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Grandma Had it Goin’ On: Your Guide to Vintage Fashion of the 1960s

Welcome back to all things vintage!  I hope since last week you’ve raided an old lady’s house for her secret stash of girdles and are ready for more.  We’ve covered the general how-to of buying vintage and the 1950s.  Today we tackle the decade of yeah, baby! and Jackie. When we put pill boxes on our heads at Church and then took them off to twist and shout. Get out your teasing comb and hairspray. As Tracy Turnblatt would say: welcome to the sixties!

The beginning of the decade was dominated by the look of America’s charming first lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Think boxy jackets and matchy-matchy suits with giant buttons. Think shifts with matching hats. Think sleeveless tops and Capri pants. And you betta tease that hair, girl.

Identifying a 1960s piece:

I’ll refer you to some of the same links I’ve used in the 1950s blog, so if some of this stuff looks familiar, that’s because it is.

1.  The zipper

The nylon zipper came into wide use during the 1960s, so your mod find may have a metal or a nylon zipper. In my own collection, I found a pretty even half and half breakdown of both, so you’ll need to use other clues for a definite 1960s identification.

2.  The seams

Taking a general look at my own stuff as a cross-sample, it seems that there were still plenty of raw seams in 60s garments, but finished edges were becoming a bit more prevalent. Seam tape and zig-zag edges make a more regular appearance.

3.  The style

EARLY 1960s – or The Camelot Look

Many are now very familiar with early 1960s looks, thanks to a drunken, handsome man named Mr. Draper and his cohort, the Redhead We All Fantasize About. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock, let’s get acquainted with the early sixties by looking at some patterns from a fab store, So Vintage Patterns.

An uber-typical early 1960s suit, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
An uber-typical early 1960s suit, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

You’re ready for work at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price in this neat little number.

1960s wiggle dress, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
1960s wiggle dress, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

An A-Line 60s style can be wonderful for the lady who doesn’t love that holdover hourglass shape from the 50s.

1960s A-line dress, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
1960s A-line dress, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

Let’s call this next one The Bahbwa.  Can’t you see Peggy Olsen in this?  Drop waists and sailor styles made a lovely appearance in the 60s.

1960s drop waist sailor-style dress, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
1960s drop-waist sailor-style dress, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

This next one is a Givenchy pattern of a look that utilizes the sleeveless look with a matching jacket. A great deal of the 60s stuff I find is in the way of matching dresses and jackets. Metallics were huge in this era. I have a cocktail set of my own below in bronze with mink trim. Green/ blue metallics are also very common finds.

1960s dress and coat set, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
1960s day dress and coat set, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
1960s vintage metallic cocktail dress and mink-trim coat set, from my collection.
1960s vintage metallic cocktail dress and mink-trim coat set, from my collection.
1960s vintage metallic cocktail dress, from my collection.
1960s vintage metallic cocktail dress, from my collection (no flash).
1960s vintage metallic cocktail dress/coat set label, from my collection.
1960s vintage metallic cocktail dress/coat set label, from my collection.

Here’s a very typical 60s green/blue combo.

Green and blue 1960s cocktail dress, courtesy of Dorothea's Closet Vintage.
Green and blue 1960s cocktail dress, courtesy of Dorothea's Closet Vintage.

Evening gowns were long, slim columns of glamour. This is an evening dress from AntiqueDress.com — note the long, almost-straight skirt; the lack of sleeves; and the bow. This sort of bow (in front or back)  is extremely common in the 60s, especially, I’ve found, in cocktail and evening dresses.

1960s evening gown, courtesy of AntiqueDress.com.
1960s evening gown, courtesy of AntiqueDress.com.

Here’s a shorter, homemade cocktail dress of mine done in adorable scarlet velvet, cream taffeta, and lace.

Red and cream 1960s cocktail dress, from my collection.
Red and cream 1960s cocktail dress, from my collection.
Detail of red and cream 1960s cocktail dress, from my collection.
Detail of red and cream 1960s cocktail dress, from my collection.

Coats were worn boxy and very forgiving.

1960s coat, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
1960s coat, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

This is a coat/dress matching combo of mine in hot pink. This pattern features another common design element of the 60s — the Peter Pan collar. Going through my stuff is one of the best parts of doing this blog. This fab pink number is plus size, as was the bronze set above. Plus size vintage does exist, by golly! Of course, I’m hoarding these particular ones…What? I’m a collector!

Hot pink 1960s vintage beaded dress/coat set, from my collection.
Hot pink 1960s vintage beaded dress/coat set, from my collection.
Hot pink 1960s vintage beaded dress, from my collection.
Hot pink 1960s vintage beaded dress, from my collection.
Bugle bead and silver thread detail, hot pink 1960s vintage beaded dress, from my collection.
Bugle bead and silver thread detail, hot pink 1960s vintage beaded dress, from my collection.
Inside detail, hot pink 1960s vintage beaded dress, from my collection.
Inside detail, hot pink 1960s vintage beaded dress, from my collection.

Mod

Pay attention now, ladies: all things Mod are back for 2012, because there is no new thing under the sun. This is a vintage style that can be done so easily and it rarely looks costumey.

The Mod look emphasized bold, contrasting colors with a mix of black and white. Pop-color tights were omnipresent as well, peeping out from under a hemline that ranged from short short to knee-length. Simple, streamlined shapes abounded, as did geometric shapes of squares, rectangles, and circles. New fabrics came into popularity, such as all manner of plastics, vinyls, leather, and even paper.

Here’s an A-Line Mod Anne Klein funnel neck dress pattern.

Anne Klein mod dress, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
Anne Klein mod dress, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

I would buy this dress in a New York second — a mod straight dress with built-in hood.

60s mod dress with hood, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
60s mod dress with hood, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

Here’s a Mary Quant dress with contract V-neck insert. Mary is one of the geniuses who invented the miniskirt and hotpants, liberating not only women, but their legs, too. A British fashion icon, she led the hip youth culture of the 60s and epitomized its vivacious appeal.

Mary Quant 1960s mod dress pattern, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.
Mary Quant 1960s mod dress pattern, courtesy of So Vintage Patterns.

Polyester became a thing in 60s wash-and-wear styles. These sorts of dresses hold up really well over time and can be great for not only collecting, but everyday wear. Here’s a delightful Alfred Shaheen poly sailboat dress.

Alfred Shaheen 1960s sailboat dress, courtesy of Dorothea's Closet Vintage.
Alfred Shaheen 1960s sailboat dress, courtesy of Dorothea's Closet Vintage.

Bling-bedecked empire-waist styles are something else you’ll find a lot of when hunting mod.

60s mod yellow cocktail dress, courtesy of Dorothea's Closet Vintage.
60s mod yellow cocktail dress, courtesy of Dorothea's Closet Vintage.

Woodstock

Although Woodstock happened mid-1969, I’m going to address hippie fashions in the 1970s piece, as it’s a crossover look that went well into the 70s.

4.  The label

I’ve provided a few label examples in this piece for your general reference. You can use the Vintage Fashion Guild label resource to look up quite a few of the labels you find and use them to date your garment.

This plaid dress is not for the faint of heart.

1960s California Girl plaid dress, from my collection.
1960s California Girl plaid dress, from my collection.
Label, 1960s California Girl plaid dress, from my collection.
Label, 1960s California Girl plaid dress, from my collection.

5.  The colors

Each decade has its own color palette, and the prevailing color scheme in your garment can help you date it. To get a feel for your favorite decade’s colors, I suggest browsing old magazines or vintage advertisements. Check out the Vintage Ad Browser. I’ve linked to the clothing-specific ads broken down by decade, 1790-2000. 1960s colors are not for the shy. If you hate screaming lime and orange, however, you can always go for a classic black and white color scheme.

Who should try out 1960s stuff?

Everyone, but of course! If you’re an hourglass girl, the wiggle dresses of the era were made for you. If you’re a sleeker sort, pop on a mod minidress. A boxy coat looks adorable over jeans. Mix and match is my mantra, ladies. Oh, and get a teasing comb, but try to avoid the Snooki.

Need some inspiration?

Channel Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair. If she could catch Steve McQueen, then she should clearly be our Goddess.

Faye Dunaway in The Thoman Crown Affair, courtesy of Silver Screen Modiste.
Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair, courtesy of Silver Screen Modiste.

Perhaps Nancy Kwan is more your cup of tea?

Nancy Kwan, courtesy of LA Weekly.
Nancy Kwan, courtesy of LA Weekly.

And I think we would all be better off adding a bit of The Supremes to our everyday lives.

The Supremes circa 1960s, courtesy of Vanity Fair.
The Supremes circa 1960s, courtesy of Vanity Fair.

How do you do the 60s, Persephoneers?

By Lucy Woodhull

Lucy Woodhull is a novelist, humorist, parodist, and all-around geek. Her new venture is THE SHITTIEST PRINCESS, a series of un-fair-y tales right here on Persephone. You can check out her sexy, fun romantic comedies at www.lucywoodhull.com.

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