Marked by sweeping social changes, the ’60s was a decade that still holds a special significance; it saw traditional hierarchies dissolve and made way for the birth of the modern age. The way people dressed was an obvious sign of shifting attitudes.
In the ’60s, many chose, very publicly, to start looking different from the norm. With young people’s income at its highest, the increased economic power fueled a new sense of identity and the need to express it. The fashion industry quickly responded by reating designs for young people that no longer simply copied “grown-up” styles.
As the decade went on, dress codes, even for the older generation, became increasingly relaxed: tailoring loosened; public figures like Jackie Kennedy began to favor shorter skirts; and fewer people wore accessories like hats and gloves.
In Paris Courrèges, Cardin, Ungaro and Saint Laurent were among the designers who successfully translated a couture aesthetic—producing designs for young people who wanted everyday wear.
By the late ’60s, style had become quite theatrical. Fashion sanctioned longer hair for both men and women, as well as a flared outline for trousers. With war in Vietnam and student uprisings in France, opinion-formers began to disapprove of Pop’s materialistic sheen. Women wore unbelievably short skirts and men wore tunics and capes. It’s almost like the ’50s bottled everyone up so much that the late ’60s exploded like an old pressure cooker. The ideas and mix-and-match aesthetic of California’s hippy movement crossed the Atlantic, giving people free rein to ‘live different’, and to sport clothing from a range of non-Western cultures: loose and layered outfits, often inspired by second-hand, or vintage styles.
The mini skirt started the fashion revolution of 1967: worn higher above the knee, it gave women’s legs exposure they hadn’t seen in years. Youth continued to set the pace for fashion. The world fell in love with Twiggy, the skinny 17-year-old British model who burst upon the scene and brought the age of the mini-mod to the fore.
Milan became the place where luxury, fashion and design met. That’s where Pino Rabolini, the son of a Milanese goldsmith, and fellow of the café Jamaica’s artistic band, came up with the visionary idea to bring the concept of prêtà-porter to the conservative world of jewelry. He wanted to create lighter pieces—still precious and beautifully designed —for the dynamic women of that time. Pushed by this avantgarde spirit, he launched Pomellato: gold had eventually become fun, and chains were the first jewels to be used as a true fashion accessory.
Fashion was now stripped of its dictatorial power by a revolutionary assertion of individualism, or simply freedom. The catch phrase “do your own thing” was put into practice when women and men decided they no longer had to adhere to what designers put in front of them: people were creating their own styles to match their personalities and mood.
The most colorful, loud and expressive trends evolved from the outfits scavenged from thrift stores by hippies. Accessories dominated the looks, often overpowering the clothes in importance. Even affluent women adopted the hippy look in lavish fabrics, furs and jewels.
In 1969 fashion stretched, softened and became even more body conscious. Women wanted to look lean, linear and long. Both in Paris and in the USA, designers showed maxilengths. The long, lean line was the most obvious fashion trend that year. The “Skinny Sixties” closed appropriately as women looked for clothes that would give them a tall, slim body. Slender tunics, skinny long sleeves, low-rise pockets and belts, hip-hiding weskits and body-length cardigans helped fight a top-heavy look. Patchwork, Persian and Navajo rug motifs were seen everywhere. And the more fringes, the better.
It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that a fashion “revolution” occurred in the ’70s: polyester was the material of choice and bright colors were everywhere. Men and women alike were wearing very tight fitting pants and platform shoes. It is probably the first full decade in which women could be seen wearing pants in every walk of life. Medallions, butterfly collars, bell bottoms, skin-tight t-shirts, sandals, leisure suits, flower patterned dress shirts, and, yes, tennis headbands were seen everywhere.
Accessories were a vital part of the new look. Chokers, dog collars and handcrafted neck ornaments replaced standard jewelry. Some new jewelry embraced natural elements like wood, shells, stones, feathers, Indian beads and leather.
The silhouette in 1974 became significantly different: designers tried to change tight fitting, body hugging clothing styles into something a bit looser. People were relying on their trusty sweater, t-shirt and pair of jeans, and wore them nearly every day.
In 1977 fashion took on a softer attitude. Designers let clothes fall where they fell and chose to twist, tie and gather the fabrics. The importance of the soft textile cannot be understated. Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani brought glamour and attention back to Italy with high fashion success. But the most wearable of the new fashions came from Calvin Klein and Bill Blass, whose drawstring tops perfectly complemented a full dirndl skirt.
Bold gold, shiny satin and bareness of skin made up for the lack of body hugging clothing. Shirts were left unbuttoned, sleeves were rolled up and tops were often lacy, see-through and strapless.
The scarf was the accessory of the year, but it was not used to cover the hair. People let their hair grow naturally: tousled, curly, frizzy or straight, that women would adorn with colorful flowers or golden combs. And that defined the decade of “fashion freedom.”
Text by Gianluca Longo
Photo of Milan by Gabriele Basilico
Photos of the jewels by Bodha D’Erasmo & Gilda