A ’60s Fashion History Lesson: Mini Skirts, Mods, and The Birth of Boho

In a few short years, Saint Laurent would give the world icons of fashion—a word often employed but rarely accurate. First came his primary-colored shift dresses inspired by the geometric work of Piet Mondrian in 1965; Saint Laurent, not one of Swinging London’s designers, seemed to beat them at their own game in doing so. In 1966 came the gender-bending Le Smoking tuxedos for women. And in 1967, he delivered his safari-inspired collection, brilliantly documented with a memorable Richard Avedon snap of Veruschka. And Saint Laurent was only getting started.

Susan Moncur in Saint Laurent’s homage to Piet Mondrian cocktail dress, Fall 1965 Haute CouturePhoto: Alamy

YSL’s “First” pantsuit, Spring 1967 Haute CouturePhoto: Getty Images

Enter: Space Age

The Future Was Now

Though the United States went to the moon in 1969, it was years before that that space age fashions were launched. The era’s fascination with space exploration was expressed in a new style movement called Atomic and, in the fashion world, a crop of designers let their fancies take flight: André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, and Pierre Cardin. Gleaming aluminum foil-esque silver vinyl decorated a collection of PVC moon girl fashions for “Courrèges’ Spring/Summer 1964 ‘Space Age’ collection, which also featured ‘astronaut’ hats and goggles and mid-calf-length boots”. In 1966, Cardin released a collection of pinafore dresses that were worn over slinky knots and turtlenecks.

Photographed by Franco Rubartelli, Vogue, May 1968

Photographed by William Klein, Vogue, March 1, 1965

Enter Hippie Culture

Boho fashion takes hold

By the very end of the decade, heightened disapproval of the War in Vietnam and a call for civil rights birthed a movement rooted in peace and love. On college campuses, students were protesting the war. In Alabama, a series of three marches, the Selma Marches, in 1965 protested the blocking of Black Americans’ right to vote. In 1967, thousands of hippies converged in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district to commingle with the like-minded in what’s since been dubbed the Summer of Love. And in 1969, in upstate New York, the unprecedented multi-day Woodstock concert unfolded. Fashion meant bohemian maxi dresses in ditsy florals, loose and billowing silhouettes, and folkloric fashions with Eastern European ties.

The aesthetic was certainly considered a fashion for the sub-culture—though by the mid-1970s, emblems of the look turned up on runways.

Photographed by Patrick Lichfield, Vogue, November 1, 1969

Top Designers of the 1960s

Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki, Roberto Capucci,Pierre Balmain, Oleg Cassini, Rudi Gernreich, Norman Norrell, Nettie Rosenstein, Vera Maxwell, Hubert de Givenchy, Emilio Pucci, Claire McCardell, Bonnie Cashin, Pauline Trigère, Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Pierre Cardin