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1966 Fashion

  • 1960s Fashion Trends for The 1966 Fashion Year
  • 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 rain suit 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.
  • 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 slip dress 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Gache Publishing Co.
1967 Encyclopedia Year Book
covering the year 1966 

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