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Yesterday today: how to recreate ’60s women’s fashion styles

To understand how women’s fashion changed, evolved and developed in the 1960s, carving out its own very distinct identity from what went before, it’s important to appreciate what happened in that decade, socially speaking – on both sides of the Atlantic.

With employment booming and wages rising, young people had more disposable income than ever before and, as the late ’50s segued into the early ’60s and the middle of the decade reared its head, young people asserted themselves in society like never before; they had the money to spend on the music and the fashion they wanted and a consumerist system willing to give them what they desired.

Society in general was changing too; indeed, it was now that the ‘permissive society’ was born – times suddenly felt far more progressive, far less restrictive and far more, well, youth-friendly than they’d ever been. New developments in fashion then were decidedly driven by, geared to and lapped up by an eager youthful audience.

The mod look – colours and patterns dominate

So, in the early to mid-’60s, two youth movements came to the fore (and, at times, came to blows), the mods and the rockers. The latter were effectively a continuation of the teddy boys of the mid- to late ’50s, thus offered little new to the fashion scene; the former, though, were a totally different story.

In contrast to the rockers, the mods embraced style and elegance and, in terms of women’s fashion, by the middle of the decade this meant appropriating the über-hip slim, figure-hugging silhouette afforded by the ‘A-line’ dress, decorated by a vast array of different patterned prints (many of them featuring dynamic and optically-pleasing shapes) in various bold colours, not least black and white. Indeed, this commitment to monochrome became something of a trademark of mod clothing; so much so, it seemed to help define the mod revivalist fashion that came more than 10 years in the late ’70s and into the early ’80s.

To recreate the look today then, either look to purchasing one of the such retro/ ’60s vintage dresses from a mod-centric store and match their fantastic patterns with appropriate black and white accessories – and perhaps too with nude tights.

The mod look – getting tights right

While women’s clothes in the ’60s got brighter and bolder in terms of their colours and patterns, they also got decidedly bolder in another important aspect of their appearance – their hemline lengths. Being a decade beset with youthful liberation, the dresses and skirts worn by young women rapidly got shorter and shorter… and shorter.

And one practical result of this was that, unless she wished to go bare-legged all the time, a miniskirt/ minidress wearer had to forego sporting a panty girdle and stockings underneath and instead opt for tights. So, the upshot of this was that tights were suddenly designed, manufactured, bought and worn in a whole host of different colours, both to complement and contrast with the rest of a wearer’s outfit. Indeed, a pair of new boldly colourful or excitingly patterned tights (in, say, polka dots) would refresh and update the look perfectly.

To recreate this aesthetic of miniskirt/ minidress dress with tights today, pick a pair of tights that mirror the main shade – or at least one of the colours – in the patterned skirt/ dress and/ or top you’ve chosen to throw on. Note: co-ordination’s the key with this outfit.

Dressing to impress

Now, admittedly, despite however fast-changing the times were in the ’60s (and, don’t doubt it, they definitely were a-fast-changin’, all right), mod fashion wasn’t the utter be and end all for every person in Britain. Indeed, when it cam to decidedly formal wear, women’s suits remained arguably as inspired by their 1950s’ counterparts as by any style changes the ’60s brought.

For instance, a good example is how the fundamental styling of legendary French designer Coco Chanel’s ’50s women’s suit lived on into the following decade, its relatively loose-fitting, ‘A-line’-based design setting it apart from the more rigid dressing-to-impress designs of the ’50s (such as the decidedly pulled-into-the-waist prom dresses of that era) and so easing nicely into the more relaxed fashions that eventually emerged across the board in the ’60s.

And, nowadays, that sort of look can be ably recreated by seeking out such a retro/ vintage suit and co-ordinating it with sophisticated-looking flat pointed pumps and opaque tights (both in shades that harmonise with the suit), as well as accessories like a pearl necklace and a rectangular clutch bag. Easy-peasy.

Going casual

But what about dressing-down? Well, should you not fancy the on-mod-trend that’s a patterned mini-skirt and bold tights (or cute boots over bare legs), then you might opt for a loose shirt or blouse (plain in white or a pastel shade) combined with trousers. Women’s casual legwear in the ’60s tended to resemble a staple of the ’50s, in fact, the Capri pant; only in line with the mod-ish tendency for pronounced style and elegance, the trousers were often more tailored and with a straight leg-cut – and, naturally, came in all shades (so, yes, as bold and bright as you like).

How to bring this look alive today then? Well, you’ll want to complete the outfit with a belt to nip the shirt/ blouse in at the waist and pull on a pair or loafers or low pumps, as well as look-at-me jewellery and pump up the volume to your hair a bit. After all, ’60s fashion is all about drawing attention to yourself – and giving into and having some truly youthful fun!

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