The 1960s was a decade of leaping change throughout the fashion world generating ideas and images which still appear till today. Whereas fashion had previously been aimed at wealthy, mature elite, the tastes and preferences of young people now became important. At the beginning of the decade, the market was dominated by Parisian designers of expensive haute couture garments. Formal suits for women underwent a structural change resulting in looser lines and shorter skirts
1960s Fashion History can be traced very accurately by looking at old sewing patterns. These illustrations were some I had torn from an old sewing pattern book, decades ago and kept as reference. 1962 was scribbled on the original pages and they are so typical of early 1960s clothes. All the images below will expand to fit an A4 sheet when printed out. Click the thumbnails for those enlargements.
These images are ideal for coloring in. Or use them as inspiration for fashion designing and pattern cutting with an early 1960s feel. Those unschooled in 1960s fashion history often wrongly assume that all 1960s fashion was extremely short. The mini skirt length was not really a mass fashion until the mid-1960s. Skirt lengths had gradually become shorter at the end of the 1950s. By the early sixties skirt lengths were as you can see just on, or just skimming the knee. Many people think that this is the perfect length for a dress as any style that ends on a body joint has a natural look that helps the body seems well balanced.
Slimline sheath or tubular dresses gave way to flared skirts. Here you can see the tentative beginning of the A line skirt, that, in its many varying lengths, from maxi to mini, would remain popular for about 15 years until 1979. The image of the clothes the two girls wear are quite innovative for the time frame. They marry two eras. The little girl wearing the full dress looks like her dress could have sat happily in the 1950s, whilst the coat has an early Jackie Kennedy feel to it. That coat style looks much like styles of coats worn by adults after 1964
Fashion Sewing in the 1960s
Fashion sewing was very popular during the early sixties and was a major subject in secondary modern schools in the UK. There, female pupils often had two half day sessions of dressmaking and needlecrafts a week. Most young girls with a secondary modern education in UK left school at 15 with good craft sewing skills. Many were easily able to make dresses that fitted closely to the body and had fully lined bodices or slips.
Those who went to Grammar Schools were less fortunate in acquiring textile arts mastery. They usually had to choose between Art, Domestic Science (Cookery) or perhaps Geography or Housecraft by their third year in school. So for most girls by the time they chose a selection of examination subjects these creative subjects were effectively squeezed out by the Grammar School curriculum. The choices set against curriculum subjects were such that most academic girls felt obliged to opt for qualifications that would help them get jobs or college entry.
Even so, Local Authority night classes abounded in the 1960s. Dressmaking was a very popular subject course to follow and most women could manage to make a dress if they attended for about 10 sessions. Once they had the rudiments of using a sewing machine and cutting a pattern many continued to learn by teaching themselves. In the 1960s instructions in sewing patterns were very detailed and far superior to any patterns available today. Patterns often contained 4 or 5 instruction sheets, but the difference between them today is that those sheets would all be in just English or English and French. Now you may get several pages, but in many languages so the actual sewing construction details are cut out.
1960s Fashion History – Costume History Drawings c 1962 – 1966
As with all fashion eras there was overlap of the styles of several years and not everyone immediately wore the mini or even shorter above knee skirts. Clothing silhouette lines were getting more relaxed with soft over bloused tops becoming an alternative to form fitting slim sheath clothes. Pencil tight clothing gave way to simply straight cut or A-line cut dresses.
Bodices were often still fitted, but semi fitted and easier yoked styles were a feature of 1960s fashions. The more relaxed silhouettes meant many younger women began to change the type of underwear they wore. Younger women often abandoned corselettes in favor of softer roll-ons. Hair was still elaborate for many women even though more modern styles emerged. Few women could manage without hair spray, hair rollers and heated rollers.
Fashion History c1964 – 1969
The dresses and skirts are A-line and flare away from the body at the hips. Keyholes and cut outs at the neckline or waistline or bodice were often seen on sixties and seventies dresses. The cutaway armholes were popular for a decade and this led to a demand for the correct underwear such as halter neck bras.
Updo hair styles set in elaborate coiled arrangements, meant that earlobes were decorated with chandelier style costume jewelry earrings ranging from large pailette sequins to jet or pearl drop earrings. Rhinestones and crystals necklaces which had been popular in the 1960s were banished to the back of drawers, as chunky plastic jewelry and belts gained hold. Glittery costume jewelry did not really make a comeback until the 1980s. Colored plastic fashion jewelry included multi colored bangles and ropes of faceted beads and long pearls and long gold chains worn layered. Faceted plastic beads covered bags which were made from raffia or silky knitted rayon yarns.
As the sixties progressed shorter skirt fashion lengths followed and even plus sizes adopted the new more fashionable skirt lengths. Even though many could not wear the newer fashion styles of the era, to have not shortened skirt lengths so would have made larger women look even older fashioned.