The first televised Presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon, Vietnam, the battle for technological superiority in space, the threat of nuclear attack, Kennedy’s assassination, the signing of the Medicare Bill, Robert Kennedy’s assassination, Nixon’s Presidential win, and Martin Luther King’s recognition as Time’s person of the year were some of the many major events that happened in the 1960s. So too was Bob Dylan’s first major gig, the death of Marilyn Monroe, the first artificial heart implant, the first Super Bowl, the death of Judy Garland, Woodstock, and the debut of Sesame Street. Noted as a time of unsettling events and new endeavors, changing attitudes gave way to bold new fashions.
The 1960s were colorful and sometimes turbulent years. Revolutions, with people seeking dramatic and wide-reaching change through, began to happen. There were increased protests over significant issues such as equality, race, war, and more. The feminist movement, addressing issues related to women’s rights, became a large social effort for change. The Civil Rights Movement largely influenced it, a significant campaign of the 60s to end racial discrimination. America faced multiple challenges during this time, including participation in and opposition to the Vietnam War that bitterly divided Americans. As US involvement in the war expanded, so, too did a broad social movement, a counterculture of sorts. America, a principal ally of South Vietnam, initially increased aid to confront the Viet Cong threat. But, in 1964, after DRV torpedo boats attacked two US destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, Johnson ordered the retaliatory bombing. As the conflict grew, many hippies who opposed America’s participation in the Vietnam War carried flowers and even stuck them in gun barrels to encourage peace. Thus, flowers grew as symbols of peaceful resistance related to the opposition of the Vietnam War. They could be worn as wardrobe accessories, such as in a large bloom attached to a hat, and adorned on dresses, shirts, pants, and other garments.
The 60s was also a time where societal norms were broken. The “free spirit” attitude took hold, and so, too, did fashion. The decade was a bit wild, with rock and roll and drug experimentation at the forefront of events such as the 1969 music festival Woodstock. The August event billed as three days of peace and music, took place on a dairy farm in New York. It is estimated that there were about 400,000 attendees, and the combination of “psychedelic” music, bad weather, and reckless behavior made it go down in history. Many of the attendees strongly opposed the war and favored individualism. Thus, the clothing choices took hold as forms of self-expression. Tie-dye, invented in the 1960s, featured unique colored patterns made using a resist dyeing method. Musician Joe Cocker appeared on stage at Woodstock, sporting this newer craze in clothing.
Some 60s trends were modeled after actresses, such as a tweed skirt worn by actress Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor’s leopard coat and matching hat. Though certain people of society, such as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, continued to dress in tasteful yet elegant wardrobes, the more demure style of 50s fashion began to be overshadowed by 60s miniskirts, pencil skirts, baby-doll clothing, frayed bell-bottom jeans, and more, many of which are considered casual attire. The popularity of the Beatles gave rise to London fashion, and British fashion model Twiggy became globally recognized for her iconic 60s styles. Most popularly, her small frame worked well with the androgynous styles that began to emerge and skyrocketed her fashion success.
Through the frequent chaotic times of the 1960s, fashion remained steady. Like other periods, fads were copied, and styles mimicked. However, the 60s was less about conformity and more about individuality. Fashion was often fueled by ideals such as peace and love, free-spiritedness, the hippie culture, and fashion icons’ influence. When the 60s comes to mind, it is best remembered as a period of self-expression, change, and sometimes rebellion. By incorporating elements of comfort and ease into wardrobes, 60s fashion styles would make their mark on the world and ultimately pave the way for the leisurely styles of the next decade, the 1970s.
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