Changing Times, Fashion-Wise

I was born in 1951, and grew up in a time of great fashion revolution. When I was in grade school I had what they called in the ’50s a “Beatnik” shirt. It was a cotton top with short sleeves and a big pocket in the front like a kangaroo pouch. The colors were splashes of red, gray and black against a white background, and I LOVED it. That front pocket could hold everything from beach rocks to flowers, apples to cherry tomatoes, and once to my mother’s horror, a small toad.

Back then, every woman and girl wore hats to church, and Easter especially was a big hat day. We also wore white gloves, which always made me feel VERY grown-up. There is a picture of Dad and me in one of our  scrapbooks showing me dressed to kill in a woven white straw hat (that looked a little like I had a cake on my head), wearing a black and white checked dress with a white pinafore. On my feet were white socks, turned down once, and my lovely-but-necessary black and white saddle shoes. On my hands were the white gloves, and in the picture I am also carrying a tiny white straw purse. Dad is bent down so that his head was near my shoulder, smiling as if to say, “That’s my girl!”

In the 50s, poodle skirts were still popular, and I always liked to watch the teenage girls sashay along in them, their many petticoats making the skirts swish. Sweater sets, or “twin sets” (a shell, or what we’d call today a “tank top” with a matching cardigan sweater) were popular. The desired jewelry then was either a string of pearls, or a simple circle pin, or “sweater pins.” These last were usually matching enameled flowers, Scottie dogs, cats, butterflies and the like.

What fascinated me above all else at that time was the pointy bras women wore then. Honestly, it made females look as if they had strapped two missiles to their chests. Being breastless myself  at that time, I wondered why all those heavily armored girls didn’t fall forward on their faces.

Later on in the 60s came a huge fashion shift. The hippies, the Summer of Love, the slogans of the day:

  • Don’t trust anyone over 30
  • Make love, not war
  • Flower power
  • Keep on truckin’
  • Keep on keepin’ on
  • Right On!
  • Far out, man
  • Outta sight!
  • Funky
  • Groovy
  • Suppose they gave a war and nobody came

But the fashion industry especially was turned on its head. Girls and women stopped wearing bras, and girdles of any kind were tossed out like yesterday’s leftovers. Some women gave up panties as well. Stockings were out, tights were in. Enormous platform shoes, flowered dresses–either full-length or barely long enough to cover your underpants (if you were wearing any). Big floppy hats and tinted sunglasses were every-day wear. Then the  Beatles struck musical gold, and visited America. Then we all wanted to be British. Teenage girls quickly adopted the “Carnaby Street” look made famous by Mary Quant and Twiggy.

We wore long “granny gowns,” or mini-skirts with long tops and leggings. We cut up our old jeans to make short denim skirts, and we wore them with clunky leather boots. We loved flowery dresses in hot pinks, oranges and greens, and leather sandals that slapped as we walked. Boys wore the new collar-less Nehru jackets, the height of male fashion at the time.

It was both a fun and frustrating time, fashion-wise. I knew in my heart of hearts that I was no hippie, and the idea of “free love” scared the hell out of me. I also knew that I was putting on a persona each day; that my clothes didn’t necessarily reflect the real me. It took a long time to figure out my own look. Honestly, I felt I was a lot happier in my old Beatnik shirt and shorts.

It takes a lot of living and learning about yourself to discover your own style; that what works for you doesn’t necessarily represent the latest fashions. For example, here in New England, “L. L. Bean chic” is always in style; colorful anorak, jeans with the cuffs turned up, duck boots, a turtleneck with a sweater over it. But it took an awfully long time to step away from the dictates of the ‘fashion of the moment.’ There comes a time when you just decide what works for you, what you are comfortable wearing, and best of all–to just be comfortable in your own skin.

But looking back, it was fun to be part of that whole fashion revolution….what do YOU remember wearing during those times?




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