets slightly larger than life to carry so much jacket so far. It, too, was by the ubiquitous Ben Zuckerman.
In all this rash of tailoring, many coats seemed vastly less mannish than the suits they covered, i.e. Zuckerman’s beautiful, spare capes, as narrow as they could be without impeding the wearer’s pace. For all their strict simplicity, they were faintly nostalgic and definitely romantic. One of the best of these, in taupe wool, had a small, rolled, black Persian-lamb collar and was worn with a Cossack hat of the same fur. Another, by Trigere, resembled Superman’s cape—of green tweed, it had wings instead of sleeves, the wings gently folding in toward the hem.
Of the coats that were genuine coats, most were influenced by the trench coat and, for daytime, looked their best in fairly bold tweeds or plaids. Most coats were strictly belted in glossy leather at the waist, or at least sashed, and many were double-breasted. Some had no buttons at all but wrapped around the wearer, with the sash pulled tight and then knotted.
Running counter to all this tailoring was another current, also from the Thirties—simple, untrimmed dresses, often cut on the bias, to snuggle under one of the tailored coats or a long-haired, simply cut fur coat. Donald Brooks of Townley, long an exponent of on-the-bias cutting, did some of the best of these dresses for daytime and evening. One, in off-white jersey, had a high, cowl neckline, short sleeves, and a swaying skirt cut on the bias so that it moved as the wearer moved. Another, in mauve jersey, draped from a high yoke down to the waist and around to the back, had a simple gathered skirt. Wide belts marked the waists on both of these.
Brooks’s evening clothes were the softest, most feminine of the season. His love of slim fullness and subtle allure showed up best in his black silk-crepe dresses; one had a back cut down to the waist, a high, halter neck, a bias-cut, flowing skirt. Other designers relied on fabric for elegance and kept on cutting like tailors; typical was a Murray Nieman evening suit, the jacket of gold lame, the strict, floor-length skirt of black velvet, and the shirt underneath of white satin. A theater suit by John Moore of Talmack was cut exactly like his daytime suits, with a cardigan jacket, a tight, slim skirt, and an unadorned overblouse—the only difference was the fabric, which was white silk matelasse. Another theater or cocktail suit, cut just as strictly by Ben Zuckerman, consisted of a gold brocade cardigan jacket, a camisole top, and a slim skirt. Inside, one finally found softness—a sable jacket lining.
Also from the Thirties was one of the year’s most popular fashions, the slinky beaded dress cut as simply as a slip but glittering for all its worth (and its worth rose with each bead). Most of these appeared in white, silver, or gold and only at top-level prices, but, by fall, they had burgeoned into the sine qua non for late-day wear.
The news from Paris bore out the American collections with one exception—Yves St. Laurent’s tunic. For day, he showed it in gray flannel, long-sleeved and muffled under an Edwardian dog collar of pearls. He showed it in a variety of luscious stuffs for evening, including one beaded silvery-white tunic, sleeveless but also muffled chin-high with pearls. There was some intramural altercation as to hem lines, but most French designers agreed on two inches below the knee, and American designers concurred.
The tailoring to the nth degree that came as such news to suits and coats merely heightened the already perfectionistic tailoring of separates. Sports-wear had never been handsomer or more varied. Tweeds were their bonniest, and although fall colors were muted compared with those of the previous year, some interesting new colors cropped up. A new green, called loden, closely resembled that old olive drab everyone had tried to forget after World War II. It was the top color in sportswear, followed by all manner of browns. Brown was the black of 196o and could be worn, it was discovered, not only with black, but with deep, warm blues (not navy), grays, golds, whites, and beiges—in short, with all the colors where black had become conventional and a little tiresome. The interest in browns brought on all kinds of leather accessories, from the highly coveted and classic alligator (in new shades of gold and taupe as well as the classic dark brown) through lizards, and revamped classics of another day, such as pin-seal leathers. Bags and shoes looked more tailored, too, and the only concession to femininity was a fur hat or a fur collar on a suit or coat.
In the spring, fashion melted into a new silhouette, infinitely softer, much younger. In Paris, a new, almost childishly simple silhouette had taken over, bare-necked, bare-armed, short-skirted, full-skirted. The most typical silhouettes of this new look in Paris (and strangely enough, the most Americanized) were the short-jacketed, swinging-skirted suits of Crahay, designer for Nina Ricci—they made every wearer look ten years younger. Crahay’s jackets fitted right down to the waist, where they stopped; his skirts were gored into fullness so that they were flat over the hips. Next on the list for the youthful look was Gabrielle Chanel, designing as always in her own serene, effortless way, but, as always, the height of fashion. Dior followed, with less wearable, often exaggerated clothes that emphasized (as did all the Paris designers) the bosom but often swelled out unbecomingly over the hips. Many of St. Laurent’s best clothes featured his “princesse line.” One beautiful ball dress of pale-blue silk had a high, strapless top, rounded over the bosom and curved out from there like an urn to a hem that was knee-high in front, floor-long in back.
With the exceptions of Crahay and Chanel, French designers liked hair done high, in high French twists or top-of-the-head buns for daytime and evening, covered by hats that echoed these shapes. Crahay and Chanel showed shorter hair, as did many American designers, cutting it off somewhere below the earlobes and puffing it slightly, instead of inflating it, as in the bouffant hairdo.
In America, the silhouette was closer to nature, more like Crahay’s, but the tailoring was replaced by blousing and fluidity. Here, too, collars were gone, and the boat-neck, or slightly rounded, neck-line prevailed, in dresses always, and even in some suits. The waistline was marked gently, and often lowered, and skirts were set in motion by pleats, gathers, or the bias cut that formerly had appeared only in the evening. Now it ranged freely from day dresses to suits, and walking was a pleasure again. Sleeves were wider and shorter but as soft and fluid, and skirts, never stiffened. Fashion had begun to relax, and this trend was universally welcomed.
Fashion colors rivaled flowers for brightness—hot pinks, oranges, and golds topped the list, with strong yellow and all kinds of blue not far behind. Many of the handsomest dresses combined two brilliant colors in a way that a few years earlier only Matisse would have dared to use. Prints appeared less often than solid, strong colors. Suits were, for the most part, more muted than dresses in their hues; beige; gray, subtle checks, and tweeds abounded, and a new color, chamois, established itself as a fresh neutral. Suit news was in the softer, easier cut (some suits resembled two-piece dresses) and their newly flung skirts. Bias cutting appeared often. One gray wool suit, by John Moore of Talmack, really a jumper with its own white silk blouse and sheltering jacket, had a lowered waist-line that tapered to a V in front and a bias-cut skirt that flowed gently from there. Another, more formal suit in chamois silk, by David Kidd of Jablow, had a wide collarless neck, funnel sleeves, and a gentled, slim skirt. Underneath the jacket, a sleeveless chamois silk blouse was speckled with tiny black dots. Kidd also turned out one of the hand-somest coats of spring, a tunic-length, tunic-like, off-white wool, pared away at the neck and seamed in an arc from the tip of the sleeve up over the bosom and straight down to the hem. Buttoned and skirted in black, it made one of the smashing costumes of the spring and would continue to do the same in the fall.
For late-day dressing, the strongly colored silks were sure-fire; and prints, often nonfloral, when they did appear, were abandoned in their coloring, as well as their size. Donald Brooks’s python print, for example, appeared on silk or on chiffon; in shades of coral and brick red or in a range from yellow through gold, it was simply a blown-up reproduction of a cobra skin. It showed signs of lasting as long and in as many versions as the leopard print started by Norman Norell in the Forties. Other prints, usually larger-than-life, were especially handsome on the outsized, floppy, kimono sleeves of the new late-day silks.
As the summer wore on, strong colors held their own, as did the soft silk dress in strident colors. The bikini, almost always a closed subject in America, was reopened with some success. Fashion editors warmly recommended, however, that bikinis be reserved for private pools, and, for the most part, their advice was followed.
In midsummer, after the Presidential candidates had been nominated, a great deal of heat was generated over their wives’ clothes and personal style. Pat Nixon, 48, true to her party, was a conservatively dressed, nice-looking woman. Jacqueline Kennedy was another matter entirely—just turned 31, she had dash and possessed a model figure plus a genuine instinct for fashion. Mrs. Kennedy was criticized for buying some of her clothes in Paris and for her free-wheeling hairdo, Mrs. Nixon for buying ultra-expensive clothes at Elizabeth Arden. The issues were finally resolved; Pat Nixon’s ward-robe expenses were explained, and Jacqueline Kennedy tamed her hairdo slightly and revealed that she usually wore American-designed clothes (one of her favorite designers was Norman Norell). With the Kennedy election victory, elated American designers and dress manufacturers prophesied that Mrs. Kennedy would set new fashion trends that were sure to be widely copied. For her Inaugural Ball gown, Mrs. Kennedy commissioned Bergdorf Goodman, New York City, to make up a design based on her own original sketches.
By fall, everyone hungered for news of what was to be. From Paris and New York came remarkably unanimous agreement about the look—very Twenties, with short, almost shingled hair (in Paris, it actually was shingled); cloches or big-domed hats without brims; sheathy, almost waistless dresses cut off at the knees; and lower-heeled, more man-tailored shoes.
Norman Norell had forecast the trend with the showing of his fall collection, in which the models shingled their hair, wore clown-white make-up and charcoal-shaded lids, and slithered about in his distinctly flapper dresses—beaded tubes for night, wool or jersey shifts for day. The hottest news in the fall fashion picture was made by Norell’s culotted suits. The culottes were cut so shrewdly that their nature became apparent only in motion; they were slim rather than full and fell straight from the hips. Many of America’s most distinctive fashion personalities took to them as being more suitable (and ladylike) for hopping in and out of cars, buses, and pedestrian traffic than the tight, slim skirts of yore, and lesser designers copied them, often not quite as successfully as the master. In fact, Norell felt so strongly about the proper cut and hang that he offered to lend his pattern free to any designers who wished to make use of it, an unprecedented action in the fashion world.
Norell showed culottes either as the skirt for his tailored-to-the-nines suits, or under equally tailored shirts worn tunic fashion outside the skirt. Outstanding among the suits was a dark-gray flannel with a slightly standoffish, rounded collar on a hip-length jacket belted smartly at the waist in black alligator.
Coats were often capes, as Zuckerman had forecast in the spring. The belted trench coat in tweed or flannel had been replaced by free-falling coats, often collarless. What the collars had supplied in the form of warmth was easily compensated for by the stoles accompanying many of these new coats. One of the handsomest of the collarless coats came without a stole, but a great deal of dash was supplied by its fabric, a gigantic black-and-white Glen plaid tweed; and by its cut—it was yoked high under the shoulder blades, had wide, free-falling sleeves and an easy front. It was by Gustave Tassell, one of the most talented of the new California designers. Another of the great young designers, Jacques Tiffeau, designed a columnar coat of enormous black-and-white houndstooth checks, double-buttoned down the front and as slim as possible below the slightly widened shoulders.
Fur coats were not neglected. Although few fur designers dared let a fur coat out of their doors without a collar, one did—Alfred Rainer designed a black mink coat, slim as a reed; the skins worked horizontally and fastened by three tiny black satin bows. There was no collar—only a ring of mink to begin the circle at the top. Some suits, too, were collarless and equipped with a muffling stole—one such, by Jablow, was black-and-white checked wool bound with the same wool, then bound up again by a long, fringed stole in the same checks.
Fur hats were required, and if one could not afford mink, then opossum, fox, or Mongolian goat (a great favorite in Paris, but hard to come by in America) were equally fashionable. The hat had to be high, domed, and just about covering the hair. For once, hairdressers and milliners were in agreement. The hair was either long and twisted up in a French knot or—more popular, much more fashionable, and much easier to care for—it was cut short (just ear-lobe length) and waved (not curled) , with tendrils winding up on each cheek, Twenties style.
Day dresses were pleasantly supple sheaths, often in bright colors, for the rage for color had persisted from the spring. Although the colors were more muted for fall, they were still fairly bright. Purple replaced brown at the top of the fashion list, followed by all the dethroned browns and some rather bold colors. Norell stuck to color for his handsomest suits and coats—indeed, they owed some of their dash to high color. A stunning example was his purple wool suit faced and bloused in crimson jersey.
For fall evenings, color still abounded. It was outdone only by glitter—for the beaded sheath was in with a vengeance and was seen in such topflight collections as Norell’s (where it had appeared for years and was considered a classic by now), as well as in lower-echelon collections, where it was eased up a bit for less-than-model proportions. None of these sheaths was inexpensive, since every paillette had to be sewn on by hand. The Norell favorites ranged in color from bright red through silver to gold to Paisley and were priced at ca. $2,000. Less expensive versions by other designers were seen at prices from $350 to $95. Short versions of the beaded dress were seen also—some were two-piece, almost unfitted; some, like Mollie Parnis’ bare-backed, black, bugle-bead sheath, were spare and closely fitted.
With all these jewels sewn onto afterdark dresses, additional jewelry usually seemed superfluous. Ear-rings, usually rhinestone or rhinestone with another, colored stone, were the favored evening jewelry. In the daytime, long gold chains and button earrings prevailed. Often no jewelry was worn on daytime clothes at all, a holdover from the spring craze for the bare look; earrings alone were enough, or one striking pin (usually fake). Most make-up was not as extreme as that seen in the Norell collection, but complexions were encouraged to look as pale as was naturally possible, while eye make-up and lipstick were darker than before. Fake eyelashes, once the exclusive property of models and actresses, were available to all over the cosmetic counter and were used most often for evening.
Gloves grew longer to meet shortened, widened sleeves; the best-loved were still glace kids with no detailing. Bags were slightly smaller and quite luxurious; the handsomest were alligator or lizard in classic shapes, often hung from golden chains. Shoes never matched the bag—alligator and lizard went well together, as did pin seal and alligator. For evening, the pump was still the thing; often it, too, wore added glitter via application of beads or rhinestones. For late-day, with the little black, purple, hot pink, or mauve dresses that abounded in luxurious fabrics (brocade and satin were favorites), shoes matched the dress, or better yet, were a subtle variation on the dress color. Fluffy after-five hats of maline or veiling supplied the finishing touch for an effect that was meltingly feminine.
Gache Publishing Co.
1961 Encyclopedia Year Book
covering the year 1960