1966 Fashion and Vintage Clothing
It was in 1966 that the U.S. at last realized itself to be the reigning influence in fashion in the world. This was a staggering idea for a country whose designers had bowed in obeisance to Paris since fashion’s very beginning. Suddenly, America was the fashion center that counted, with London running a close second and Paris still running but not very fast. Each fashion idea now put forth in Paris—the pants suit, the baby dress, the cage, the smock, the metallic dress, the short evening dress, the longer coat over short skirts, textured stockings—had started in America, many of them more than a decade before. And they were being better done in the U.S. and for less money. (Norman Norell’s first pailletted evening dress was made in 1954, the first pants suit—also by him—in 1964.) Fashion editors concurred at the Paris showings in July that America was setting the pace.
The year started in a wash of plastic, a holdover from the previous fall’s fashions and an understandable outgrowth of a previous season’s love of leather. Vinyl plastic patent and clear vinyl turned up in everything from raincoats to dresses to evening shoes. Black plastic made a fantastic rain-dress, the body a crazy quilt of zebra-striped black and white plastic interspersed with houndstooth checked black-and-white plastic, the sleeves plain black patent. This was V-necked and was shown with clear vinyl plastic rainboots banded, toed, and heeled in black. These were all by Sylvia de Gay for Robert Sloan. Sylvia de Gay also designed the most provocative (and the least practical) plastic costume seen in the spring showings—a clear plastic raincoat, short sleeved and collarless, banded in black vinyl patent, over a black patent bikini. More sensible approaches to the problem of rain which fell, though not enough, in the spring of 1966—was a Tattersall-checked yellow plastic rainsuit with a matching kerchief. The jacket had long cuffed sleeves and zipped from below the waist to the high collared neck; the skirt was a stride wide and stopped three or four inches above the knee.
The pants suit continued to grow in popularity, showing up for evening wear as well as for the sporting life. Sylvia de Gay’s smashing beige poplin pants suit was waterproof, which made it impervious to anything, even the slings and arrows of outrageous comment. The top was cut as snugly as a fencer’s jacket; collarless, long-sleeved, it reached well below the hips, with just enough flare to round them nicely. The pants were straight and not too tight, and the complete outfit looked marvelous enough to persuade some few thousand brave women to venture into the city in a pants suit. The ‘whole pants suit development, sparked by Norell’s exquisitely tailored version of 1964, was well on its way into town. Luba, of Elite, Jr., one of the go-go young designers America had recently turned up (a group rivaling England’s Mod set, which had started at about the same time), designed a beige gabardine pants suit, the jacket natty and military like a white hunter’s, double-breasted and equipped with four flapped pockets, all buttoned with little brass balls. Here, too, the pants were straight and not too narrow, and the entire suit could be had for well under $100, a figure whose moderation no Paris designer could approach, even in a boutique.
Pants not only went out in the rain and ventured into town, but starred in the evening. Norell, the dean of American designers, showed exquisitely cut, very simple pajamas in pale silk crepe, one side pink, the other white, like a Pierrot’s costume—but a very pretty Pierrot. The top was collarless, long-sleeved, and fastened unobtrusively down the front with a row of small, covered buttons, and the pants, cut wide and straight, were bicolored—but the reverse of the top—so that the pink leg of the pants was under the white side of the jacket. Then there were his coolie pajamas, which turned up in black textured silk, the tops cut as sparingly as a coolie’s smock and pocketed low on the hips, the pants straight and loose. Norell’s most sensational pajamas were black, pailletted, and hung with beaded black fringe, the top coolie-cut and the pants straight and loose. These were the most beautiful pants suits America had ever seen, and those who could afford to do so wore them to the theater and parties, and, most particularly, at home, where Norell had intended them to be worn.
Equally ravishing and far more affordable were the bell-bottomed black crepe pajamas created by Edie Gladstone (another of America’s young Turks) for Deebs. They clung and swung as crepe can do, and their only decor was a series of big, round cut-outs which disclosed bare skin all the way down the body, sparingly enough to be interesting. An-drew Woods made an evening costume like a jump suit, the white silk sleeveless top terminating in bell-bottomed pants and given glitter by a thigh-length loose jeweled slipover. And Dominic designed for Matty Talmack black crepe culottes for hot summer evenings, cloistered under a long white crepe shirt.
With the rise of pants and the advent of bareness, the lithe, beautiful body was emphasized even more than it had been, and anyone who could got into shape through exercise and/or massage rather than with girdles and bras. Rudi Gernreich had, as usual, forecast this with his 1965 no-bra and had advocated going bra-less in many of his clothes. Not only did the bodies themselves lose weight, but so did girdles and bras. What sold either one now was not how much control it gave, but how light and natural-looking it was. The emphasis was on the bare look beneath clothes, and anyone who looked in the slightest bit girdled or brad was out. Vogue emphasized this point by featuring on a lead page its favorite model, Veruschka, dressed in nothing but make-up.
Fabrics, too, lost weight and texture; whereas former favorites had been tweeds and mohair, now the pets were weightless twills, gabardines, light-as-air meltons, poplins, jerseys. The best-loved suits of the spring were unlined creations by Originala (whose designer, Elie Wacs, had put that house on the fashion map). One was gray flannel, its jacket made like a shirt and the skirt softly narrowed; the other was pink-tattersalled wool, with a short, double-breasted jacket and a dirndled skirt. Neither had a bit of lining or inner construction, and neither tipped the scales at more than a pound; they heralded the new era of weightlessness in suits and dresses. Another Originala beauty was a velvety leaf-green wool suit, its jacket single-breasted and hip length, the skirt gently slim. None of these needed interlining, canvas, or lining; all the shape was built in by the cutting, the seaming and the fabric. Strangely enough, these unlined, weightless suits held their shapes better than most lined ones; they could be rolled up in a ball and emerge unwrinkled.
Dresses were rising, like cream, to the top, rivaling suits for daytime wear. Most of the great dresses of the spring were little slips of things, in jersey mostly, like Jacques Tiffeau’s gray jersey slipdress with a deep yoke and no sleeves, buttoned with little white balls down to the unmarked waist.
But another shape was sneaking into the picture, a shape that would take over by fall—the smock dress. In the spring it showed up for evening in pale blue silk, yoked and cuffed and buttoned in rhinestones, the smock shape shown by the long sleeves, for this dress fitted and clung. Another smock dress, of white silk, was gathered into a white and crystal necklace and cuffed at the wrists with white and crystal—it, too, followed the body, as some smocks did. Both dresses were designed by Geoffrey Beene, another of America’s Great Young Designers, but too masterful—and too expensive—to be a Young Turk. For daytime, the smock dress appeared, for example, in textured bright-pink wool eponge, gathered into a narrow, stitched neckband and cuffed with a narrow cord above the wrist—this, by B. H. Wragge.
But the smock was also to appear for great evenings, in chiffon hung from a jeweled collar, in print and plain; and it was to go on the rest of the year—as in Oscar de la Renta’s blue and fuchsia chiffon, sleeveless, hung to the floor from a blue and fuchsia jeweled collar.
The slip of a dress looked marvelous for the long, hot summer, however, and although long sleeves were the coming thing, most people avoided them until fall. One attractive way of avoiding them was to wear Harvey Berin’s little pale-blue wool dress, a sleeveless, seemingly seamless lick of a thing with extended shoulders and welting from there down to its short hem; another was Pauline Trigere’s white Shetland wool coatdress, the fly front enhanced by a tiny detachable cape that barely covered the shoulders.
For late day and for evening, there were the smock dresses and a few little slips of dresses, none of them waisted and all two to four inches above the knee. And then there were the smashers, the slip dresses of silver-dollar-sized sequins and bare skin. These began with Paco Rabanne, who had been fashioning jewelry and handbags out of plastic spheres, linking them with metal chain and flexible thread. Rabanne had been fascinating Paris—and the world—with his sunglasses, visors, and other accessories, but in the spring he suddenly sprang a small collection of these plastic slip dresses on his adoring public. His dresses were properly worn over nothing at all—or, for the cowardly, a body stocking—and they revealed, between the plastic discs and the links, a good deal of the body beneath them. They were promptly bought and worn by the young, the slim, and the brave, but they were copied, unsuccessfully, for the cowardly in America with a concealing jersey slip beneath the plastic discs, and the discs were hung from that, unlike the Rabanne dresses, which had nothing between them and the body. The most successful of these cowardly adaptations was Gayle Kirkpatrick’s copper jersey slip dress hung with copper sequins, but it didn’t have the allure of Rabanne’s barely veiled nakedness.
And then there were the cages, veiled nakedness, too, but infinitely more wearable for more people. The prettiest of these were lace or point d’esprit or net. Trigere designed a halter-topped cage of fragile, almost invisible, black lace that rippled to a wide black vinyl hem, an exquisite thing under-studied by a narrow black strapless slip that closely followed the body. This could go on through the summer into fall and winter, and it did, on some of the chicest women in America. Another beautiful cage was Arnold Scaasi’s halter-necked black tulle cage aflutter with tiny black silk bows, shadowed with a very bare strapless slip. These cages looked best when worn with narrow-strapped sandals, and such sandals now appeared, some designed by Newton Elkin and David Evins.
Interestingly enough, hats had slipped into the background. Hair was now a burning issue, a vital ingredient of chic. At the year’s start, everyone wanted a Sassoon cut, which was banged low on the eyebrows and left very little more behind. By spring, the romantic evening clothes and a return to femininity had brought on the biggest news in hair since the wig—the fall. A hairpiece designed to simulate one’s own long hair, falling at least 24 inches and worn loose, the fall was a ravishing new development, a highly becoming one for most women. Only the young, brave, and exquisitely featured had dared the Vidal Sassoon cut; the fall was almost universally becoming, and by mid-summer it was the rage. Women braided their falls into long pigtails if they went swimming, or bought a big pigtail to clap on after a swim, when their growing-out Sassoons clung unbecomingly to their skulls. Many women in the fashion know had a wardrobe of hairpieces, some of them Dynel (for body), but most of them real hair—nothing else seemed to swing properly. And the master of hairpieces, as he had been the master of the short, becoming cut, was Kenneth, who used three or four with a fall for big evenings.
For evening dresses in the spring and summer, besides the marvelous pants suits, there were serious evening dresses, like Cell Chapman’s bisque crepe wrapped in a lovely halter around the neck and draped to fall narrowly from neck to floor. Another rising star was the strapless dress, which Trigere had reintroduced in the fall of 1965, both short and long. One of the prettiest spring, summer, and early fall evening dresses was strapless, with masses of white chiffon gathered on a narrow band of crystal beads, the chiffon barely veiling the shaped chiffon underdress. It was designed by Malcolm Starr, maker of beautiful, affordable evening dresses. Sarmi, the favorite of women who liked exquisitely feminine, classic, expensive evening clothes, produced a strapless evening dress in a Tzaims Luksus print on silk, all leaf greens, pinks, cerulean blues, with occasional swirls of orange. It had a stole wrapped like a sari and could make any evening memorable. Another Sarmi strapless smasher was of black silk chiffon and fell straight and narrow to its hem of jet black coq feathers.
The spring news from Paris shaped up like this: by day, short, short hems; pants suits; an occasional long coat over short skirt; double-faced fabrics; strict tailoring; and by night, veiled bareness. The best thing to come from Paris in the spring was Yves St. Laurent’s navy or black organza dress, a sheer smock shape pailletted sparely in two bands at strategic bikini places, understudied only from the hips down by skin-colored short tights. This was bought, immediately, in American copies by all the chic people who could wear it. St. Laurent was on a nautical kick: his red gabardine pants suit had bell-bottomed trousers and a red-and-white T-shirt pailletted in stripes beneath its brass-buttoned pea jacket; for late day, St. Laurent did a short dress in the same stripes, only these were silver and white, with tiny short sleeves. For evening, the same dress appeared in navy-and-silver-pailletted stripes. (This striped, close-bodied, sweatery look was to reappear in America in the fall with great success.) Paris, too, showed strapless dresses like Givenchy’s white lace ball dress, the front raised to show the knees and the back long enough to make a small train. Cardin, as usual, did exquisitely tailored suits, exquisitely cut floats of crepe, but by now they were reminiscent of the best of his past collections. Marc Bohan of Dior showed an evening dress with wide, kimonolike sleeves and a slim, unfitted body, which smacked strongly of Norell, and a daytime suit in three colors, which looked so much like the Norell of three years before, complete to the flapper make-up, that it was eerie. The suit was of smooth wool, the jacket scarlet and cropped at the waist, the skirt, two broad bands, the top black and the bottom white. Bohan showed it, as Norell had a few seasons before, with a small skull cap and a flapper haircut, and the shoulders were padded, just as Norell’s had been.
Balenciaga showed his famous tent coat, which Norell was doing simultaneously, but there could not be enough of these coats done by two such masters. Balenciaga were collarless, long-sleeved, and seven-eighths length, of smooth wool; Norell’s had been that length, but changed by fall.
Summer’s clothes were like spring’s, if they were good; and bathing suits counted heavily on bareness, as they had for several seasons. Bikinis were likely to be made of black vinyl patent or ,lacquered black cloth and were cut as skimpily as possible, but there were more and more one-piece suits using fishnet to supply bareness than there had been before, and they were startling in skin-colored fabric with skin-colored fishnet.
The baby dress was still going strong throughout the summer. For day or informal evening wear, there was Scaasi’s white cotton pique, quilted all over and seamed below the bosom before it jutted out in a stiff little frill of skirt; and for dress-up evenings, there was Ben Reig’s enchanting baby dress, a rich little dress, the tenderly fitted body and slightly dirndled skirt run with endless frills of Valenciennes lace. And all through the spring and summer there were occasional baby shoes, round-toed and strapped below the ankle, in pale baby colors: bisque, baby blue, pink, butter yellow.
Fall clothes were decisive, more self-assured than they had been. Suddenly it was apparent that America now had the pizzazz that Paris had once possessed. Suddenly there was a variety of styles to suit the variety of tastes of sophisticated, subtle American women. American designers, long experts at sportswear and daytime clothes, were now obviously masters of all sorts of late-day and evening clothes, from kooky to effortless to exquisite to at-home. Designers as people were more important to American women; were given credit; were often, if not usually, partners in their firms (Blass, Beene, Norell, Moore) or aimed for that; and had their names on labels. They had status now, even the designers of inexpensive sportswear, so that knowledgeable buyers—and American women had become that—followed their pet designers around as they switched from firm to firm on their way to the top.
Paris, on the other hand, suffered by comparison. Many American editors claimed, after seeing the fall collections in Paris, that everything in Paris was a copy of something in the U.S. Haute couture clothes, for thousands, looked no better than the under-$100 suits of Luba for Elite, Jr., or Elie Wacs for Ginala (the junior, inexpensive branch of Originala) or the over-$100 suits and dresses of Tiffeau & Busch and Monte-Sano & Pruzan or the marvelous creations, for between $200 and $400, of Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner.
The message was this: pants suits were in, for day, in town as well as country, for cocktail parties, for evening or at home. Some of the best daytime pants suits were the least expensive ones, like Luba’s for Elite, Jr., in camel-colored gabardine, its street-length coat collarless and tabbed at the sides, double-breasted, and leather-buttoned over slim, straight pants. Then there was Ginala’s white wool twill pants suit, the longer jacket reaching well down over the hips, as many did in the fall, and shaped like a fencer’s jacket, double-breasted, collarless, snapped down the sides over straight, narrow pants—no bell bottoms were in sight now. For evening, there were pants suits of velveteen, like the cherry-red one by Ellen Brooke for Sports-wear Couture; it could be worn with a tiny little strapless sweater or, for a change, with a lace-ruffled white shirt. Or there were velveteen “smokings,” so-called because their jackets were cut like Victorian gentlemen’s smoking jackets; one, of purple velveteen, was designed by Annacat, with a narrow little swallow-tailed jacket and strict, straight pants and a foamy lace blouse that erupted at throat and wrists. And then there were the lame pants suits by Edie Gladstone for Deebs and for the most luxe evenings of all, Oscar de la Renta’s puckered green silk pajamas with all the allure of the harem, banded at throat and ankles with golden and yellow beading thick as halyards.
The next message: dresses and coats rather than suits. The day of the dress had come, possibly because designers seemed more inventive with dresses than suits and possibly because women wanted a slimmer line. Day dresses, if they were good, were smock shaped, had long sleeves, like Kasper’s for Joan Leslie, chrome-yellow wool jersey with a slanting yoke and slight gathers below it, long, gathered sleeves, widely cuffed; or Jacques Tiffeau’s fleecy gray wool with short sleeves and a tiny turtle-neck below an uncollared, long-sleeved jacket that stopped precisely at the waistline, although it was not indented. Or there was Donald Brooks’ narrow black wool jersey dress, its yoked body and long, widened sleeves crossed by narrow white stripes.
The great masters made up their own minds, of course. Norell believed in the smock dress, believed in long, wider sleeves, and did a marvelous camel wool coatdress side-buttoned down to a huge pocket. He widened the hem as well as the sleeves and showed it with paler kid gloves and an enormous sable muff. For late day, his smock dresses, called angel robes, fell from wide, gathered neck-lines, had the same wide-bottomed sleeves. His suits were superb, as always, but not new, not as covetable as his dresses and coats. His cocktail dresses were smocks too, often cut with the same shirred neckline and usually bicolored, like his pale-pink silk crepe banded twice, broadly, with silver paillettes. For evening, Norell remained serenely Eastern, with long-sleeved dresses like his fuchsia silk crepe, all of it paved, Indian-style, with tiny mirrors set in rings of tiny rhinestones.
Galanos saw things differently. His day dresses were sleeveless, high waisted, with a deep box pleat in the back, and usually pale camel or gray with long matching cardigan jackets. Others were long sleeved and smock shaped, all of one piece of fabric, unseamed except for two square insets—one, in red wool jersey, was a smasher. For late day, Galanos .used brocade: one brocade dress, pleated high and at center front, lived under a long, widening jacket, all striped in gray, gold, white. But for full evening, there were wonderful wool jersey dresses; one, in grape, an important color of fall, had a high round neck, then dipped deep to the waistline, flowed out from there into a slightly gathered skirt. Another, in Bristol-blue jersey, was cut like a maillot, with shoestring straps, a deep U-neck fore and behind, and a slightly widening skirt. His strapless evening dress in hunter-green jersey was superbly sexy, with a cutout in front that framed the breasts,; it was gathered there, then flowed narrowly to the floor.
The best coat shape of the fall was Norell’s tent coat, a perfect triangle with the apex where it should be in a proper triangle, at the top. He cut it, double breasted, tiny collared, uncuffed, in smooth wools in marvelous colors—bright turquoise over orange, acid green over orange, navy over bright yellow or bright red, camel over navy. He showed these superb coats often with an enormous square fur muff—all of it luxurious and intensely feminine.
In late-day wear, there was, as always in the fall and winter, the smock dress, lit with beads, as in Mollie Parnis’ banana-colored satin, its yoke and long sleeves laden with silver paillettes; or Teal Traina’s white lace smock lit here and there with a silver paillette or two. Then there were shirtdresses, completely covered and entirely luxe, like Nat Kaplan’s white wool gabardine, a straight, long-sleeved flow buttoned with rhinestone balls. And Patullo-Jo Copeland’s white lace shirtdress, long sleeved, with ruffly cuffs and a ruffly hem and jeweled buttons.
Occasionally, there was a bare, strapped dress, fitted at the bosom and straight from there on down, like the magenta Melton cloth dress with rhinestone ball buttons by Junior Sophisticates, or Geoffrey Beene’s black wool crepe with broad straps buttoned, like farmers’ overalls, in back.
And always with us, late day and evening, was silver: the floaty, silver-pailletted swirl of Anne Fogarty; the slim, little-sleeved cling by Pat Sandler; and for evening, Norell’s splendrous silver-pailletted columns or Anne Fogarty’s Empire-waisted, scoop-bodiced dress with long, tight sleeves, slithery skirt. The word to watch here was short—the newest late-day dresses were short, sassy, with matching or blending coats, and if the dress was long, so was the coat. No more tossing on a little jacket over a long dress; coats should reach the floor when dresses did.
At stem and stern: hair was long, either naturally or courtesy of a fall, wild and free to all appearances and often the same at night, with the addition of hairpieces to make it higher. Earrings were simple by day: big black or gray pearls were marvelous, more interesting than creamy or white pearls. At night all the stops came out, and earrings were big, heavy looking, and noisy, some of the newest in papier-mache or silvery plastic; the handsomest made no attempt to look real, although the stones were often set in black metal, which made them look less raw.
At the stern: an obsessive interest in stockings, day and night. Texture was highly important, with thickly thatched, off-white ones running well ahead, but the most popular stockings for day were fishnet, in white or beige or, black; next in popularity came the thatched off-whites, then dark, slightly textured stockings. At night, stockings, too, went on the silver standard—Dior and Nina Ricci made long silver stockings that looked marvelous with all the silver dresses. Shoes were still low-heeled, and the newest look was the flat, squared toe, often with a buckle in metal or a contrasting color, like black, on a colored shoe.