This was a period dominated by youth, but also by an explosion of political and social
revolutions that fractured society, and brought about profound changes for everyone. The
Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the Women's movement dominated national
attention. The post war generation known as the "baby boomers" entered college in this
period. Because of their numbers, their age is the dominant demographic fact in any period
following world war II. In this period, the characteristics were those of
youth-- experimentation, revolution, and innovation. Fashions of the period reflected these qualities. The miniskirt is the quintessential symbol
of the 60s, but the real revolution in dress is the
splintering of fashion. For first time fashion came
to be dictated not by designers, but instead arose from the street.
The variety of looks
was also substantial. During this period styles ranged from the "space age" look of
or Cardin (left), to the mod styles
originating in London typified by
Mary Quant and even Yves St.Laurent (right) , a variety of ethnic
Zandra Rhodes and others) and the colorful influence of psychedelia (right) typified by the prints of
Emilio Pucci and others. You can search for additional designers from this and
other periods via the database maintained by couture collector and dealer
By the end of the period, hemlines might be worn anywhere from mid thigh to floor length, with designers such as Jean Muir gaining popularity. The average wardrobe would contain mini skirts and floor length ones. To keep exposed legs warm, or coordinate with a long skirt, the "maxi" coat became popular at the end of the decade(right). With fashion now originating from the inspiration of the street, and not the dictates of the designer, fashion no longer emanated from one center. The street fashion for thrift store clothing would lead to a long run of "retro" looks borrowing from the past.
This period did innovate in a number of ways that added to the vocabulary of fashion.
The wearing of miniskirts required the invention of pantyhose. Boots for the first time
became an item of fashion apparel for women (top, left). For the first time the pants suit allowed
women to wear pants in professional and even formal situations (right). Vinyl and double knits were
added to the materials available for clothing, along with a number of new synthetic fibers.
Before 1800, men's fashions were as elaborate and subject to variation as women's.
However, the combined political and industrial revolutions that occurred brought about
dramatic changes in men's lives. The development of democratic political institutions and a
rising middle class made it less desirable to flaunt wealth or aristocratic status through
elaborate dress. This change concurred with the demands of the new industrial system which
stressed uniformity and a conservative, essentially bourgeois corporate structure that called
for a formal, but unassuming "professional" appearance. Those who joined, or aspired to join
the professional world donned its uniform-- the business suit. This basic ensemble - white
shirt, tie, vest, jacket and trousers in black or a dark color-- has been worn by middle class
men with only gradual changes of detail and silhouette-- for nearly two hundred years.
Only after World War I, when the older social order began to democratize, did other forms of dress begin to find acceptance. Sweaters had been worn earlier for more vigorous sports such as football, but became more common for other leisure activities. However, in 1920 even with a sweater, a man would have worn a tie to play golf. .
Following world war I, in an era where we see increasing recognition of adolescence and youth, we begin to see more sweaters and other sportswear being worn off the playing field. The clothing of athletes, workers, peasants, cowboys, and soldiers-- such as soft caps, boots, leather jackets, and that modern uniform, blue jeans and t shirt, gradually found acceptance.
However, for the middle class, (also long referred to as the "white collar worker" in honor of the expected mode of dress) the suit has remained the required dress for the workplace. It is only recently, as the workplace, and work, is being redefined, that the suit, and especially the tie, seem to be losing ground in favor of more casual attire. Another new factor in men's fashions is the multiculturalism of the current era. For the first time fashion ideas are originating in non-European cultures, where the business suit is not the standard of dress for men. The increasing range of choices in men's dress, while still relatively restricted for most, reflects the increasing fluidity of men's traditional status and roles in society. If you want to explore the history of mens fashions further, try this site which provides links to many others.
In each period we have seen that the clothing of men and women reflect the roles of the wearer and the social climate in which he or she functions. Fashion is a powerful visual language through which we define ourselves and communicate our identity to others.
So as we look at the historical examples of style we must remember that the clothes, the art, and the interiors were all designed and used concurrently in a certain period. To get the total picture of the aesthetics of a particular time, we must look at all of the components together. A painting by Matisse has a very different impact if we look at it in an Art Deco interior of the 1920s than if we look at it on the wall of the Museum of Modern Art. The sinuous curves of Art Nouveau furnishings can have a strangely modern feeling too, but if the room is filled with the soft, flowing forms of corsetted women in Art Nouveau dresses, the ambience is quite different.
There is also another set of factors to consider. As we have looked at the development of each style in Decorative and Fine arts, the debt to visual forms from other, non-Euro-American cultures has been acknowledged. In order to understand that debt, we will need to take a look at these traditions as well.