Cyclical Trends: Self-discovery in the 60s

Katie O’Brien takes a closer look at how music and politics influenced fashion in the 1960s

The sixties were a decade of self-discovery and self-expression, due to the previous four decades having been engulfed in pre and post war dilemmas, meaning enjoyment and possessions for certain people were at an all time low. It has been common belief that the true meaning of what we now know as the “teenager” was not fully developed until the sixties. The sixties brought a new sense of youth, and this new youth brought a new sense of style too. 

That being said, the last four decades were packed to the brim with uncertainty and the sixties were truly no different, but the approach the new youth had towards this uncertainty is what felt different. Music had become a lot more politically inclined with most bands and artists taking a political stand both in their music and everyday life. This decade gave a new approach to how we view celebrities and their use of their platform for activism. And whilst teenagers were out emulating and taking part in their favourite artists’ cause, they were also actively emulating their style. 

 The hardships of times before seemed to have been shed and reborn in new fashion trends.

Many countries had different approaches to how these new, fun-loving teenagers were dressing: England gave birth to the Mod style and with it the mini skirt through the ever-timeless designs of Mary Quant. Hem lines became shorter and colour (or lack thereof due to the popularity of monochrome) became louder and more impactful. The hardships of times before seemed to have been shed and reborn in new fashion trends. America had the summer of love with many people becoming heavily influenced by the Woodstock festival and the relaxation of fashion brought by a summer of new music and new drugs to go with it. The “hippie” aesthetic was full of loose-fitting light clothing of all colours with an androgenous sense to it with men and women typically dressing alike. The Mod style is a lot more constructed both in structure and also in gender compared to the relaxedness of the hippie style. 

The politics of these artists, especially ones of a “folk” nature, really emulated the side and classes they were fighting for. With artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young sporting denim working class clothing whilst telling the narrative of the hardships being felt in their home and in themselves which was something people could emulate and relate to. The sixties brought great fun and life to clothing but at the same time people were still suffering from the past and certain artists made this their influence and brand, playing and writing for demographics who could relate to what they were feeling and thus relate to how they were dressed. Bands like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were making comments on policies and politics as a whole but artists like Dylan were commenting and looking for a shared alliance with their classes, they were commenting on politics but on more of a ground level social commentary rather than grouping as much as they could together. The likes of the Stones and Zeppelin wore trendy, bright and sometimes expensive clothing on stage influencing their fans whereas Dylan and Young were already dressed as their followers with less attention paid to looks.

The sixties were an accumulation of so many aesthetics and ideals but one thing that united them all was a shift of change in all directions of fashion, music and politics.