‘The Swinging Sixties’ was a media phrase used to describe the fashion and pop music industries, especially the eclectic and revivalist style of mid to late 1960s graphic design.  Fashion between 1963 and 1972 tended to disregard previous conventional attitudes creating lively, inventive clothes, which frankly displayed the body.  The mini-skirt, worn first from 1965 to the early 1970s, brought thighs into focus as an erotic area for the first time in history.  A youth market (the 15-19 age group accounted for 50% of all clothes bought in 1967), patronised cheap, ‘quick turn over’ boutiques and chain stores. They reacted against their parents typecasting and pioneered a breakdown in gender differentiation through dress – the start of ‘unisex’ attitudes.  Trousers for women in office work and formal occasions became accepted, and men wore their hair long for the first time since the 1840s.  Traditional couture was now hardly influential and instead sub-cultures such as ‘mods’ and special shopping areas such as Carnaby Street in London, influenced styles.

24a Wine tasting, c.1964
Three girls on holiday, wearing ‘mini’ shift dresses in printed cottons. The girl on the left has a drawstring ‘ethnic’ bag, the centre girl has a backcombed hairdo of the early 1960s, and the right hand girl has a long, fringed hairstyle popular with the fans of the early Beatles era.

Reproduced from an original photograph

Main Garment
24b Mini dress, black and white ‘Op-art’ print, 1965-67
This mini dress was worn a daring 10cm above the wearer’s knee.  It is made of cotton twill, screen printed with an ‘Op-art’ design.  Optical art (the juxtaposition of black and white lines which appear to move about) was pioneered in Britain by Bridget Riley and greatly influenced fashion design in the late 1960s. Riley’s painting ‘Wave’ even appeared on a man’s necktie in the early 1970s.  Skirt lengths were universally short for young people and tights mainly replaced stockings.  Dresses were tubular shifts, (not unlike the 1920s style) and genuine ‘twenties’ clothes were frequently worn, along with Victorian accessories from junk markets. Hair styles were either geometric short bobs or long and straight. Make up emphasised eyes and blotted out lips; generally the ‘little girl look’ was in.

Given by Veronica Tonge of Maidstone, in 1991

Main Garment
24c Doll’s evening dress, pink nylon and lurex, 1960s
The fashion doll Barbie was inspired by the 1950s German cartoon character Lilli-Bild, and re-issued by the Californian-based Matel Inc. in 1959 as a toy.  Legendary ‘Teen-age Fashion Model’ Barbie was modified in the 1980s and the 1990s and her wardrobe and accessories are amongst the most wide ranging and detailed available.  This evening dress is made of fluorescent pink nylon (a typical mid-late 1960s colour) with Lurex net flounces. Barbie, like Lilli-Bild, remained a 1950s sophisticate throughout her career, complete with conical breasts.

Given by Susan Pittman of Swanley, in 1986

Main Garment
24d Doll’s mini coat, ‘flower power’, 1960s
This is a cheap copy of the ‘Barbie’ doll style clothes, made in Hong Kong.  It mimics all the current ‘trendy’ styles of young fashion in the mid to late ‘swinging sixties’ – bright floral prints, stand-up collar, patch pocket, simple shift shape.  ‘Flower power’ was originally a late 1960s phrase associated with the Hippy dress style.  It became tagged onto anything floral from that period, or later any retro versions.

Provenance Unknown

24e Pantie-corselette, lycra jersey, paisley, 1968-71
Lycra was a synthetic elastic fibre replacing natural rubber (3 times as strong as well as perspiration, oil, detergent, and hot water resistant) it was first named in 1959.  Originally marketed as a stretch net, 15-40% Lycra and gave comfy, lightweight control of weak muscles and flab.  Pantie-corselettes became the top selling styles of foundations around 1976.  This example is by Berlei and is printed with a paisley design on Lycra tricot

Purchased for the Museum Collection

24f Doll’s suspender belt, psychedelic nylon, c.1968
Made for Barbie or similar doll, this miniature belt bears no real resemblance to a woman’s suspender belt, and is very much a doll’s equivalent.  Amazingly, the tiny clips really work.

Provenance Unknown

24g Combined scarf and cap, emerald jersey knit, c.1965
The ‘Victorian costermonger’ cap style was popular during the sixties in a variety of materials – tweed, PVC, jersey knit, suede.  Like the rise of pop art graphics on ‘workman’s mugs’ (for the coffee and tea of all social classes during the sixties), it can be seen as a rather romantic gesture of social equality.  Perhaps the most famous sixties cap was John Lennon’s ‘flat ‘at’.  This example is in emerald green jersey, probably a mix of synthetic and natural fibres.

Bought for the Museum Collections

24h Shoulder bag, plum suede and beads, late 1960s
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, an idealistic ‘ethnic’ look was often a young student’s alternative to miniskirts and fluorescent plastics.  Shoulder bags went well with long, flowing cotton skirts with Asian and American Indian inspirations in their designs and materials.  This bag, in plum suede, has ‘Red Indian’ beaded tassels, oddly combined with a chrome ‘dog lead’ clip and chunky zip fastener.

Given by Veronica Tonge of Maidstone, 1983

24i Lace-look boots, polypropylene, c.1966
Boots with mini-skirts were a sixties classic inspired by the space age.  These were made in bright, striped plastics, or Victorian copies, high laced and chunky heeled in leather, suede or PVC.  This pair is unusual in a lacy openwork mesh, made from a ‘new’ synthetic and fastened with a zip.

Given by Veronica Tonge of Maidstone, 1981

1960s – What’s New?

First man in space, 1961
With the first man in space designs took influence from space travel.

Mary Quant, 1966
Opened her first shop, Bazaar, in 1955, Mary Quant developed her famous and successful cosmetics line with a daisy logo in 1966.