Women's fashions changed slowly but steadily in the early 1960s, heavily influenced by the styles of celebrities and public figures. While fashion was conservative and ladylike at the turn of the decade, bolder prints and patterns made their way into styles. Hats and gloves continued to be must-have accessories for women, but hemlines rose to just above the knee. Polyester and nylon were in use early in the 1960s, leading to more comfortable undergarments, swimwear and casual clothes.
In the early 1960s, women rarely wore slacks in public unless in a casual setting. Capri pants were an acceptable style at the time. The capri pants were form-fitting, narrow-legged trousers made of cotton, linen or a stretchy manmade fabric blend. Capri pants are cut either right above the ankle or at the leg's midpoint. Actress Mary Tyler Moore cemented their popularity during the 1960s by wearing them on TV when co-starring on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
The Little Black Dress
While the little black dress was first unveiled by Coco Chanel in 1926, Audrey Hepburn made it a necessity for stylish women by wearing one in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's. Worn with pearls, the dress was acceptable attire at dinner parties, restaurants, the theatre or night clubs. More formal occasions called for a longer version of the dress, accompanied by real or costume jewellery, gold or diamonds. Dress materials were silk shantung, chiffon, satin and polyester knits.
Stoles, preferably mink, were a must in women's fashion in the early 1960s. All about style and glamour, mink stoles finished an evening outfit. Stoles topped off an evening outfit and were affordable to women who could not manage the price of a full-length mink coat or jacket. Also made of velvet, satin and silk, textile stoles were often embroidered or had fringed ends. Brightly coloured satin linings were frequently used as a contrast or embellishment.
While all the clothing styles worn by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy were widely admired and copied by average American women during the early 1960s, the tailored suits she often wore during public appearances set the bar for women's ensembles. Copies of the original Chanel-designed suit, with a boxy jacket, oversized buttons and three-quarter-length sleeves was available in lightweight fabrics such as seersucker or linen or in heavier woollens and knits. Slim, shorter skirts completed tailored suits.
The shirtwaist dress, a style popularised during the late 1950s, continued through the '60s. The dress was originally designed to be form-fitting above the waist, with a matching belt and a bouffant skirt. Stripes, pastel solids and prints were featured on the shirtwaist, made of lightweight cotton or polyester. First worn below the knee, hemlines eventually rose and skirts narrowed. Collars, at first like those of a classic tailored shirt, also became larger.
Although it was invented in 1946, the bikini became a swimsuit style with the release of the movie Beach Party, starring Annette Funicello. The bikini brief of the early 1960s had a straight waistline cut just below the navel and a slightly rising leg line along the outside. The bra was sturdily constructed, with underwire support and padding to enhance cleavage. The straps were narrow and detachable or fastened behind the neck as a halter.
The beatnik fashion, another holdover from the late 1950s, was severe and monochromatic. Black dominated as a colour choice, and women wore simply-cut slacks and slim pencil skirts with black leotards. Capri and stirrup slacks, turtleneck tops or thin sweaters with small scarves tied around the neck were the predominant clothing choices, accompanied by simple, flat shoes and a black French beret. Jewellery was either minimalistic or large and chunky in subdued colours.