1964 Fashion and Vintage Clothing
From the beginning of 1964 until its end, women, whether fashionable or un-, rejoiced—for it was a year of evolution rather than revolution in fashion. The wonderfully tailored clothes that had prevailed during the previous year still looked wonderful, and there were interesting additions to city-country dressing. Late-day and evening clothes had changed a little more, but not enough to out-date most wardrobes. Principally the change after dark was toward a younger attitude, reflected in shorter hemlines, deep decolletages, and a certain swinginess inherent in the cut of many dresses.
Now to specifics: The tailor had taken over in the fall of 1963 and by the spring of 1964 was going stronger than ever. Single- and double-breasted reefers cut as simply and beautifully as jewels appeared in lighter wools and lighter colors. One beauty by Originala was double-breasted white twill and was at its best worn with more white—a white felt padre hat and off-white glace kid gloves. Then there was Dior-New York’s brown-and-white plaid reefer, the plaid more white than brown and the reefer gently indented at the waist and half-belted in back.
This marvelous new tailoring, sharp as a tack and yet completely feminine, showed up particularly well in spring suits. Not one spring suit that earned its keep (and fashion experts’ admiration) had any-thing but set-in sleeves, for instance; jackets were waist-length or—if slightly longer—gently in-dented at the waist over soft, easy-moving skirts with gathers below the waistband. Many suits came in white or whitened colors; almost all of them were turned out in smooth, dry fabrics, the better to show off their superb tailoring. One beauty by Ben Zuckerman was cream-colored wool twill, its jacket a perfect illustration of the tailor’s dictum that less is more—double-breasted and barely reaching below the waist, it had a small, stand-up collar, short, welted pockets set vertically, and narrow, set-in sleeves. The skirt was slightly gathered across the front, and the whole thing moved as supplely as if it were jersey. Another Zuckerman suit of pale gray cavalry twill had the same wonderful sleeves and a conventional notched collar, narrower than those of yore, with a double row of pale gray pearl buttons marching down a few inches below the waist to meet the soft gathers of the skirt.
Across the Atlantic, the same trend toward tailoring was taking place. Even Gabrielle Chanel, whose collarless cardigan suits had become synonymous with her name, took to collars and smooth fabrics for some of her suits. Her most famous one of the spring, a navy twill blazer suit, was double-buttoned in brass at the waist, and the blazer rode down a hit over a short, flared skirt. Its blouse (always a particular pleasure in any Chanel suit) was ribbed white cotton with a high, small collar and long sleeves whose cuffs shot out below the sleeves of the blazer. Another suit in a more typically Chanel fabric was black-and-white tweed in an outsized hound’stooth check, the jacket bound around the notched collar and down the front with gold braid and set over a smaller-patterned but equally bold black-and-white Paisley blouse, also cuffed to extend below the sleeves of the jacket.
Strengthening the tailor’s take-over was Andre Courreges, the young genius who had come of age. His collections, still incredibly small, reflected his intense concern with pure line, perfect tailoring, and proportion. His most-photographed item for spring was a white whipcord overblouse suit, de-signed for day wear in town. All white, it consisted of a small-sleeved, low-necked hip-length doublet, over the straightest white pants ever seen, sharply creased down the front and slashed at the instep to accommodate spanking white kidskin boots. In the doublet, every seam was welted, every line rounded on top, accentuating the straight and narrow of the trousers and making the legs look twice as long and, hopefully, half as wide. There were other Courreges masterpieces, each one distinctly his in proportion, line, cut, fabric, color—he liked white best but tolerated camel. There was his pants suit, a double-breasted, dropped-shoulder camel whipcord jacket faced in white over the same miraculous pants and boots. And there were his lithe little white dresses, all curved and carved in the same way to lengthen the neck and the legs, all moving as if they were jersey although some were broadcloth and others cotton. Each one stopped two inches above the knees, bringing them back into focus after years of hiding.
After dark Paris varied from fantasy to flattery, from the flirty lace suits of Marc Bohan, which looked tacky to most Americans, to Bohan’s masterpiece, his “Tom Jones” dress in navy silk crepe, a pleated skirt beneath a bell-sleeved bodice cut way down to show off the bosom. Pierre Cardin showed white crepe tunics cut and folded as imaginatively as the Japanese cut paper, but on the bias to ripple and cling provocatively; and he showed, as always, one completely bare-backed evening dress, its top pleated like a paper fan and yet miraculously clinging in front while hooked—just once—in back above a slightly gathered skirt.
America was on the same black-lace wavelength that Bohan and others were on in Paris, but the dresses were cut more conservatively, to cover at least part of the bosom and reach the middle of the knees. Probably the best black-lace dresses of the spring were those of Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner. One, of the sheerest black Chantilly lace over nude chiffon over nude crepe, rounded the bosom just in time, was tied with black satin a little above the waist, and flowed out from there to its ruffled hem. Another was heavier black Chantilly lace cut in tiers to flutter with every motion, set over a low-cut black Chantilly lace sheath.
Evening dresses here, as in Paris, were white or nearly white, or the pale, delicious color of Jordan almonds. A white matelasse evening dress by Jacques Tiffeau for Monte-Sano & Pruzan was flounced with a small, ruffled cape that just cleared the waist—then the dress slowly widened all the way down to the floor. Another Tiffeau dress in lime matelasse took shelter under a tiny, wrapped cape that stopped above the waist.
Prints were out for spring, and in their place were the smooth fabrics tailors loved, sometimes checked, often plain. Navy and white suddenly hove into view again, probably borne back on the strength of Bohan’s “Tom Jones” dress. Suddenly nothing looked more feminine than a sleek navy wool crepe dress frilled with white organdy; or a white organdy shirt, translucent as milk glass, between a navy silk capelet and skirt.
As spring became summer, dresses got barer and barer. The “Tom Jones” dècolletage, startling when first seen in the spring, swooped not half so deep as those on many of the dresses fashion experts—and girl-watchers—loved. One particularly pretty dress by Jax (a California designer whose fame and clothes had spread all the way across the country) was a blue-and-white checked gingham with small puffed sleeves and an Empire dècolletage and waist-line above a slim but easy skirt.
Bathing suits took over where dresses stopped, and the bikini became the accepted mode of dress for the beach. This was the American bikini, how-ever, and although the trunks swooped down to expose the navel and up to expose more thigh, it was not as brave as a European one. And then Rudi Gernreich went a step farther by introducing his topless bathing suit, a pair of trunks with knitted straps over the shoulders. Men had never talked about fashion before, but suddenly they were absorbed in this suit’s fate. Could it be worn on a public beach? Could it be worn at a public swimming pool? Could it be worn? Would it be worn? What had begun as a mild joke became a cause cèlebre, and newspapers followed each development as closely as the original suit had been followed by every pair of eyes at its unveiling. Banned at public beaches and pools, it eventually was worn where Gernreich had intended it to be—at private pools, and then only when the wearer was feeling in particularly good shape.
The flurry of excitement about the topless bathing suit had barely abated when the topless evening dress was introduced—not by Gernreich, but by a firm called Roban. They showed, for fall, a sheer black marquisette evening dress on a not-too-well developed model and thereby started a trend. There were black lace-topped evening dresses which were transparent on top, and there were those which seemed transparent but were lined with flesh-colored chiffon and silk. Certainly this was not a fashion that Givenchy or Balenciaga or Norman Norell would have initiated—but lots of women with the figure and the courage were tempted and finally succumbed.
During all this, four of the most talented de-signers in America were awarded the highest accolade their peers could give—the Coty award. The 1964 winners seemed particularly to understand the lives women really lead. Jacques Tiffeau, probably the most brilliant young designer working in America (he is French), won his award after years of creating superbly young, very personal, very fluid suits, coats, and dresses and recently expanding into the field of sportswear. Geoffrey Beene, an equally young designer, had given all of his creations—from suits to superbly relaxed evening clothes—a soft, unstrained elegance that seemed to be forever in fashion. Sylvia Pedlar had revolutionized lingerie with her frail-looking but sturdy nightclothes, her clearly romantic bent, and her adaptations of classics such as the toga. David Webb had made jewelry an art again with his luxuriant use of marvelous stones and his brilliant Renaissance or medieval designs, usually animalistic.
Fall clothes, as mentioned earlier, continued the tradition of marvelous tailoring and greater freedom, whether for town or country, but with enough variation from the year before to make them interesting and desirable. Whereas there had been a plethora of poplin raincoats lined in everything from sheepskin to mink and making for fairly cocoony silhouettes, the 1964 fall coats were either string-slim or indented at the waist above fulled skirts—or they were capes. The skimpy coats looked marvelous not only with boots (the previous year’s love, and still highly regarded), but also with heavily textured stocking and ghillies or walking shoes—both starred seasons earlier by Norell and currently in high gear. One of the handsomest coats was Originala’s putty-colored Melton cloth skimp, double-breasted and welt-seamed right down to its narrow hem. Another, by Jacques Tiffeau, was fieldstone-gray flat tweed wrapped around the body to close high on one side. Still others of the same skimpy persuasion were a black jersey evening coat studded with passementerie buttons, and a Regency reefer, of a bitter-brown lacquered matelassè, with highly arched armholes, notched collar, narrow sleeves, high, slightly indented’ waist, and flared skirt. (Shiny coats had begun with the fake alligator and lizard of the spring, and the craze had spread to anything shiny.) The waisted coat with a full skirt appeared far less often, but when it did it could be smashing, like Jacques Tiffeau’s bitter- and pale-brown plaid mohair with fitted torso and gathered skirt. Or there were Norell’s double-breasted coats, half-belted in back, in marvelous colors and flat, smooth wools—one in particular was mushroom-colored Melton cloth. And then there were capes, and these had to be good to come off. The best, not surprisingly, were Norell’s—just round enough to cover the shoulders and then a perfect, slightly widened arc to the hem. There was not a spare inch of fullness anywhere, and the fit across the shoulders was unbelievably perfect. Norell’s capes made women look supremely womanly (a difficult feat in a cape), and they ruined one for anyone else’s. A particularly handsome example was camel-colored smooth wool, worn over a camel-colored jersey dress—below the dress, wine-red tights and gleaming brown ghillies.
To the range of suits that the tailor had already perfected was added the pants suit, presaged seasons before by Norell and one season before, across the Atlantic, by Courreges. Although Courreges felt women could wear them in town during the day, Norell specified that his pants suits were to be worn only for the country or travel. Norell’s pants suits were more suitlike than those of Courreges, their jackets cut and tailored as sparingly as if they were made of gold instead of Glen plaid, their pants narrow but never skinny. But there were lots of other designers’ pants suits to choose from: Bill Blass, whose best suit had a turtlenecked white silk gabardine pullover and a floor-length, double-faced wool coat, camel (like the pants) on one side, raspberry on the other; Jacques Tiffeau, whose pants suit was all stone beige, twill for the taut, straight pants and the mid-thigh-length, easy coat, and silk shantung for a pullover with a high, wrappable stock. Although most designers deplored wearing these suits in town, many women did and got away with it.
Suits with skirts had swinging skirts now, often knife-pleated or box-pleated or gathered, always given movement one way or another. Norell did it on his Glen plaid suit with knife pleats under a tailored, leather-sashed jacket that just made the hips; Jeanne Campbell gave swing to her snuff-colored suede suit skirt by accordion-pleating it; Jacques Tiffeau used inverted pleats on his prize-winning Melton cloth suits with way-above-theknee skirts. Other designers used gathers, lots of them, and barely missed the look of a dirndl. Jackets were always tailored and trig, usually hovering around the waist but occasionally descending to the hips.
And in Paris? Courreges was still the hottest news, reiterating in his designs his sense that women should have long necks, small, neat heads, and long, straight legs. His collection had more designs but was still not average in size. There was his rain suit, creamy waterproof cotton with a shiny black fake patent shirt under the hem-length, taut coat. There was a double-faced wool suit, one of the handsomest in all Paris, beige on the outside and white on the inside; the jacket had high, square armholes and was double-breasted over a wrapped skirt. Every hem was still at least two inches above the knees. Every seam was still a miracle. Then there were Courreges’ evening pants suits; one could choose a black velvet jacket, taut as poplin, with white lamb-fur pants, or a side-fastened brown-and-white ponyskin jacket with white Spanish twill pants. With everything in his fall collection, Courreges showed his beloved baby bonnet; made in the fabric of the costume, it fastened smack on the chin with a large bow.
There were liquid coats from Balenciaga with dolman sleeves, narrow bodies, and half belts in the back—coats as fluid as his little late-day dress of cinnamon satin-backed crepe, swooped low in back wrapped in some miraculous way toward the front to delineate every curve of a woman’s body as she moved. There were the narrow suits that Marc Bohan of Dior suddenly preferred to full ones, in gray flannel and camel-colored wool—and his marvelous exception called Country Club, a short, easy jacket over a dirndl skirt, all in camel-colored wool worn with contrasting tights. There were Yves St. Laurent’s tunics for day and evening; for day in suits, the tunic jackets leashed in leather, for evening in lace or brocade.
Best of all, there was Givenchy, still true to him-self and no one else, gimmick-free, trend-free. His clothes were simply the most beautiful clothes in Paris. His arc-seamed coats were miracles of tailoring but hardly show-stopping; nevertheless, they would be going strong and looking marvelous long after the show-stoppers had been discarded. Givenchy, like Courreges, had a very strong sense of pro-portion, but far less showily displayed, far more in the bones of his clothes (i.e., their superb tailoring); and, strangely enough, although not identical, his clothes seemed to be on the same wavelength as America’s one great professional, Norell. At Givenchy one felt the same deep respect for tailoring, for perfection, for ease, and the same disdain for showy effects that one felt at Norell’s.
Givenchy’s cape-sleeved coats were very full, giving width to the bottom of the triangle instead of the top probably they were portents of things to come. And his superb little jersey dresses made every day dress in Paris look either limp or flashy: tiny-sleeved, sashed in leather, cut and seamed to raise the bosom, lengthen the waist, round and lift the hips, they were miracles of understatement that looked so easy to the customers and made every other designer gnash his teeth this kind of under-statement is the most difficult thing in the world to achieve. His suits, too, had not a jot too much of anything—fabric, seaming, detail—and might have melted into the background except that, like perfect jewels, they enhanced their wearers as well as them-selves by their very perfection. His was easily the best collection in Paris, as it had been for three years now—not the most publicized or the most copied (for this kind of perfection is impossible to copy), but the finest.
This year, black was white in Paris evening clothes. What would have been turned out in black until a year before now turned up in white (but could be ordered in black for the timorous or the overweight). Cuts varied little from designers’ day-time clothes. St. Laurent liked tunics at night as well as in the daytime. Courreges liked pants suits, usually white, with satin blouses at night (instead of leather for day). But there were exceptions. Balenciaga swooped his evening clothes low and draped them like crepe paper (often they were crepe or matelassè). Givenchy used black and brought it in close to the figure, often running ribbons of black jet down a sleeveless black satin dress, or drawing a long, slim figure with black wool crepe, the over-blouse gathered below the waist in front and straight in back over a reedy skirt. Probably the most beautiful evening dress in Paris came from Marc Bohan of Dior—a straight, narrow mandarin jacket blazing with jewels and cuffed with sable, over a slender, pale-taupe crepe dress cut on the bias to cling.
And then in Paris and America there were the yè-yè girls (named for their response of “Yeah, yeah” to young performers such as the Beatles). In Paris, the yè-yè girls did not go to the great houses but made more modest designers great by their patronage and, by their very existence, subtly influenced the great houses to lower the age level of their clothes. Years before these girls might have been beatniks; now they set styles of their own, and older women copied them. In America particularly, there were discotheque dresses, little soft affairs in which to look marvelous while shimmying through the frug and the Madison—they were made for the yè-yè girls, and although some women who were past twenty wore them, the effect was not quite the same. Here and abroad, the yè-yè girls wore long, shining hair, copious but skillfully applied eye make-up, pale lipstick, leather and boots in the daytime, and soft little things at night. They were, in many respects, no more than stylish juvenile delinquents, but they were a force in fashion, just as the beatniks had been.
For more staid ladies, there were other late-day clothes to choose from in America. Pants went right on into evening and sometimes were short (like soft knickers) but more often long and bell-bottomed. There were adaptations of Chanel’s navy crepe pyjamas, soft things that flared slightly at the bottom, paired with her pale-blue blouse and navy crepe jacket. And there were fur knickers and all sorts of other madnesses. But there were also wonderful late-day dresses, such as Norell’s white satin overblouse dress, double-breasted and sashed at the waist, the skirt eased slightly over the hips and then narrow; or little slips of dresses in black crepe or matelassè, some flared from under the bosom and cut on the bias to swing better, like John Moore’s, some narrow and covered by a cage of sequin-embroidered black lace, like Bill Blass’ for Maurice Rentner, some puff-sleeved and dipped deep fore and aft, their Empire shapes cut on the bias in black crepe, like Jax’s most famous and most becoming number.
Long evening dresses were often very low-necked too, like Burke-Amey’s white lace dress, the black silk crepe top little more than rounded straps and a line beneath the bosom so that it was exposed like that of a Tanagra figurine. Or there were covered, sleeveless ones, like John Moore’s sequin-embroidered black lace shell over a bare black slip. Evening things were usually black or white or both, sometimes in fur: a knee-length white mink tunic by Eric Lund slipped over a white silk crepe slink of a dress; and there were floor-length fur coats, tailored as strictly as daytime ones, to slip on if one had the inclination and the means. More tasteful and prettier to many were Norell’s pale wool evening dresses with discreetly low, rounded dècolletages, definitely marked waists, and slightly gathered skirts decorated by a band of gold sequin scrollwork about 18 in. above the hem. These came with their own full-length, exquisitely tailored coats in the same fabric and color, and they were delicious. And there were full-length evening coats that could brave any rain or snow storm and emerge unscathed; one of the handsomest was Seymour Fox’s black silk-faced ottoman with a gleam that ottoman had never had before, like that of a wet seal.
Hair styles had varied from the shoulder-length, unteased do to short, shingled bobs like those of the 1920’s, shown for fall by most of the couturiers in Paris. That move was effectively blocked, how-ever, by a real woman, her full-blown hairdo augmented by hairpieces; she looked so smashing and so much more feminine than the sleek-headed models at all the collections that most stylish women went right on doing what they wanted with their hair. Often it was worn up at night, but it looked just as nice down. The main point was that curls or waves were gone and hair had to look like hair, not a lacquered, teased mop of steel wool.
Shoes remained low-heeled, rounder-toed, long-vamped. They accommodated the wonderful textured stockings shown by everyone from Norell down, especially the suede hoes that had finally come into their own for daytime country wear. Margaret Jerrold’s marvelous two-color suede pumps were probably the best of these, in delicious combinations: bronze and wine-red, beige and black. Jewelry was confined to one dramatic thing: a necklace (they had returned), a pin, a bracelet (particularly the Indian ones numbered and limited like works of art, which they were, or the animalistic ones of David Webb), or earrings, especially pear-shaped ones for evening. And most women, following the course set by the yè-yè girls and, perhaps, their own daughters, had their ears pierced, the better to wear them.