Men's and women's fashions continued in their parallel trends—both were heavily influenced by the art deco movement of the thirties—and the accent was on classic style with distinctive variations.
The costume party was over. Women didn't pile a five-tiered skirt over a dozen layers of crinoline, embroider every visible inch of blouse, bandanna their heads, and jangle on enough chain to scare Marley's ghost. Instead, they took it easy, picked a few things from the gypsy chest or the thirties or the sporting classics, and adapted the rest to suit. Clothes melted from authentic period stuff into 1969 natural and became more relaxed and more eclectic.
Shapes. Some people called it the year of the body, not because more anatomy was on display than even before, but because body-hugging clothes made the headlines. Gentle jersey shirtdresses went snug and were tied close at the waist or slimmed down with smocking. Long sweater-jackets slunk closer. Ribbing pulled everything closer. (The French discovered more curves by ribbing lean little pullovers under the bosom.) Cardigans wrapped, coats wrapped, dresses wrapped, skirts wrapped—and it all showed that the only structuring was the wearer's.
Bonnie and Clyde. The thirties toughness of the notorious Barrow Gang finally evolved into something softer, more natural. Limpid little butterfly-sleeved dresses V'd down to there. Chemises and wraps prevailed; a dress wasn't a dress unless it clung here and there and moved when she moved. Most were creamed out of cushy, clingy fabrics—crepe, panne velvet, babied knits, silk chiffon, jersey. Suits took it easy, too. Long blazers rode over ripple-pleated skirts and over pants with stalk-straight cuffed legs. Hip-long sweater-coats (sometimes mid-calf or ankle length) flapped over sweater-pants—both lean, both shaped to the body. Some dresses took up coats; some took up pants (and turned into tunic-dresses). Seen on the summer boardwalk were midriff blouses with long Dietrich pants or with Grable shorts; wide-strapped, clunky-heeled plat-form sandals, and out-and-out clogs.
Women rediscovered spooky old colors—murky darks, album-faded pales. Rediscovered, too, with a bang, were the funny prints of the 1930's—spots, geometries, flowers, wallpapery patterns, one-of-a-kind bolts printed with a flurry of little squiggles, waffles, acorns, jacquard knitting, Fair Isle knitting, and argyle, argyle, argyle.
Accessories. The thirties remained strong in accessories, too. Yards and yards of Isadora Duncan scarf were tied around the head or curled about the neck (or both), with ends flying a monogram. Heads were covered with little pops of stemmed berets. Jewelry looked like treasures from a thrift-shop window—old gold, mother-of-pearl, tortoise-shell, pearls that were seed small or soap-bubble big. Women carried slouchy shoulder bags, slim envelope, or enameled mesh purses on chains that did come from a thrift shop. Sheer shiny tights covered legs down into chunky-heeled spectators, ankle-strapped shoes, or well-heeled city sandals.
Art deco, by art nouveau out of the Bauhaus, was geometrical, asymmetrical, and wild. There were art deco prints, art deco pins in metal and flat enamels, art deco earrings shaped like junior pilots' wings. If one print wasn't pow enough, they slapped on a second and a third.
The sporting classics. Glen plaids, herringbones, houndstooth tweeds, foulards, Oxford shirt stripes—all made the scene, tailored with an aristocratic snap the duke of Windsor might envy. But for more snap, stripe and dot were struck against plaid in a very untraditional, very 1969 match. Knits and jersey softened crisp edges (part of the year's melting trend) in splashes of argyle, Fair Isle, and intricate jacquards.
To make the look, women popped on a shirt—a skinny, French polo, a shiny T-shirt, a close-cut body shirt—over a small skirt with built-in details. Skirts sported little tabs, buttons, accordion pleats, box pleats, or—best of all—stitched-down pleats. Lots of kilts were seen around, too. Women could backbone their wardrobes with wide trousers, cuffed and impeccably creased. To pull everything together, there was the vest. Vests came short (snug weskits that stopped at the waist), long (bottom-covering), and super-long (the vest-coat). There was one—fringed, mirrored, pin-striped, ribbed—for every persuasion.
New additions. Women lapped on layers of sweatering. Starting, for instance, with lean sweatery trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, they laid on a short-sleeved pullover (Paris especially loved layering sleeves in reverse like this.) Then, maybe, a sleeveless sweater-vest. Then a long-sleeved sweater-coat that swept all the way to the ground. Then a muffler. And a stretch of knit cap.
Leathers were lovely. Glazed crinkly patents, antiqued leathers, buckskins, and suedes were popular. For every real hide jacket, there was one in fake leather, trimmed with bogus fur, like the World War II aviator's jacket lapeled in fake shearling. Fake furs came collared in real furs. Real furs turned up belted or ruffed with other real furs.
France sent over two crowd-pleasers in time for springslickery cire battle jackets and jeans in new colors, vivid and pale, and in new fabrics—velours, uncut corduroy.
FASHION PICTURES YEAR BY YEAR
VINTAGE FASHION YEAR BY YEAR
POP CULTURE SLIDESHOWS
1950s Party Food