The Swinging ’60s
We asked Catherine Alenka, the expert seamstress behind Sewing the 60s with a great eye for fashion, for her thoughts on how 1960s fashion has influenced style today.
Who are your style icons of the ’60s?
My biggest inspirations and therefore icons are Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki (BIBA), Foale and Tuffin and Pattie Boyd.
The first three designed some of the most iconic looks of the decade, and through new ways of running their businesses, changed the retail face of Carnaby Street and probably London as well. Their focus was on enjoying the clothes you were wearing and shopping at their stores became an event in itself. Buying up the latest looks, while in the presence of TV personalities and musicians is something you would hardly see today, but it was all very normal and part of the experience then.
Pattie Boyd on the other hand, modelled for most of the top designers and of course did what all ’60s girls dreamed of, she married a Beatle (George) and then married Eric Clapton, a ’60s guitar god in his own right. Pattie had that sweet dolly look which lots of girls aspired to, and still do, whereas Twiggy had the mod look.
What makes ’60s style unlike any other?
From reading about the designers, musicians and models from the ’60s, I find they all seem to sum up the ’60s as being fun and freeing. No longer did you have to wear the same clothes as your mum or what the Paris couturiers deemed as le mode. You were free to choose your own style and explore that as far as your bank account would let you. Clothes became less restrictive and you could dance all night or go shopping and not feel like you were wrapped up in fabric which might otherwise stop you.
To me that all says fun and freedom!
How has ’60s fashion influenced the way we dress and think about fashion today?
The way we think about fashion has definitely been a main residual point from the ’60s. Fashion before the ’60s dictated what social class you were in, what job you did and what kind of person you were. As an example, normal 1950s ladies wouldn’t be caught dead in a skirt shorter than your knees because society would have deemed you as disrespectful. In the ’60s though the attitude towards how you dressed no longer determined how people judged you.
The skirt became shorter and shorter and was a mark of how fun or adventurous you were. Nowadays it is completely normal to see a miniskirt at work or out shopping. The whole attitude to using clothing as a tool to judge others changed in the ’60s.
There are a few dresses in the current M&Co collection, like the ponte shift dress, that have certain elements of the mid to late ’60s feel to them but I would have to choose the paisley cord shift dress!
Paisley was a big deal back then so this one is an easy to link back to the ’60s. I would wear this in a few ways – for work you could pair it with a long sleeved turtleneck to wear underneath, a pair of black opaque tights and patent leather 1-inch block heels. And then after work you can shed the top and change the tights for something outrageously colourful like purple or green, and go dance the night away!
We also interviewed Lena Weber, founder of beautiful blog, Style High Club. She gave us a great insight into the influential culture of the ’60s.
Which styles of dress best symbolise the ’60s?
The decade is probably most famous for its mini dresses. Mary Quant in London and Courrèges in Paris were the first to make the above-knee cut fashionable. You could buy these dollybird dresses in a wealth of colours, prints and fabrics. Even paper versions – such as one with a portrait of Bob Dylan printed on it – became hugely popular.
Towards the late ’60s, Victorian and art deco clothing became a big influence on boutiques like Biba, and maxi dresses were a key look. Influenced by the psychedelic and hippie movements, the decade took inspiration from around the world, making styles such as Indian kaftans very popular.
Who are your biggest ’60s icons?
My biggest ’60s style icon is singer Marianne Faithfull – her style was edgy but never contrived. She always looked amazing in that ‘thrown-together’ kind of way, whether she wore casual jeans and a man’s shirt, an Indian top or a suit complete with tie. At a time when women looked quite artificial with false eyelashes, precision cuts and heavy make-up, her own style was bare-faced and natural. Marianne was one of the first to wear a look we now think of as ‘rock chick’.
Do any current celebrities successfully emulate these styles?
Today, musician and model Charlotte Kemp Muhl and actress Josephine de la Baume both have a bohemian style reminiscent of Faithfull.