1968 Fashion and Vintage Clothing
Spring, 1968, saw ruffles everywhere—about the neck and wrists and often around the hem as well. Early in February, America beheld a pale-blue coat worn with a white cotton shirt heavily ruffled around the high, banded neck, the wrists, and down the front. From that moment onward, high-necked, ruffled, long-sleeved shirts were it, the sine qua non of the early-spring look for 1968. They looked their best when worn with long, sweeping midi-skirts (skirts that hit the leg midway between knees and ankles), but they were worn with elan under tailored suits and coats all during the late winter, spring, summer, and fall. Skirts were faintly dirndled, and the good ones came to three or, occasion-ally, two inches above the knees and were accented by dark, patterned tights, or by paler tights for late spring.
Suits for spring were fewer than usual, the prevailing costume being a coat-with-skirtwith-ruffled-blouse; the blouse was long-sleeved and white, in cotton or batiste or organdy. For evening, shirtdresses were suddenly a starring fashion. They appeared in midi-length and maxi-length (the maxi was several inches longer than the midi, almost grazing the ankles). Many were graced with lace ruffles at the neck and wrists; others went all out for the ruffle, like Sarmi’s superbly springlike shirtdresses of horizontally striped taffeta in red and white or black and white under transparent white-lace shirts that were nothing but ruffles from high neck to narrow, flounced wrists. And for late-day occasions or evening, designers showed more of the same: a smashing color (deep, dark green) and a terribly feminine fabric (silk organza) were combined in a short dress with ruffles around the neck and elbow-length sleeves, ruffles so tightly furled they resembled Hawaiian leis; or a barely pink lace shirt-dress dripping with ruffles around its low V-neck and below-the-elbow sleeves. The shirtdress as seen in spring was a big item coming up—mini, midi, and maxi shirtdresses would be seen in abundance for the rest of the year, and usually they were the hits of the evening. Another short evening shirtdress, the most superb of the season, was also by Sarmi—high-necked black lace banded with black silk organza every five or six inches, and ending at the wide hem with a five-inch band of black lace. A white organza Donald Brooks shirtdress featured a twelve-inch swath of ruffles around the neck and down the front to the waist, below which the skirt broke into a totality of ruffles ending three inches above the knees. The sash here, black velvet ; the sleeves, full, banded at the wrist with the same band of tight, curly ruffles.
The shirtdress craze began when buyers saw them as part of the resort collections, decided they would work equally well North as South, and ordered them for December selling in New York. These lovely soft dresses unleashed a great rush of femininity: women suddenly loved showing their waistlines, loved the look of ruffles in lace, velvet, or organdy. Older women, size twelves and up, and short, plump size forties, loved it as much as did the tall, slim girls who wore sizes six and eight. This fashion also brought back into play an element that had been neglected for several years —women’s ingenuity. Women loved assembling shirts, belts, and skirts into costumes.
American women in 1968 once more became aware of something they had forgotten for a while—their waists, and with that awareness, belts rose into new prominence. St. Laurent’s ringed tortoise-shell and clear plastic belts had won great success the previous fall, but now was the time for the tall, ornamental, jeweled belt. Some of the most beautiful and cherished heirlooms in the coffers of the beautiful people turned out to be belts, like a fretted-gold belt made in sections and alive with rubies, emeralds, diamonds, sapphires, or four feet of huge, carved amber beads and gold chains, to be tied as a belt ; or a brocade belt buckled by Cartier with a diamond, ruby, and emerald serpent head (the symbol of Vishnu) ; or the huge diamond butterfly that once graced Sarah Bernhardt’s dresses as a pin, now the clasp for a black velvet belt. Among the most beautiful was a stack of pearls woven into a four-inch-high belt threaded with corals, looped once, then hung to show off its pearl and coral tassels. Jewelry designer David Webb produced spectacular belts, some made of emeralds and carved coral, others fantasies of carved gold holding emeralds, rubies, and a sprinkling of diamonds. And then there were the really tall belts, like David Crystal’s six-inch high stretch belts held closed by toggle fasteners, five or six of them to a belt.
With summer, in came the weskit, which was to blossom completely by fall into one of the great evening-separates looks. One saw it first by Sant’Angelo over a Greek Guard-like dress with minutely pleated sleeves on the white shirt, a minutely pleated ultra-short white skirt, and a gold cummerbund. This weskit was gold-braided, gold-embroidered, with sky blue and red its other components and it didn’t even pretend to meet in front—it was typical of the look the new weskits had. Another stunning weskit was violet broadtail, worn over a pink-and-green brocaded shirt shot with sunny gold and a flame-stitch skirt. Another weskit was the deep but not midnight blue found in Hungarian hussars’ uniforms, deep-blue velveteen marked with wide gold braid and lined in ermine, over a yellow-crepe shirt, with the wearer displaying jewels on every finger (the Arabian influence, not content to rest with weskits and belts, appeared in jewels as well). And with tripartite or quadripartite costumes, there was a return to pattern-on-pattern, which had been so stylish in the fifties, and was again now, as in Galanos’ asymmetric crimson-lace coat covered with gold-and-navy braid, embroidery, and bound and belted in golden lace braid—a lot of pattern for one coat to take, but it looked superb.
With summer and the fall collections came the midi- or maxi-coat, a coat Oscar de la Renta had tried in his previous fall collection without any great success. This year he tried, and so did Originala; so did Christian Dior-New York, over a short gold and black wool plaid dress; so did the Jean Patou Boutique over fuller trousers, as did de la Renta and many others. Unfortunately, although the trousers took, the midis and maxis didn’t—most fashion-wise women had theirs shorened to the length of their dresses, which, this fall of 1968, was three to five inches above the knees, shorter than ever.
Fall pants suits were shown in profusion, more than ever before, and now they were not designed just for country life—these were town pants suits, traveling pants suits, and evenings saw evening pants suits, usually of pastel wool (Luba did some for Elite) or pastel heavy crepes and matte jerseys, usually belted with a length or two of golden chain, preferably old. The pants had the wide look now, slightly bell-bottomed sometimes, or more often than not simply wide and straight from the hips down, like the slacks motion-picture star Marlene Dietrich made famous in the thirties.
The fall collections also featured the convertible dress—a go-it-alone dress or a tunic to be worn over the popular straight, looser pants. Mr. Mort did it, Norell did it, lots of people in between did it, and it was always a huge success, buyers feeling they were getting two for the price of one.
Skirts were really dirndled now, and they looked marvelous with weskits, as in Marquise’s maxi-length dirndl with weskit and bolero, jewel-buttoned, over a ruffly black Chantilly-lace shirt.
Another great idea for evening was the widened V-neckline, opened so wide that the breasts showed in part, if not in toto. This was used by Sarmi and Kasper for Joan Leslie and Oscar de la Renta.
Some of the best weskits went right on into evening and could come off but didn’t, like Donald Brooks’ long-sleeved black wool dirndl dress with a tiny little weskit just a breath longer than the armholes, diamanteed to glitter over all that black. And, of course, the best costumes for evening always included a weskit over a shirt, with either a long skirt or long, full pants. The weskit needed lots of gold or silver braid, and everything was supposed to be hung with chains for maximum effect.
The Moroccan look of opulence was especially marked at night, and sometimes there was a profusion—or one might say confusion —of patterns never before seen anywhere out-side Morocco. Four or more patterns, one in weskit, one in shirt, one in skirt or pants, one in wide belt, plus endless chains and four or more rings made some women look as if they were up for auction on Jeweler’s Row, but it was supposed to be chic, so they did it. Most wise women came to their senses after a few evenings and gave it up for a more serene look. But the Moroccan look went on, and at night gold and gold brocade were enormously chic, especially the new brocades that were lighter than air. Kasper of Joan Leslie de-signed a splendiferous dress of paisley-patterned silver brocade, with the rich brown undertones of a pheasant’s feathers, the whole thing wrapped up in gold-and-silver banding around the wide-open neck and the high, taut midriff. The sleeves were, as all sleeves were this fall, to the wrist; not a chic dress any-where was without long sleeves, but many evening dresses made up for this by being virtually bare-chested.
France contributed only two developments that had any impact on the rest of the fashion world (for France and America now ran neck and neck, and America often won). These were the transparent blouse, shown by almost every good designer in Paris but Chanel, and the pants of Yves St. Laurent, wide, long culottes made in gauzy black velvet for his Rive Gauche boutiques—greatly in demand and for good reason: the cut was superb, as were the pullover-like tops, long-sleeved, that went with them. Transparent shirts were another matter. Most women, try as they might, had neither the figures nor the egos to wear them, and although some American designers also designed them, only the perfectly bosomed and the brave enjoyed wearing them.