1963 Fashion and Vintage Clothing
The year 1963 started off as the year of the little nothing, day and night. Understatement was the key in everything from hairdos to fitting, from jewels to pumps. The well-bred look was the look to strive for, and if jewels were not real, they were not worn—unless they were small, perfect replicas of the real thing. The look was slim and towny, worn with upswept hair day and night, pale make-up, and strongly emphasized eyes.
The little nothing still had no sleeves and, likely as not, no waist; but here and there were intimations of fit. Sarmi designed a marvelous dress of off-white wool, short-sleeved and seamed like ( ) and then ) ( seams that Balenciaga and Givenchy had made famous in Paris. These seams gave the dress enough shape to cling to the wearer in an understated but persistent way. Suits were often collarless, fitted lightly or not at all, often unbuttoned to hang open from throat to waist, where most jackets stopped; underneath were usually their own blouses, sleeve-less, lightly fitted shells. Coats were made the same way but more so, and they were often cocoons of thick, lovely tweed.
Then, just in time for spring, came two charming ideas that seemed new but were actually neglected classics: the reefer, slim, immaculately tailored, with high, neat armholes, long, slim sleeves, small perfection of collar, not an extraneous detail any-where. Suits, too, began to take on a new look, the look of great tailoring, great precision. Both ideas looked their best in strongly textured wools and pale, interesting tweeds.
In Paris, the trend was every man for himself. Each designer worked in his own metier, many magnificently. Marc Bohan at Christian Dior made news with his rounded melon sleeves, somewhat reminiscent of leg-of-mutton sleeves yet strangely contemporary, especially since Bohan put them in his meltingly young suits of men’s-wear fabrics chalk-striped charcoal grey flannel (a portent), Melton cloth in pale delicious pinks and blues (other portents for fall)—or in his tiny overcoats. One of the latter, in peony-pink fleece, barely reached the waist and was shown over a slick navy wool dress. (This, still another portent, was shared later by American designers.)
In Paris, Yves St. Laurent was no longer the wunderkind. His collection was the consistent, perceptive work of a mature designer. Here, finally, was the crystallization of many of the ideas he had tried to convey before; here, too, a fresh look at the shape of fashion, a look destined to make history—for St. Laurent ‘s collection changed the focus of fashion for the first time in two decades. Since 1945, every good designer had emphasized the hips and narrowed the shoulders. St. Laurent reversed the triangle, broadening the shoulders—without padding—and narrowing the hips. His navy Lesur wool shirtdress, probably the sexiest shirtdress ever, had softly broadened shoulders tapering slightly into long, shirt-cuffed sleeves, and a clear-cut collar of misty white organdy. It fitted in St. Laurent’s new way, clinging but moving to cling differently with every move the wearer made. His jumper dress drifted down the body from its broadest point up top, never touching the body and only revealing it in motion. The jumper was sand-beige silk, shirted and gaucho-scarved in soot-black silk. Suit jackets were often cut like man-sized sweaters, with chunky shoulders and wide, easy sleeves. Or St. Laurent might tailor pin-striped gray flannel as sharply as if he were folding paper, its delicate white organdy overblouse accentuating further the neatness of the tailoring, the texture of the fabric.
Evening clothes were ravishing, with very few innovations. Pierre Cardin dipped his decolletages waist-deep in back, hung them with silk roses; some were organza, some were skirted in white crepe with black roses.
Gabrielle Chanel’s news was in her fabrics—for day, a combination of silk and wool, diagonally ribbed, that shone like horsehair, in a typical Chanel suit—open jacket cuffed and faced in starchy white organza to echo the white organza camisole underneath it. For evening, a white silk suit that looked like woven ribbons, bound in braid and closed, as were most Chanel suits in the spring, with a bar pin.
Roberto Capucci, strictly but beautifully tailored during the day, turned out a stunning evening dress, also rather strict, of white cotton matelasse; the slim, sleeveless top was paved in great cabochon buttons, each a plaque of semiprecious stones, the skirt round yet slender.
Cotton was a new darling in Paris, and organdy was tailored as strictly as worsted. But the fabric of the season was linen, shown everywhere, plain and printed. Dior’s printed linen coats and coatdresses, often in Chinoiserie designs on red backgrounds, were worn with unprinted linen dresses, or vice versa. His most beautiful print was a garden-party of flowers splashed on a black linen coat, double-breasted, melon-sleeved, over a deep-pink linen dress. Givenchy’s simple little smashers were all linen in the spring, all linen and no more than 20 inches wide, shortsleeved or sleeveless, some belted, some shirt-collared, most of them leashed with narrow leather cords of white, beige, curry, or putty.
These dresses were the hits of his collection, of Paris, and—a few weeks later— of America. Balenciaga designed a serene white linen suit scalloped around every edge but its hem; far less tailored, far more feminine than the usual Balenciaga suit. it was a whole refreshing direction for him, and for linen. More typical was Balenciaga’s two-piece white linen dress, double-breasted, deep-collared, sleeveless—a dress with the authority of a suit. Its companion was a many-layered cape, exquisitely tailored in navy wool twill.
The hat of Paris was the pith helmet, shown in straw, leather, felt, and suede and worn with the best coats and suits. The color of Paris was white, found abundantly in coats of Melton fleece twill, and tweed.
In America, the shirt shape was sneaking into suits, coats, even evening clothes. Ellen Brooke de-signed a white lace shirtdress for late-day, an outrageous, fresh, very young idea that worked. Suits had shirts for jackets. Coats came in shirt shapes, even to the cuffs and button-down collars; and they showed up in the most interesting textures in years. Dior-New York showed the handsomest suit texture of America’s spring collections, in two shades of wool that looked like denim: dark blue for skirt and open jacket; pale blue for V-necked, sleeveless pullover, with its V accentuated by a dark-blue binding. Many spring suits were short-sleeved, some unsleeved, and Norman Norell started a whole trend by showing a series of waistcoat suits, tricolored, impeccably tailored, ringing with authority. For example, a Bristol-blue silk shirt, long-sleeved (as all Norell’s were) polka-dotted in white, under a chutney wool waistcoat no bigger than a man’s vest, with a slim skirt of black wool. Another combination: white silk shirt, taupe Melton cloth waist-coat, navy wool skirt. The same idea was carried on into evening, with a floor-length skirt. Norell also showed shirts and skirts vested in shaggy, sleeveless, V-necked sweaters cinched with a gleaming leather belt. Norell was not the only man who liked his women in shirts and vests. Bill Blass’ summer collection featured short-sleeved, fastidiously tailored shirts of white or beige linen, paired with taupe linen vests and black linen skirts. His whole collection alternated this kind of natty tailoring with very feminine Empire dresses of Porthault linen prints—tiny, delicately colored field flowers in blues, reds, and yellows on off-white backgrounds.
The reefer was going stronger than ever, getting leaner by the minute, looking its best over sleeveless or cap-sleeved dresses of the same fabric. In fact, the coat-and-dress combination looked new again, especially when done in pale, interestingly textured tweeds. America’s favorite spring hat was the turban in Marco Polo fabrics—Roman-striped silk, fur-printed silk, madras, Thai stripes.
Running right beside this sleek, terriby tailored trend was the soft, ultra-feminine Empire silhouette, a sleeper for daytime clothes as well as its more accustomed habitat of evening wear. Oleg Cassini de-signed a series of quasi-Fortuny dresses, marvels of pleating that could be crushed in the hand like so much gauze. One for daytime was gray wool worsted, Empire-sashed high and wide with textured white silk; another for late-day was black chiffon satin similarly sashed in black slipper satin. Burke-Amey made a series of silk matelassé beauties for late-day. One in white, with long, full sleeves falling gently from a rounded, shoulder-hugging neck-line, was shirred right up under the bosom—a new-looking, gentler kind of Empire dress. Gustave Tassell, always a staunch supporter of the Empire, produced two of the most serenely beautiful dresses of the spring in printed silk surah-one, white printed with clear navy flowers, was high-waisted and small-shouldered, with Tassell’s famous funnel sleeves; the other, the same print in reverse, was brown with white daisies in the same gentle shape. Aside from these prints and Staron’s space prints (used by Norell and James Galanos most successfully), prints were out of the fashion picture in the spring.
Crepe was in the picture, and it took to the Empire line or the shirtdress with equal ease. Empire dresses fell more gracefully in crepe; shirtdresses had a new gentleness, part of it cut, part fabric. Even the ubiquitous shift gained grace in crepe. Pale crepe was the newest thing; it lit up winter furs when spring weather wouldn’t come, could go right on through the summer and into fall without a tremor. Suddenly the little white crepe dress started edging the little black ditto out of many fashionable women’s closets.
Evening dresses took the hint, and the white crepe Empire dress was the prettiest dress seen on balmy spring and summer evenings. Some designers coated it with more crepe; others, like Gustave Tassell and Burke-Amey, veiled it with little waist-length jackets of re-embroidered lace as thick as crocheting, or of braid coaxed into flowery designs.
The great shift to white took place in America, too, for day in suits as well as dresses, in linen as well as crepe, in pullover dresses of linen or light-weight wool, some long-sleeved, more of them sleeveless. And white carried on in accessories, in everything from lizard handbags to pigskin shoes. White looked best worn unmatched, often with whitened colors like yellow, amber, pale coral, pale apple green, pale blue. White and beige worn together were sure-fire; pearls were worn en masse. Shoes for spring and summer were all low-heeled, but now many heels were leather-covered instead of stacked. Some, for evening, had curvy wineglass heels. Sling backs started to appear for day and evening, all on low, straight-backed heels. And sandals were the latest thing to wear by day to town, their straps broad, sturdy affairs of black patent or brown leather. All these things fitted in with the trend to-ward more tailoring.
At-home clothes were now a distinct category, a way of life, of thinking, for designers as well as the women who wore them. No longer fantasies, they were at once practical and utterly luxurious. American designers’ at-home clothes were far more practical, far more feminine than Paris designers’ ideas, which were often frothy and still leaned heavily on pants as their basis. In America, the skirt had taken over for at-home clothes, and languid, cool crepes came in delicious colors and timeless shapes, like Norell’s Jordan almond-colored crepe, pale green with a pale pink midriff. The long skirt to wear at home was all part of the pretty, feminine look for evenings in America. This look went on through the summer—instead of shorts on the beach, a beach dress of dotted swiss, lace, or crisp, white pique; instead of a shirt, a dress cut as simply, as beguilingly as a child’s, high-waisted, unsleeved, rimmed with a bit of lace and starch crisped, usually in white. Bathing suits were either more covered or barer: the covered ones sometimes had sleeves, more often were cut shoulder-high in front and waist-deep in back; the two-piece ones came in soft but firm fabrics that did good things for everyone’s morale.
A summer madness—the rage for reptile clothes. Usually these were silks, cottons, or blends that approximated the sheen and the pattern of alligator or snakeskin; but a few expensive, adventurous de-signers like Scaasi started the whole thing off by using real snakeskin to make wide-bottomed pants to wear at home. The fake snake felt better on the body as well as the budget and looked best in black or white. One at-home shift by Robert Sloan was floor-length, slightly fitted black snake—actually a cool, light fake snake of cotton.
Before the fall leaves came scudding down, fashion news had zipped from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Franco-American diplomats might not be in accord, but French and American designers saw fashion the same way. In one of those mysterious processes that take place in fashion every once in a while, the dressmaker had left the scene and the tailor had taken over. This was a perfectionist tailor and a highly informal one, carving marvelous, easy shapes in covert, whipcord, twill, Melton cloth, out-lining the shapes with thick, precise welt seams, stressing shoulders with epaulets or tabs, widening them slightly and letting shapes taper down from there. This was high fashion and at the same time classic fashion, destined to last for a decade at least, made to be worn with equal aplomb in city or country. This was fashion in layers, an idea that many smart women had adopted long before but was now de rigueur. A great fall suit might start out with skirt and firmly tailored but easy-fitting jacket of oyster-beige tweed; under the jacket, a vest of mush-room beige corduroy; under that, a turtle-necked sweater of white wool, usually textured. And under the skirt, thick cable-knit stockings slipped into polished leather ghillies. On the head, a deep velours slouch hat of the type associated with Garbo and Dietrich. Add it all up and you had the look for fall 1963. Aside from being eminently handsome, this was a highly comfortable way to dress. Ghillies took city streets in their stride. Layers of clothes gave the ideal degree of warmth and also played one texture against another. This was where the fashion excitement lay—not in sharp contrasts of colors, but in subtly contrasting textures and even subtler nuances of color. An oyster-white Melton cloth coat might be worn with an eggshell white slouch hat, taupe suede gloves, and claret red suede boots.
Tailoring was everything, superb and unobtrusive, always in an easy shape. Suits had free-wheeling skirts, lightly fitted or straight-hanging jackets. The favorite blouse for a suit was a turtle-neck sweater or a man-tailored shirt over a turtle-neck sweater. Coats and suits were wider through the shoulders (St. Laurent’s spring collection had presaged this) by means of easier fit, and by the way the sleeves were set in; some were set at the outer-most edge of the shoulder, others were raglan. Many were further emphasized by tabs or epaulets on the shoulders. The best coat shape going was the tabbed stringbeam that was shaped like a T-square, widest at the top, narrowing gradually from there on down. Runners-up were the officer’s trenchcoat, shown in everything from its original poplin to suede, velveteen, and fur; and the cape, rounded and with not a jot more fullness than needed. Suit jackets were longer, reaching down as low as the hipbones at least, often lower. Smooth, unshiny fabrics were the thing—camel’s hair, Melton cloth, twill, covert, gabardine—glossed with polished leather, glistening with pearls or gold or both. The stockings worn with ghillies or boots were heavy and interestingly patterned; one of the wildest patterned stockings came from Balenciaga, of all people—he had presaged all this, after all, a year or more before, when he showed an eminently towny suit with knee-high boots, textured stockings, and no hat.
Paris was on the same wave length. Dior, André Courreges, St. Laurent all loved cavalry twill, widened shoulders, bone buttons, longer jackets, textured stockings, boots, slouch hats. Courreges’ small, perfect collection of suits and coats was all white, from hats to boots, and all tailored in the same easy, beautifully detailed shapes that America loved. St. Laurent’s beloved jumper moved smoothly into evening in pale, thick silk, the sleeveless doublet and quiet, flowing skirt lit by a long-sleeved, turtle-neck sweater that dripped with jewels. This was the most talked-about, coveted evening dress in Paris. Dior day clothes fitted into the general tailored pat-tern, but his evening clothes were sensational—their décolletages dipped waist-deep in front, were usually fluttery affairs of black Chantilly lace with short skirts that showed the knee. Capes were as momentous in Paris as they were in America. And Paris, contradictorily, loved strictly tailored coats at the same time she adored St. Laurent’s big, easy topcoat with a high, turtle-neck kind of collar and deep dolman sleeves; it was shown for day in white or beige Melton or fleece, for evening in cut velvet, moire.
Chanel’s suits were, as always, imperishable, in fabrics that had to be felt to be believed—thick, light tweed like her pink and green one flecked with black over a minutely tucked green silk shirt; or thick, pebbled oyster-white tweed bound in navy braid around the jacket and the narrow, wrapped skirt. Her most talked-about suit was navy wool jersey with a jacket cut like a man’s blazer, wrapped and double-buttoned with brass at the hipbone and again at the narrow cuffs. Underneath was a white, finely tucked lawn shirt.
Back in America Norell, whose collections had presaged this swing in fashion for years, was right in the swim with his beautifully executed wool tweed or jersey suits. Like Balenciaga, his ideas rarely changed radically; they evolved slowly, subtly, inevitably. His penchant for Empire evening dresses, now part of the American idiom, went on, each dress more beautiful, more exquisitely decorated than the last. His love of great fabrics, of certain fabrics and colors, went on; Norell red is a certain red that every fashionable woman recognizes, just as his jerseys have a certain texture, a certain drape found no-where else. Like Balenciaga he had been doing capes quietly for many seasons; now his cape-topped suits were news. His traveling suit, a thigh-length cape over slim, impeccably tailored pants, was a shocker to some.
With the newly lightened spectrum for clothes, make-up became warmer, more natural, often glowing. Lipstick showed instead of fading out; the best shade was a warm, browned pink. Hair was natural, too—straight, brushed, cut to swing just below the earlobes. Bangs were back, and the best hairdo of the fall was Garbo’s hairdo of the ‘thirties—a thick thatch of gleaming, well-brushed hair with bangs that cleared the eyebrows. In the evening hair might go on swinging down, or be swept up high and smooth.
Evening clothes were cut simply and were usually slim, in rich, opulent fabrics such as velveteen in black, amber, tortoise-shell, coral, orange, ruby, or emerald; matelasse in black or white; and subtle brocades that looked like Indian jewelry. Some evening dresses were strapless, but more had deep, curved décolletages front and back, sometimes both. Most evening dresses came with their own coats, either floor-length ones of the same fabric, or cropped little overcoats of candy-colored Melton cloth, another Franco-American innovation (Dior/ Norell). One of the youngest ways to go out in the evening when things weren’t too formal was in a dinner suit of smooth, warm wool, either herring-bone tweed, or blanket plaid in orange and green. This dinner suit usually had a long, slimmish skirt and could be topped with a sweater or a long-sleeved shirt, and its coat was floor-length.
Evening jewelry was opulent, too; pear-shaped earrings that looked real were fake pearls, emeralds, rubies, topazes. Jet looked marvelous with black or white, as did thick twists of seed pearls with intricate jeweled clasps. In the daytime, gold was the favorite, usually in great clumpy pins worn bosom-high and dead center. Earrings were buttons, often in textured gold. Evening shoes were lower-heeled and oval toed, often in pastel velveteen, moire, or brocade, sometimes buckled with marcasite or rhinestones.