As a life-long Beatles fan, the 1960s holds a special place in my heart. Add the James Bond movies into the mix, and the broad range of 1960s menswear clothing and I’m in love with this iconic decade.
It’s easy to label something as being iconic, but in the case of the 1960s, it really does deserve it. So much happened during the ‘60s from the civil rights movement; the shocking assignations of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy; and of course, the Vietnam War. And that’s before we get on to the male fashion styles which we’re going to cover here. Fashions that emerged out of this changing time, and many which continue to live on today.
The 1960s is often referred to as the Swinging Sixties, perhaps on account of the bell-bottomed pants, which became all the rage towards the end of the decade. As a wearer of these flares myself during the late ‘90s, I can confirm to the garment’s swinging qualities.
So aside from bell-bottoms, what did men wear in the 60s? Please read on as I take you on a magical mystery tour through the wide range of 1960s menswear clothing that defined the decade and epitomized a generation.
1960s Menswear: Dress like Don Draper
During the early ‘60s, men were still dressing quite conservatively, certainly as far as business attire was concerned. I don’t think the sixties really started to swing until at least 1964.
For an example of 1960s fashion suits and what men would wear to the office, you need only to look at the television phenomenon, Mad Men, where the first season starts in March 1960.
Don Draper, played by the far too handsome Jon Hamm, is the perfect example of how a professional American man would dress.
Rather than opt for an English, European or Italian cut suit, Don Draper (or the costume department) preferred the classic American look, with a single-breasted sack jacket with narrow notch lapels, two buttons and a single-vent in the back. That’s not to say that all men were the same. You only need to look at Don’s more adventurous colleague, Roger Sterling, to see the extra sartorial flourishes that could be enjoyed in the early ‘60s.
Don Draper was like a lot of men of the time; a service veteran and keen to present a professional image. As a result, he kept his style of dress very consistent and understated, which is elegant in itself. Especially when you add the typical early 1960s men’s hairstyle of a short back and sides with a side part.
Get the look: Pair your single-breasted two buttoned suit in a muted color, with a plain textured tie, white dress shirt (with French cuffs so you can wear cufflinks). Add a simple white pocket square folded in your breast pocket, perhaps a tie clip if you’re feeling fancy, and highly polished black Oxford shoes. Complete the look with a nice felt Fedora hat on your head and a high-collared tan trench coat and you’ll be in charge of an advertising agency in no time.
For some awesome Mad Men artwork, take a look at Dyna Moe’s Mad Men Illustrated Tumblr page.
1960s Ivy League: Middle-class Mainstream
Despite first originating in the ‘50s (see our 1950s menwear article), the Ivy League style remained popular until at least the middle of the 1960s.
One of the poster boys for the Ivy League look was the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.
It’s refreshing, even now, to see a world leader looking so effortlessly stylish.
Usually, when politicians try to dress down to appeal to the public, it can look forced and awkward. But if there’s one thing JFK could do with aplomb was laidback sophistication.
Of course, JFK could dress formally when the situation demanded but he looked incredible in the Ivy League menswear staples.
The demise of hats is often blamed on JFK as he didn’t wear a top hat for his inauguration ceremony (JFK was actually pictured wearing one on the way to the ceremony, but he did remove it before addressing the crowd). In truth, hat sales were already in decline before JFK’s inauguration speech. It was most likely a natural progression, during what was a very progressive decade, where non-conformity became more encouraged as the decade got underway. Recommended reading: Hatless Jack by Neil Steinberg
Get the look: The Ivy League look is so easy to copy and still looks on-trend today; proving that style never goes out of fashion. For a typical Ivy look, reach for an Oxford shirt, add a Shetland sweater over the top and pair with chinos and penny loafer shoes. If it’s cold, add a tailored sports jacket or long wool overcoat for extra warmth.
For more 1960s menswear clothing ideas, get your hands on a copy of Take Ivy, a 1965 fashion photography book that documents the style of Ivy League students.
1960s British Mod: Dedicated Followers of Fashion
Over in Britain, young adults were looking for a way to stand out and be different, led by the legendary British guitar band, The Who and Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones. Influenced by the Ivy League look across the pond, they combined this with Italian fashions and the attire worn by movie stars such as the King of Cool, Steve McQueen.
Calling themselves Modernists or Mods for short, this youth sub-culture favored slim-fitting tonic and mohair suits with narrow pants and lapels, along with polo shirts, Oxford button-down shirts, chinos, argyle socks, Madras plaid shirts and penny loafer shoes. They also turned to the military surplus stores for unissued M51 US army parkas to protect their clothes while racing around London on Lambretta or Vespa Italian scooters.
Get the look: A cable knit jumper combined with a Harrington jacket will give you a classic Steve McQueen look. Add some well-pressed chinos and a pair of loafers and for extra cool points, try tortoiseshell wayfarer sunglasses.
For a more tailored outfit, a three-buttoned slim-fit suit with very thin notch lapels, a spearpoint collared shirt and a skinny knitted tie with make you look like Brian Jones. Add an M51 style parka and you will have nailed the British mod look.
1960s Beatnik: Wear it black
The Beat Movement was a popular youth subculture, attracting those with a creative disposition such as poets, writers, artists and musicians. The beatnik style was about dressing in a very simple and understated way.
Similar to the Ivy League look, the beatnik style also came to life in the ‘50s but it was the ‘60s where it really began to dominate.
Particularly popular in New York, Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol were the two beatnik poster boys, while The Beatles also became fans of the look with their turtleneck shirts.
The beatnik style had a romantic allure and appealed to those that desired a more bohemian lifestyle, perhaps as a result of a strict upbringing.
Get the look: The great thing about the beatnik style is how easy it is to achieve. So, what did beatniks wear in the 60s? Well I just hope that you like dark colors. To achieve the beatnik style, get yourself a pair of narrow black pants, a Breton t-shirt or a black turtleneck sweater and for an extra touch, a beret. You may have guessed from the beret that the beatnik style is quite Parisian in influence. Tres chic!
1960s Hippy: Flower Power
As the decade progressed further, the hippy movement sprung out in response to the opposition to the Vietnam War. Anti-establishment, anti-war and anti-violence, it had an ‘anything goes’ philosophy, with ideals including free love. Everything got bigger and longer; hair, collars, pant legs, and far-out psychedelic patterns.
The constantly evolving Beatles could be considered early leaders of this movement with their musical masterpiece, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Released in June 1967, at the beginning of what became known as the ‘Summer of Love’, it captured the mood rather well. Musical legend, Jimi Hendrix was another exponent of this style, embracing outrageous patterns and prints, scarves, bell-bottomed pants to create a truly distinctive image.
London’s Carnaby Street became the happening place to go and pick up some groovy clothing where velvet jackets and frilly shirts were the order of the day.
There was a big eastern influence for 1960s hippies, with Kaftan jackets, Indian prints and other ethnic fashions being worn.
The movie Easy Rider became the anthem for the hippy style when released in 1969, as people got set to roar into the 1970s.
Get the look: There are lots of 1960s menswear clothing for sale if you can spare some time to rummage in vintage and thrift stores. As well as a longer hairstyle, you will need a shirt with large collar in a crazy print or pattern. Flared pants are now the favored choice to cover your legs and on your feet should be a pair of Cuban heeled boots. Have fun adding a mix of loud colors and accessories where the rule book is torn to pieces and ‘anything goes’.
I hope you now have lots of 1960s menswear clothing ideas and have discovered that it wasn’t all hippies. Although they did stand out!