Living the Postmodern Condition

The sixties is a decade in which culture struck the masses in contrast to its former conservative, high brow, and elitist old ways.

For the first time in the 20th Century, British culture and specifically London, not Paris, became the centre of the fashion and the music world. The sixties is a decade in which culture struck the masses in contrast to its former conservative, high brow, and elitist old ways.

Young Brits’ frustration with the social hierarchy and their sincere desire to diminish class barriers are often listed as the primary drive to the movement. The British cultural invasion swept through all parts of life with the contraception pill bringing sexual freedom, homosexuality becoming legal, and rigid media censorship relaxing leading to the birth of British New Wave. These developments translate into new ways of art, music, film, literature, theatre, and what concerns us here: Fashion.

Stretching from the post-WWII period and epitomised in the Sixties— although many scholars hold that postmodernity started after 1990, this broad movement is truly in the eye of the beholder. Philosophers, economists, historians, and art theorists provided a wealth of work and theories about its routes, raison d’être, patterns, purposes, and practices. Opinions varied so drastically and split into two main schools of thought: the first consisted of avid admirers and romantics often referring to it as the golden age of individual freedom, pop culture, and love. On the other end of the spectrum, we find a counter team of mainly American conservatives and Thatcherians regarding it as the decade in which traditional moral, family values, obedience to authority, and discipline diminished.

In his 1998 book The Sixties, Arthur Marwick describes the typical list in which a person from the first team would include in defining the decade:

‘black civil rights; youth culture and trend-setting by young people; idealism, protest, and rebellion; the triumph of popular music based on Afro-American models and the emergence of this music as a universal language, with the Beatles as the heroes of the gage; the search for inspiration in the religions of the Orient; massive changes in personal relationships and sexual behaviour; a general audacity and frankness in books and in the media, and in ordinary behaviour; relaxation in censorship; the new feminism; gay liberation; the emergence of the ‘the underground’ and ‘the counterculture’; optimism and genuine faith in the drawing of a better world.’

Love it or hate it, the sixties is a marvellous decade for many reasons and especially, for what mainly concerns Bad Accents, fashion. In fact, it is one of the most confusing to pinpoint as it evolved so rapidly and contained an array of social networks constituting new tribes with distinct cultural codes.

Seeds of Change

The journey starts from the late fifties. These were times in which ubiquity of mass broadcasting and production, the rise of a global economy and a shift from manufacturing to service economies prevaled. The explosion of technologies gave housewives a new found freedom as they had so much time to spare. The newly established reality of the United States being a global superpower had, for the first time ever, all eyes turn to America for fashion inspiration.

Source: Imgur. "Historical-ish Photos." Imgur. 22 May 2017. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

Source: "THE SWEATER GIRL." Pinterest. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

Source: "Marilyn Monroe." Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, 28 Apr. 2017. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

The journey starts from the late fifties. These were times in which ubiquity of mass broadcasting and production, the rise of a global economy and a shift from manufacturing to service economies prevailed. The explosion of technologies gave homemakers a new found freedom as they had so much time to spare. The newly established reality of the United States being a global superpower had, for the first time, all eyes turn to America for fashion inspiration.
‘The American Look’ was worn by women across the world as a symbol of prosperity and the new way of being. It consisted of pastel Twinsets and tight tops paired with mid-calf pencil skirts or exaggerated full skirts for the newly established market of Teenagers. These looks became popularised by style icons of the decade such as American first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the Hollywood ‘sweater girls’ Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, and Jayne Mansfield.

The Chelsea Set

Back in Britain, young people enjoyed a new climate of relaxed censorship in the arts and drastically changing social norms. There was a particular area that expressed the vibe of the early sixties: the Chelsea area with fashion stores popping on both sides of King’s Road. One boutique, in particular, played a central role in 60’s style. It was called Bazaar and belonged to British fashion designer Mary Quant who had a sharp eye for new trends and built a career on creating fashion inspired by what young people wore on the streets.

“It is given to a fortunate few to be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. In recent fashion there are three: Chanel, Dior and Mary Quant.”— Ernestine Carter

Bazaar originally opened in 1955. Collectively, along other stores located in Chelsea area were referred to as the ‘boutiques’— famous for selling anti expensive fashion. The Boutique owners detested the New Look by Christian Dior and its “proper ladylike” ways. Their response was to make clothes building new meanings in parallel to the social revolution they were living and equally creating.

“The old line goes that if you can remember the 60s you weren’t there, but it’s probably more truthful to say – you were there, only you didn’t hang out in Carnaby Street, have your clothes made by Mr Fish or trip on acid while driving a Lotus Elan. You didn’t swing.” — Anthony Quinn for the Guardian

In addition to creating an entirely new way of dressing, boutiques owners mixed with painters, photographers, architects, writers and socialites. All the parties and events took place in Chelsea creating a new air of chic bohemia and made them the essence of cool. This group of people were then referred to as the Chelsea Set.

“Walk down Chelsea’s King’s Road today and you wouldn’t believe it used to be the sexiest, grooviest street on earth. Well it was. In the 1960s, especially on Saturdays, it was like going to heaven without having to die first. Fabulous looking people, outrageously beautiful clothes, very extraordinary, very this week. There had never been clothes like that, never hair like that, never people like that either.” — David Robson

Source: MajorCalloway. "Carnaby Street London 1960s." Flickr. Yahoo!, 08 Apr. 2010. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

Source: Bertin, Vivian. "My Style." Pinterest. 30 Apr. 2015. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

It has never been entirely cleared out whether Mary invented the Mini skirt or not. In fact, she didn’t believe so herself as she thought girls on the streets created them. What we do know though is that it was Mary to name it after her favourite car the Mini Cooper. The hemlines she was selling kept on getting shorter, and she even turned up in 1966 at Buckingham Palace to collect her OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), wearing well, you guessed it: a mini skirt!

Along with the Miniskirt, women in the early sixties wore shift dresses that were meant for casual wear for home, running errands or going to the beach. These dresses were not office friendly. They were too short. The more the decade progressed, however, the shorter hemlines became. How short a woman’s dress became an indication of how fearless she was (not necessarily that she had great legs). Hem length was directly proportional to how women felt about their sexual liberation, and short skirts were no longer meant to attract men for the sake of sexual interest, but instead were a way to draw attention so that a woman could be decision maker if his attention were wanted. Sexual power through fashion at its best!

The Dollybirds

An overarching 60’s theme is a return to youth. Young adults notably experimented with the nostalgic notion of celebrating missed childhood memories and experiences — a natural reaction as more than fifty percent of the American and Western European population were under the age of twenty-five, owned a sizable disposable income, and were fed up with being treated as adults while growing up in the fifties.

Source: Makeup.vidalondon.net. "Twiggy Lawson Makeup." Makeup Vidalondon.

The look was championed by Lesley Hornby, aka Twiggy. Androgynous with a 45 Kg frame, big eyes, and a bob, Twiggy became an international brand as she embodied the spirit of the 60’s inside and out. The whole idea was that to wear such short skirts; you ought to be a child. The combination of making her face look like a baby with big bird eyes, pink cheeks, a miniskirt and a sexual attitude screamed at you: Lolita!

Besides wearing trousers, shorter hemline and adapting the Baby Doll look, another major category came to play in 1963: The Bikini. Mainstreamed by a famous film of the period titled Beach Party, the bikini is embraced and becomes acceptable after twenty years from its invention.

Hair and makeup also followed the fifties at the beginning with hairstyles being stiff with atomic shapes and used a large quantity of hairspray (hence the musical Hairspray) like the flip hairdo and the bouffon. Makeup started with the cat eye and false eyelashes and slowly progressed to the “dolly bird look” that emphasised the eyes. Women created spidery lashes with thick coats of black mascara or stuck-on false eyelashes. Eye shadow colours included bright blue, green, or space-age silver.The edges of the eyes were accented even more with a thick black liquid liner. By contrast, the look for lips was pale but shimmery. Lipsticks came in a wide range of sugary pinks

Source: Jones, Mindy. "Retro Beauty Ads." Pinterest. 10 Dec. 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

While we had to wait until 1969 to land on the moon, there was, from the mid-sixties on, a rough mix of contradicting feelings of excitement, fear and need for escapism generated by the global space race and the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Designers such as the French André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne (credited for designing the costumes of the classic sci-fi film Barbarella), and Italian-born Pierre Cardin got inspired by space exploration and the advancement of technology that came along with it. These designers used synthetic material extensively which allowed them to create the look boxy shapes and bold accessories.


By 1964, something specific was about to happen that would place Britain as the nation of cool forever. The Beatles, who were already established in England, landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport with thousands of screaming teenage girls and flocks of reporters ready to question the four lads. This reception was a result to a very aggressive marketing campaign financed by Capitol Records, who just signed the group, and read “The Beatles Are Coming.”
They then appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, and a whopping 70 million people turn to their TV to watch them. Two days later they had their first U.S concert at the Washington Coliseum, and the rest was history: “Beatlemania” became a reality.

Source: "The Beatles Stream 50 Million Plays in the First 48 Hours on the Web." Indie Shuffle.

These were wonderfully poetic times where the seeds to a “Mini Renaissance” are planted. It was a time of celebrating individuality, cultural exchange, love and freedom. Everything was pushed to its extreme, and along with it came a shift in the prevailing notion of beauty as a value was changing too. Although perceptions of the ‘ideal beauty’ are quite dynamic and have been subject to change throughout times, places, and races, people have never mistaken them with personality traits. Beauty before the 1960s was about the natural physical appearance one is born with, the way you look thanks to your DNA. By the time the decade almost reached its half, the general consensus about beauty as a value have had shifted immensely. Suddenly, you ought to be fashionable to be beautiful. Beauty was now referring to the way you carried yourself and the way you are presented with your makeup, fashion, and beauty care.

Marwick looks into this shift extensively in the opening of the Chapter: The Truth About Beauty:

‘Openness’, ‘explicitness’, ‘frankness’ are words I have used several times to define the characteristically new attitudes of the middle and later sixties. These words apply very strongly to the way in which personal appearance was re-evaluated. Traditionally, ‘beauty’ had been a matter fraught with confusion and ambiguity. There was a great reluctance to make a rational distinction between beauty of physical appearance and beauty as denoting the highest moral virtue, or beauty as used with reference to a person’s personality or character. Guides on personal appearance go well back into the past, and were wont to console those whose external appearance might not be all that was desired with the advice that provided they made every effort, their ‘inner beauty’ would shine through.

This new way of looking at beauty is evident when examining the array of styles and fashion of the mid-sixties. While young people experimented with fashion as a reaction to their new found freedom and the new wave of nonconformity, fashion businesses and advertisers urged that insight, and the cycle of trends and the creations of new personas became faster, shorter, and bolder.

To get a sense of how prominent the role of fashion became by the mid sixties, it is worth looking at the 1966 French film by William Klein: French: Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? (in English Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?)
Klein combines an editorial aesthetics with an almost documentary-style visual language to follow a fashion model’s weathering of intense media and public attention. The film aims to highlight the ridiculous pretensions of the fashion industry a newly found mass obsession with fashion. Many think that the character of the fashion editor is about Diana Vreeland— Harper’s Bazaar writer, American Vogue editor-in-chief, and as a special consultant at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The film has a pure anarchic zeal. It is a relentless film, and it uses editing and alternative narratives to instal the mostly negative look at the fashion industry with some play.

By 1967, abortion became a legal practice and homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain which translated into all parts of London and was quite evident in the theatre. It was especially interesting to see how young models are now taking part in the street theatre. These young girls, dolly birds— dolly as they were baby doll dresses and birds referring to their fake long lashes, enjoyed their newly found sexual freedom and expressed it with boots and hot pants. By that time, the space age was gradually replaced by Edwardian style, with men wearing double-breasted suits of crushed velvet or striped patterns, brocade waistcoats and shirts with frilled collars and their hair worn below the collarbone. Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix epitomised this “dandified” look. Women were inspired by the top models of the day which included Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Colleen Corby, Penelope Tree, and Veruschka.

Pop Culture References

Mad Men

If you want to get a feeling of the early years of the decade, and by any chance, you haven’t seen Mad Men, then we urge you to do so. Mad Men (Mad for Madison and Men referring to the advertising executives working at offices in Madison Avenue New York) is a beauty feast set around the life of Don Draper — an Advertising phenomena with dashing looks and haunting swagger.
The story takes place in a typical American office of the early 1960 and along its seven seasons, it gives us a very intimate view on the social psychology of the time. Not to mention an incredible documentation of culture (often with Sinatra and later on the Beatles in the background) from fashion, music, and dominant brands to design.

Source: "Mad Men Season 6 Premiere: How To Throw A '60s-Themed Party." Guest of a Guest.

In her Guardian review of the series, Sarah Hughes describes it as ‘complicated, compelling and, just occasionally, corrosive television… It doesn’t shy away from cataloguing the casual sexism, racism and homophobia of the era, nor does it try and pretend that its main characters are perfect or even perfectly flawed. It is serious in intent and light in execution. That’s a hard trick to pull off and it’s ultimately why this is a series worth watching.’

The Ipcress File by Sidney J. Furie 1965 starring Michael Caine

In London, a counter espionage agent deals with bureaucracy while investigating the kidnapping and brainwashing of British scientists. The thriller represents the anarchist air sweeping London in the Mid Sixties as Caine embodies the antithetic character of James Bond: a working class maverick outsmarts his deceitful handlers with great ingenuity. While Bond used as a metaphor for the fantasy of Britain’s power, Palmer (Caine) wins the sixties game on merit and not breeding.

Source: Shrijith, Sachin. "The Ipcress File (1965) – The Anti-James Bond Film from a Bond Producer." Projected Perspectives. 29 Sept. 2015.

Blow Up film by Michelangelo Antonioni 1969

Blow-Up is Antonioni’s first English-language production. It follows Thomas a London photographer who spends his time behind the wheel chasing dolly birds and then photographing them in his studio. The film is a documentation of the swinging sixties and its moral dilemmas. While it was shot at the second half of the decade, it is a film that forces us through its maddening narrative to see how a man rethink his relation to reality, the reality of living the sixties with all its glory.

Clip from the film

Goodbye Baby & Amen: A Saraband for the Sixties 1969

Source: "Maharam Stories - Goodbye Baby & Amen: A Saraband for the Sixties by Emily King.

Source: "Maharam Stories - Goodbye Baby & Amen: A Saraband for the Sixties by Emily King.

Source: "Maharam Stories - Goodbye Baby & Amen: A Saraband for the Sixties by Emily King.

Created by David Bailey, the beautiful photos show the highlights of the sixties entertainment media. The book covers music, acting, and outstanding people who all helped to make England swing, and contributed to make the sixties truly unique. Each photo also includes written coverage on each item. Figures that are covered includes The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Brigitte Bardot, Twiggy, Julie Christie, Catherine Deneuve, Julie Driscoll, Marianne Faithfull, Mia Farrow, Andy Warhol, Bill Brandt, Jane Birkin, Jeanne Moreau, Mary Quant, Michael Caine, Penelope Tree, David Frost, Jim Dine, and many others.

The Man Who Sold The World

Source: David Bowie "The Man Who Sold The World " Vinyl LP w/ RARE DRESS COVER {Very Limited} Mercry U.K. Reissue

The iconic photograph of Bowie sporting a man-dress that was designed by Mr Fish on the cover of the album, which evoked pre-Raphaelite paintings, showed him sprawled effeminately across a chaise longue in a silk dress. The image was considered so controversial that the record was given a different cover for its US release.

Final thoughts

At times it feels as if the sixties never happened. The whole reevaluation of the Western value system and the rejection of the linear cultural state may have gone in vain. That sixties air of scepticism, the rejection of grand narratives, and the belief that knowledge and truth are mainly socially constructed is very much missed and needed today. The contrast of how innovative the sixties were and the static mode in which we live in today, is mind boggling. Imagine the fun of taking part in life that reinvents itself on a weekly basis along with ways of being, living, seeing, and hearing? Or are we doomed to live with ideas that are representations and copies of each other with no real, original, stable or objective source of communication and meaning to?

We would love to leave you on a happy note with one of the best songs in the world and belonging to 1965: Like a Rolling Stone by one of our heroes Bob Dylan.

“Like a Rolling Stone”’s intended audience saw themselves as the subject, the “you,” at the same time they were being shaken by their country’s violence in the mid- to late-1960s. Many were preparing to seek radical change in so many ways, and that idea was both scary and liberating. “Like a Rolling Stone”’s refrain, “How does it feel / To be on your own? / With no direction home,” quickly became prophetic to them. It was a call to liberation. —Steve Rosen

Bob Dylan and The Band - Like A Rolling Stone

fin. . .