Choosing a particular period between 1800 to the present, in what ways has fashion responded to and represented the changing social and cultural forces of that period?
This essay will focus on the period of the 1960s and how social and cultural forces were represented through the many fashion movements of this particular era and how fashion responded to the forces at the time. The movements that will be concentrated on will be the Youth culture, The mods, Pop culture (swinging sixties) and lastly the Hippie movement. These four fashion movements were the most effective in the 60s at representing the social and cultural conflicts and changes. “Clothing, as one of the most visible forms of consumption, performs a major role in the social construction of identity” says Crane (1933, pg 1) which is a statement confirmed looking back at the 1960’s, fashion played a major role in showing the identity of social groups and responding to social and cultural happenings at the time, Crane agrees with this theory as she goes on to say “In the nineteenth century industrialising societies, social class affiliation was one of the most salient aspects of a person identity” (1933, pg 4). This essay will investigate the social and cultural forces in the 1960’s including “the election of John F Kennedy as president of the United States of America, the newly won civil rights for African-Americans, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the wave of international protest against the Vietnam War” quoted from Sixties Fashion (2010, pg 11) which names a few of the events that happened during the decade.
The 1960s saw the ‘Youth Culture’ which was the term used to describe the decade which was dominated by the younger generation. “The influence of teenagers and students made itself felt in all fields of life, in politics, the economy and culture” is quoted in ‘Sixties Fashion (2010, pg 9) stating that the ‘youngsters’ at the time were effecting all aspects of day to day life, and this was shown through the clothes they wore. “In Germany alone there were 7 million individuals between the ages of 14 and 24 who on average spent 80% of their money on fashion” describes Sixties Fashion (2010, pg 24) which indicates for young people, clothing was essential, they needed fashion to show their identity and to wear what their role models were wearing in films, bands and the models. Healy (1996, pg 21) describes “the youth population needed clothing that suited a more informal style than their parents had ever known” which supports the theory that teenagers were following the icons of the time, with the rock and punk movement being so informal, they wanted to follow. Another writer who shows the same thoughts is Cawthorne (1998, pg 58) who says “Teenagers were eager to spend money on music, on going out and above all on clothes” because their wages had risen twice as fast as those of adults and teenagers had the freedom to spend their money on anything they wanted unlike adults who had to support families. The younger generation can be seen as an easy target in a way, because they had the money to spend on whatever they wanted it was easy for designers and others selling clothes to sell the youngsters clothes, and in reverse, the younger generation weren’t afraid to rebel, and with clothing being an easy way to send out a message, they could communicate their thoughts and ideas through what they wore, the relationship between the two thrived. Stern magazine describes in the book Sixties Fashion (2010, pg 11) “The fashion markets turned their attention to young consumers…everybody is courting the young favour, because parents are only willing to buy what they actually want” backing up this idea that the youngsters were domineering in the 60’s. Around the middle of the sixties “fashion took a turn away from ladylike elegance towards an ideal dominated by youthfulness” describes Sixties Fashion (2010, pg 16) which follows on by Stern Magazine who publish “Being elegant is no longer fashionable. Elegance is as dead as a doornail…the independent woman is alive and kicking- slim and awake, free in her job, in her attitudes, in her love: she is young. With some luck and discipline, she’ll be young to fifty years” which relates back to the idea that the younger generation rebelled against looking like their parents, the 1960’s woman wanted “to be free, to look young and have fun…she demanded equal rights and equal pay. She rejected the shackles of voluminous, hampering skirts and the restrictions of corseted waists and high stiletto heels” states Peacock(1998, pg 10) who firmly agrees. Although Stern Magazine describe that women can still look young until their ‘fifty’ as quoted, many older women did not agree and there were outrage. Women of the older generation were disgusted with this new young feel to fashion which isn’t surprising, there were used to elegance and class, the older generation don’t take too kindly to change like the young do but “public outrage was just what the young wanted” says Metzger (2012, pg 197) as they were rebelling, the older generations reaction just added fuel to the fire. “Britain’s youth were made scapegoats for all that was wrong in society and for all that society was most afraid of: change, innovation, rebellion” (Metzger, 2012, page 197) this didn’t stop the younger generation, it just made them rebel more. “In the 1960s, a group of designers, who were called créaturs, began selling low cost, original, ready to wear clothing…créaturs were able to start businesses with small investments from personal funds, during this period, costs of entering the business were relatively low” says Crane (1933, pg 144) which confirms the same idea other writes have mentioned that the young were targeted, young, modern, innovative styles were easily created by these new creative designers therefore fashion businesses were doing well.
Popular Culture also known as the Swinging Sixties or Swinging London had a good and bad influence on society. Popular Culture included things such as radio, films, TV shows, music, advertisements, fashion and towards the end of the 1960’s, hippies and drugs. A negative towards Pop Culture was that society deemed icons that were in these films and bands were bad influences on the younger generation. Vanessa Redgrave and Davis Hemmings in a scene in the film Blow-up (1966), (Metzger, 2012, pg13) which presents sexyness and partial nudity, with Vanessa Redgrave appearing to wear mens trousers. With films showing this sort of content it can be seen why not everyone was happy with how things were going in society. (Sixties Fashion, 2010, pg 11) “The contraceptive pill heralded a new openness in sexual relationships with far-reaching consequences on family structure”, this development gave more ammunition to the teenagers, icons of the 60s were doing it, so the younger generation followed just like they did with everything else their peers were doing, along with the contraceptive pill, abortion, homosexuality and suicide were no longer criminal offences. This new form of contraception was followed with the ‘Mini Skirt’ which was designed by Mary Quant, Cawthorne (1998, pg58) comments on the mini-skirt, “The mini-skirt did it all”. “Such openly sexual playfulness in fashion was bitterly opposed in traditional circles, but was equally celebrated as a symbol of new freedom” (Sixties Fashion, 2010, pg13), this quote explains that not everyone, as guessed, were not pleased, this 1950s traditional women were horrified by this new fashionable statement, this can be seen in a photograph taken on Carnaby Street of Model Lisa King, January 1967 which shows an older women ‘looking down’ on King as she walks the streets in her mini skirt and the very fashionable go-go boots at the time. On the other hand, another photograph of again, Lisa King jumping of a platform in front of the Big Ben in Parliament Square which is a very well known spot in London, this can be seen as an act of rebellion celebrating the mini-skirt. Music became something young people used to express themselves, this bought the rise of pop music, “pop music itself is based on making money out of young people by selling them records” says Metzger (2012, pg 44) which suggests musical artists only produced pop music to make money, although it was easy for artists to make money as teenagers loved to spend money on music, this does not necessarily mean musicians did not enjoy making the music. A band which can be seen as a bad influence was ‘The Who’, as their live shows were full of aggression. Pete Townshend who plays as a guitarist in the band and is the songwriter states, “We stand for pop-art clothes, pop-art music and pop-art behaviour”, (Metzger, 2012, pg 197) as a band with this attitude and opinions, it can be seen why parents and others were against this as the younger generation followed, they started wearing pop-art clothes, bought the music and behaved in a rebellious way to support this pop-art behaviour and parents just did not understand, as Bob Dylan epitomises the moral and social protest of the time with his lyrics “don’t critise what you can’t understand. Your sons and daughters are beyond your command…for the times, they are a-changing” (Healy, 1996, pg 21) which describes exactly that, that parents simply didn’t understand the Pop Culture and fought against it and the younger generation just rebelled. Another famous band in the 60s called ‘The Rolling Stones’ “infused pop music with a new creativity and rebellious festered by their art school sensibilities, presenting a more ‘dangerous’ and aggressive image on and off stage, epitomised by Jaggers strutting sexuality” says Hill (2010, pg 120) who describes this band as rebellious and aggressive so is there any wonder teenagers followed? With such icons behaving in this way, young people were bound to follow suit. Popular Culture was full of innovative, creative, contemporary artists, the four biggest bands of the 60s all had their roots in art schools so it was no surprise the 60s was dominated by the younger generation. “The successful development of new, elastic chemical fibres…enabled fashion designers to combine figure-hugging cuts with great freedom of movement. Such textiles could be dyed in vibrant colours, be pattern-printed with relative ease, treated so their surfaces shimmered, were easy to wash and in addition were less expensive than silk or wool”, (Sixties Fashion, 2010, pg 13) this statement explains why businesses became so easy to start up, fabrics were cheaper and new processes and developments in technology meant it was quicker and easier to make clothes and with the younger generation spending most of their wages on fashion the economy was booming. Pop Culture also brought the rise of pop art and new advertising, Metzger comments, “everyday items were given new graphics and new lettering” (2012, pg 136) which again backs the idea that everything was becoming modern and new.
‘Mods’ is a term used to describe groups of people from a time in the 60s, originating from ‘Modernity’. Modernity was everywhere in the 1960s, The Sunday Times claimed “Londons new buildings were constantly in the news”, (Victoi and Albert Museum, 2006, pg 42) the architectural landscapes were not liked by everyone but London was symbolised as the ‘brave new London’. The new landscape provided a backdrop for films and fashion photographs, and London finally seemed to be emerging from the effects of World War || at last. This new brave London fitted well with the mods at the time. In terms of fashion, the Mods wore tailored suits and the shapes of garments became more box like. “Military-style double-breasted jackets were very popular” says Hill (2010, pg 167/178) which shows how the economic strutter was effecting fashion. Vandalism and violence was still accuring, and this happened between the ‘Mods’ and the ‘Rockers’, the Mods were slick and smart, and the Rockers wore black leather and jeans and had powerful motorbikes. Both of these movements used fashion to differentiate what social group they formed into with their distinctive dress sense and style. Uni-sex clothing was very popular with modernist women, their clothes became very manly as some have described and trousers became a must have, as Constanze magazine describe as they ran a heading in 1969 which read “Trousers in the morning, trousers in the evening. Trousers for travelling, casual trousers and trousers for sport. Trousers for town. Trousers at events- major events and small get togethers” which describes women were wearing trousers for all types of different events, which got criticised.. Some said women were being manculinised, and these sorts of comments were counteracted by the ‘feline details’ that appeared on the trousers.
Throughout the 1960’s young people rebelled against the idea of being traditional and old fashioned, and a lot of the time in an aggressive way. Towards the end of the 60s saw the rise of the ‘Hippies’ who were peaceful protesters, they wanted to spread love and happiness, and with this brought drugs. At the same time, The Vietnam War hit and also a serious escalation of the Northern Ireland conflict grew, this social problems gave people good reason to turn away from politics and concentrate on culture. “The hippie girl of the Sixties dressed in romantic floral dresses, folklore fur jackets or widely flared trousers”, (Sixties Fashion, 2010, pg 24) this quote describes what a typical hippie girl of the sixties may have worn, from this it could be said that the clothes they wore represents their thoughts, baggy clothes may represent air, freedom, space and the floral may have been used to represent fun, happy, girly, nice? Hippies often protested against social problems that were happening around the world, from the book ‘Sixties Fashion’ (2010, pg 54) one of the protests are mentioned; “San francisco saw the development of an ‘anti-fashion’ sported but the ‘flower children’, who defined themselves through their protest against social conventions, capitalism and the Vietnam War”. Hippies also often travelled abroad and bought a lot of clothes back with them, “south african ponchos, indian shirts, afghan coats, exotic kaftans and wrap dresses”, they got involved in other cultures by wearing their clothes, the hippies that didn’t travel dyed their garments by hand or embroidered their jeans, which was known as the ‘DIY Movement’”. The 1967 ‘Summer of love’ hippie fashion was taken up by the fashion industry and commercialised throughout the world, their idea of peace and love was being spread around the world through fashion due to social/cultural climate forces. Another example of how fashion represented social forces through hippies was a movement describes by Robbins (1997, pg 31) as “The Ubiquitous Daisy” which was a symbol of the anti-war movement and the ‘flower children’ who demonstrated for peace, prints of daises were seen on art, advertising and clothes worn by hippies to support the fight against the Vietnam War. Hippies used fashion to represent their rebellion, they learnt how to farm organic cotton, “one fraction was a movement of rebellion against the sterility of modern life, against war and for a return to the organic” (Robbins, 1997, pg 68) and their wore their hair loose and free, threw away their lipstick and wore organic fabrics to support their cultural beliefs. The print hippies wore became very distinctive, it was printed on clothing and other accessories which would of contributed to representing their beliefs and opinions. The Beatles and other features in the prints often which supported the hippies ands the bands that participated were very famous so the hippies messages were sent out and shared easily and young people followed bands. American hippies felt “sympathetic” (Robbins, 1997, pg 72) for the Vietnamese in the period of the war. The British and American flags started appearing as a form of political protest over the war, but flags were not allowed to be used, “at first, young men and women were actually arrested for wearing clothes made from or appearing to be made from, these national flags” says Robbins (1997,pg 72) so they may have worn them to rebel. Fashion Designers picked up the idea and incorporated stars and stripes into their designs so that hippies would buy them as the prints were made to look slightly like “patriotic superhero’s” (Robbins, 1997, pg 72) to get the message across without people being arrested!
To conclude, the 1960s saw varies movements in fashion all representing a time in this decade of social and cultural decline, having both positive and negative affects on society. Fashion will always respond to whats going on in the world, and the 60s is a good example of that. The hippie movement seemed to have the biggest positive effect, they stood for whats right and not just rebelled because they can, using fashion as a forefront to display there ideas. Fashion responded well and helped hippies rebel against the Vietnam War and other events happening at the time. Crane makes a valuable statement by saying, “it is sometimes assumed that fashion in a mysterious way epitomises the essence of cultural trends at a particular time” (1933, pg 15) which is true, fashion does represent someones identity, their beliefs or culture, and this essay justifies that well.
Total; 2847 words