With 2020 having come and gone, we are now officially 60 years away from the 1960s, the transformative decade that gave America civil unrest, psychedelics, and serious considerations of war. But those are heavy topics for another day, because now we’re going to talk about fashion.
The 60s as we know it didn’t really start until 1963: on November 22 of that year, two seismic events happened. John F. Kennedy, the last burning ember of 50s idealism, was assassinated. At the same time across the pond, The Beatles released their second album, With the Beatles. The death of one icon was simultaneous with the rise of another, and just three months later the Beatles landed at the freshly-dedicated JFK Airport in Queens, NY to the rapturous welcome of Beatlemania. The 60s were now in full swing.
Fashion trends for decade were as varied and disparate as the years themselves: even casual street clothes from 1960 were completely uprooted by 1969. So hopefully we can cover more than just hippie-dippie fashion with this list (although, don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of those). Here are some 60s fashion trends that should make a comeback.
Suits never go out of fashion: sensible, suave, and always the perfect dash of sophistication, a nice business suit or tuxedo for the more formal gatherings should be a must in every man’s closet. But during the 60s there was a very distinct type of suit that came and went just as fast as the group that pioneered them: The Beatles and their eponymous style of suits.
These collarless, grey suits weren’t worn during their most highly publicized moments: during most concerts and public appearances, including their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, the band wore more traditional black single breasted suits. But they were so unique in design and look that they briefly became a fad, just like everything else associated with the Fab Four. Bands like the Yardbirds and the Monkees were decked out in these suits before more psychedelic clothing (also partially pioneered by The Beatles) took ahold in the later half of the decade, but the grey suits remain frozen in fashion ember, and are just waiting to be retooled for a modern revival.
Beautiful bouffant hairdos were all the rage in the 60s: it didn’t matter what specific fashion trend or subculture you associate with, the goal was often to make your hair as big and blown out as possible. So let’s celebrate the most architecturally-challenging of all the 60s hairstyles: the beehive.
I absolutely adore the modern day references to the style: the beehive rocked by Queen Latifa as “Motormouth” Mabel in 2007’s Hairspray, Amy Winehouse’s channeling of 60s girl groups like The Ronettes, and even Marge Simpson’s towering blue ‘do have taken the 60s style and blown it up to epic proportions. But even the modern equivalents can’t reproduce the sheer size of the ones that the 60s originally produced. In an age before worrying about the ozone layer was a major concern, going through an entire can of hairspray just to get that gravity-defying look wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.
Whether it was floral designs inspired by more throwback styles like Napoleonic French military garb or just throwing on your uncle’s GI jacket, the wearing of military attire, specifically jackets, was one of the many trends that attempted to subvert a specific mindset in the 60s. During a time when the Vietnam War was drafting kids as young as 18 into service, and leading them to a very possible early grave, young counterculture figures like Abbie Hoffman became generals in their own fights against the establishment.
Despite wearing the colors of organized armies, the fashion was a direct rebuke of more conservative thoughts and values: young hippie kids were draping military clothing over themselves while directly protesting those same forces. While it wasn’t always explicit, the message was still direct and powerful. Also, some could get away with it more than others: Jimi Hendrix might have been as counterculture as they came, but he was in the 101st Airborne before becoming a star, so his predilection for military wares was likely rooted more in nostalgia than hatred or subversion.
Embraced by both the more conservative early 60s and the more outrageous hippie-chic of the late 60s, mini dresses turned out to be a revelation of women’s fashion: the days of long, flowing gowns and highly adorned dresses were now a thing of the past.
Often accessorized with magnificently sized hats (which we’ll get to in a second) and boots that could reach all the way up to the knees, mini skirts were a direct challenge to more traditional notions of modesty in female fashion. Whereas showing too much skin was once considered scandalous, now came an era where legs were to be shown off. Although the more forthright celebration of allure and sexualization might have seemed counterintuitive to some in the women’s liberation movement, others were supportive of these trends that celebrated a woman’s freedom to be as provocative as they chose to be. In an age of social and cultural revolution, the mini dress was as strong a statement as any political soapboxing.
The Hats, The Hats, The Beautiful Hats
The year that the 60s truly started was also the end of one of its preeminent styles: the pillbox hat. Even though cultural pioneers like Doris Day were known for adorning the hat, it was their association with First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and her wearing of the now-infamous pink pillbox hat on the day of her husband’s assassination, that caused the headware to suddenly become a macabre reminder of the President’s death.
In its stead, new provocative hats became fashionable. The wide-brimmed sun hat was a must have no matter what the weather might be, while Mod fashions from England made Newsies caps and Baker Boy hats popular on both sides of the pond. Out were the formal and brazen fashions of prior decades, and in where sleek, stylized headwear.