Women’s 1960s fashion was an extreme style and attitude from the start of the decade to the end. In the early years, the fashion idol was Jackie Kennedy with her perfect white pearls and tailored suit dresses. By the middle of the decade, supermodel Twiggy had women freeing their minds and bodies into clothing that didn’t require any extra thought or effort. From modest to “there is no such thing as too short,” 1960s fashion was in many ways like the 1920s flapper revolution. But it didn’t happen overnight.
Women’s 1960s Fashion Summary
- Jackie Kennedy, Brigitte Bardot, Mary Quant were fashion icons
- The Youthquake movement created “Babydoll” clothing
- Short, shapeless shift dresses in bright colors and psychedelic swirls for the Mod look
- Button-down shirts, turtlenecks, chunky knit sweaters for casual outfits
- Mini skirts or pencil skirts in plaid
- Jax pants, stirrup pants, bell bottoms, pantsuits
- Low heels flats, boots and shoes made of vinyl
- Stockings or tall socks in all colors
- Pop Art Jewelry
- Short bobbed hair or long straight hairstyles
- Hippie fashion – Blue jeans, ethnic clothing
1960s Fashion Icons
Jackie Kennedy’s style was clean, simple, well fitted, with perfectly matched accessories. She wore dresses without collars and jackets that buttoned only with one large top button. She wore sensible low heel shoes (although many women still preferred high heels). She was the last woman to wear hats, a pillbox hat, as a necessary fashion. Jackie O’ put a lot of care into her look, and women in the USA and abroad copied her style with enthusiasm.
Sadly, after her husband’s assassination, Jackie was no longer in the public eye. Women had to find a new 1960s fashion idol to be inspired by.
Brigitte Bardot was that woman. She was Jackie’s opposite. Jackie was put together, simple and modest. Brigitte was tacky, cheap, bold, and even silly. Her 1959 pink gingham wedding dress with white lace trim was so unexpected that gingham and lace quickly became a new trend.
Mary Quant was another 1960s fashion influence. Her style moved away from “grown-up fashion” to playful “youth” driven. Her shift dresses were short, very short, and her prints were bold and colorful “mod” prints. Her fashion, her personality, set the tone for the rest of the 1960s as “fashion-is-fun.”
It was the whole idea of a return to childhood that drove most of the fashion in the 1960s. Oversize collars, bows, and delicate trim miniaturized women and made them appear smaller. Shapeless mini dresses de-emphasized a woman’s natural form. The flat and boxy look took away women’s curves and made them little girls once more.
Kitten heel pumps, Mary Jane strap shoes and flat sneakers were all childhood shoes returned to the ’60s youth quake culture. It was no coincidence that a young culture had a lot to do with half the American population being under 25 and with European countries having a similarly large youth population, too. After growing up in the ‘50s as “little adults” the youth embraced their fond early childhood memories and fashions. By children’s fashion, we mean babies and toddlers. The “babydoll” look was incorporated into dress, hair, and makeup.
The full skirt and tight bodice of the ‘50s swing dress continued in the early ’60s, with a slightly above or at the knee hemline. Colors and patterns were bigger, brighter and streamlined with plain modest necklines and short cap sleeves. This full-skirted look didn’t leave fashion in the 1960s, instead, it carried through to the 1970s in a paired down, less fluffy form.
The other style of early 60s dresses was the contoured sheath dress. Like the 50s version, it was knee-length, modest, and simple but tailored to the hourglass curve of the body. By 1963 the sheath was losing its tight curves (a welcome relief) and relaxing into the shift dress.
The shift dress lacked any sort of tailored waistline but did pinch in slightly around the ribs and skimmed over the hips to just above the knee. This loose but narrow looking dress was very comfortable and easy to wear. It became the primary women’s dress style of the 1960s.
Skimmer dresses were a cousin of the shift dress. They fit straight on the body with a high neckline and usually a belt to define the waist but not shape it. They “skimmed” the body without touching the skin. They also hovered above the knee.
The drop waist dress was a 1920s throwback where the skirt circled the low hip and dropped to the knee. It was a bit more fitted than the shift dress with a gathered or pleated skirt. It seems to have been favored by mature women who were more used to a tailored fit.
1960s dresses became shorter and shorter. Anything above the knee was a “mini skirt.” How short a woman’s dress became a sign of how confident she was (not necessarily that she had great legs). Hem length was directly proportional to how women felt about their own sexual liberation. Short skirts were not meant to attract men for the sake of sexual interest, but instead were a way to attract attention so that a WOMAN could be the one to decide if his attention was wanted. Sexual power through fashion.
The jumper dress was a Mary Quant invention that captured the youthful, playful, side of 1960s fashion. That style immediately made a 20-year-old look 10, a welcome change from the ’50s mature fashion. Big bows, large round collars, pastels, and polka dots were all dress details that made women look like little girls’ dolls. The more innocent the better.
Colors and prints were at first inspired by the pop art and modern art movements aka “Mod”. Checkerboard, horizontal stripes, windowpane, polka dots, colorblock, honeycomb, and Campbell’s soup cans were all placed on short shift dresses with contrasting white cuffs and collars. Black and white were especially MOD.
Psychodelic swirls and prints introduced a trippy edge to clothing that was picked up by the hippies around 1966-1968. Being over the top was never too much. Large paisley swirls. Neon flower daisies. Tropical beach prints. Bright yellow, orange, hot pink, lime green were the favorites. These bold colors and loud patterns were seen on dresses, skirts, tops, and pants.
There was also a trend of earth tone colors, especially as the decade moved toward the hippie movement. Moss green, earthy browns, mustard yellow, and burnt orange were common colors year-round.
See more examples of vintage 1960s dresses here.
For swanky cocktail parties, the party look was the 60s was the same short shift, tent and skimmer dresses in luxury fabrics and mostly black … or white. The two-piece jacket dress was a classic with mature ladies. For the young, dressy shell tops and cigarette pants, were a welcome change from dresses. In the late 60s, wide-leg jumpsuits became a type of hostess dress, acceptable for evening house parties.
Pastels were also worn in the summer and rich jewel tones in fall. Lace was a popular fabric as well as velvet or a classic light crepe. Most were undecorated but some had braid and metallic mesh trim around the necks and hems. Minimal was the look to achieve.
For evenings and prom, the choice was between short or long empire waist dresses. Usually sleeveless, the longer dresses were shaped like a column with pleats at the back. The top was often a contrasting lace or damask material cinched in with a bow on the front or back. Short evening dresses looked the same, just shorter. Many were tent shaped or A-line instead of the slim column shape.
Learn more about 1960s cocktail party/evening wear/wedding party.
1960s Tops, Sweaters, Coats
Tops, shirts, blouses, and sweaters all took direction from casual clothing in the 1950s. The primary change was that shirts and sweaters now fit straight on the body with no emphasis on the bust or waist.
Tops could also be worn untucked, gasp! They hung out over pants and skirts and grew longer as the decade advanced. Necklines also grew higher, back to the modest look of the 1930s.
The mock neck blouse or knit shirt was a classic. Sleeveless in summer, called shells, the fit was always boxy. Made of knit, they were casual solid tops worn with pants and shorts. Long sleeve black turtlenecks were a uniform of the Beatniks in London, but in the USA horizontal stripes were worn by every young person.
Big roll collars, round peterpan collars (often in contrasting white), big bows, and pointed shirt collars called attention to a thin neck and short hair. Button up shirts took on the look of menswear with round or straight hems, oversized collars, and bold prints. Bright colors and big prints made colorful statements when paired with a solid color matching pant.
Knitted sweaters were usually a solid color pullover or boxy cardigan style. ’60s knitwear designs favored texture: thick textured cable knits and wide rib knits. Many had large fold-out collars and oversized roll necks. Cardigans were usually collarless with some unique print in the early to mid-50s such as small argyle, checks, chevron and florals.
For winter wear, a good wool coat was still necessary. 1960s women’s coats narrowed down and shorten up to fit over new, thinner, clothes. Round collars with big buttons, flap pockets, geometric prints and maybe a belt kept them looking cute and fun. They came down to just above the knee so that long lean legs would continue to be the focal point.
Short jackets, especially those made of suede and leather, were popular options for the young and casual. Shiny plastic-like vinyl was even more trendy with the space-age loving mod set. Most women, however, chose a blazer type jacket that was dressy enough to be worn with dresses but also casual pants on the weekends.
1960s skirts came in at the knee lengths with classic circle skirts/swing skirts, straight pencil skirts, and box-pleated a-line skirts (school girl style) in the early to mid 60s. Plaid patterns were very popular in the fall and winter and solid pastels in spring and summer.
The late 60s saw the first shocker- the mini skirt- enter fashion. Mini skirts were 4-6 inches above the knee in box pleats or a-line button front shapes. Plaids, pleats, corduroy, and heavy knits were perfect for minis. They were worn with tights and tall go go boots by teens and trendy college-age girls.
Mature women didn’t wear minis. They went the opposite directions- longer! Button front knee-length skirts, knee-length skorts, and at the knee denim skirts were all newer options for women.
The maxi skirt came about at the end of the decade too. Women and girls of all ages loved them. They were gathered at the waist, sometimes with a tie bow, and hung down in a column shape. They took inspiration from prairie dresses and were made in hippie loving calico prints or swirly psychedelic eye poppers. In the evenings they were quilted or made with shiny taffeta fabrics.
The 1960s style skirt has returned to fashion this year. Shop mini skirts, a-line skirts, long maxi skirts, denim skirts and more.
Jax pants with a very high waist, shaped hip and slender leg continued to be favorites from the 1950s. They were usually lined, side zippers, and without a waistband. They could be worn with bloused tucked in but more often with longer tops untucked. Crop tops were a favorite in summer. Never too short, but long enough to overlap the pants waistband.
The stretch pant and stirrup pant took advantage of a new kind of knit fabric. Easy to sew and wear, the elastic stirrup under the foot kept pants smooth and straight. It didn’t matter that the stirrup was visible. When ankle boots came into fashion, suddenly visible stirrups were taboo. Boots must be worn!
All pants came down to just above the ankle until the late ’60s when longer pants became the new trend. They also still zipped up the back or side for most of the decade but moved to the front for trousers and jean styles.
Pants were high waisted (circling the belly button) except for the youthful hip hugger styles that appeared in the mid 60s. They were more popular in Europe than America, and very trendy with the Mods and Beatniks.
Denim jeans followed the fit and style of slim pants: high waist, tapered leg, ankle crop, and in many more colors than just blue. White was especially trendy. Blue jeans were not as common as you might expect. They somewhat disappeared in the 1960s only to return with a vengeance in 1969 with a flared boot cut.
Flare jeans and pants may have started in the 1960s but didn’t go mainstream until 1969 and into the 1970s. There were a few casual flared leg pants designed as early as 1967 but for the most part, flared jeans and bell-bottom pants were not part of the 1960s. Even the hippies wore straight-leg pants in the 1960s.
Women’s suits, like the 50s, were dresses (or skirt and top separates) worn with a matching short jacket. They were the professional choice for looking polished and lady-like. Mature women liked the tailored suits with pencil skirts and cropped jackets while young women embraced the knit suit with an open cardigan style jacket or light blazer.
As shocking as a mini skirt was to society, there was an equal confusion over the new pantsuit. It was a look directly copied from men’s suits but tailored down to feminine proportions. Some work offices and establishments forbade women to wear pantsuits. There was confusion over whether they were an insult to femininity or empowerment for women (and that it disrespected men). While 1960s fashion magazines debated, women flocked to the stores to buy them. They were already wearing casual pants everywhere else, wearing dressy pants seemed only natural.
1960s Shoes and Stockings
With legs now fully exposed by short hemlines and the youthful girl look on-trend, shoes took a drastic turn from high fashion with high heels to street fashion with low to no heels. Flats were in. Cheap was in. Color was in. Sophistication was out.
Thanks to new materials, PVC (Vinyl), shoes could be mass-produced for cheap and come in a lot of bright colors to match dresses. The low heel made them easy to walk in and live life in. All the designs of the earlier decades– loafers, Mary Janes, T-straps, monk straps, ballet, saddle shoes, and oxfords were designed into a low heel shoe for the ’60s.
Tall and skinny stiletto heels were still an option for evenings. The single strap mary jane came back in fashion as did the slingback with cutouts on the sides.
Even boots had flat heels. Thanks to an interest in all things futuristic looking, tall boots in white or silver became the new black. Everyone wore them. They looked great with short dresses and skirts. The tall white boots were called go-go boots, named after night club dancers in LA who wore them. Teens loved them and wore them with mini skirts to school (if they were allowed.)
In the late 60s boots in natural colors, brown and suede leather dominated fall and winter fashions. Both tall and short styles were worn with short shift dresses. Booties could be worn with long pants too.
In the summer it was the sandal heel, flip flop, and mule that had women feeling cool in the heat. Colors were bright and the straps were wide or very skinny. Sandal heels had a closed square toe whereas casual sandals had a large open toe. Sandals were every women’s new favorite shoe. They could be worn with almost any outfit at any time of day, and not look out of place.
Casual shoes were canvas flat sneakers that we often refer to the brand Keds today. They were either slip-on loafers or lace-up sneakers in bright, happy colors, chosen to coordinate with an outfit. They were cheap so women could afford to have one in every color. In the spring and summer, they were worn without socks.
Read more about ALL the 1960s shoe styles.
Shop 1960s Style Shoes
Colored tights were worn with short skirts and dresses in a variety of colors and textures: white, black, purple, yellow, green, orange, fishnet, herringbone, ribbed, or lace. Tights covered up ugly knees and didn’t cause garter gaps like sheer stockings did. Once pantyhose were perfected they were the savior of women’s legs anywhere. They camouflaged hair, bumps, bruises, and wide kneecaps. Even skin tone tights were thick and dark. To go bare-legged with dresses in the ’60s was still too immodest. Ironic? Shop colorful tights inspired by the 1960s.
Tall socks could be worn instead of tights. Chunky rib knits with a fold-down cuff were a mainstay for teens and young adults.
Colorful 1960s clothing needed equally colorful jewelry. In the early years, traditional jewelry continued to favor textured gold, white pastel, and colored pearls. These pretty and safe designs complimented the feminine 1950s style clothing. The one change was the length. Longer pearls and tassel tip necklaces were preferred over the older short styles. They hung down low on plain front shift dresses but were usually of a matching color so as not to distract from the dress. Round button earrings or small chandelier earrings matched necklaces.
The new youth with their obsession with fake plastics, vinyl, and bold colors favored jewelry inspired by Pop Art. Geometric shapes made their way onto over-sized dangling earrings. Large chunky bangles or stacks of thin bracelets jingled up and down bare arms. Novelty shapes were still popular, but they embraced brighter colors and more comical themes.
The same went for flowers, now made from plastic resins. They were cheerful pastel or primary-colored clusters hanging from necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.
Without a hat to call attention to a woman’s head, hairstyles became a new focus for women. The bouffant look teased hair to new heights, literally. Guiche curls kissed her cheeks (made possible by a bit of nail polish to keep them pointed to a crisp.) All that volume made faces appear smaller and more doll-like. Hair length rose from shoulder to chin and cropped above the ears as the decade progressed, only to come crashing down again in the ’70s.
Headbands were a trendy hair accessory. Simple, satin, wide headbands swept hair away from the face. Hair scarves/bandana were also trendy in the latter half of the decade. Cloche hats experienced a revival with the mod look. Pillbox hats and flower pot hats were in style with the early 60s looks. Shop hats, hair accessories, and wigs here.
The early 60s saw the exaggerated cat eye and full red lip continue. Eyebrows were shaped into subtle peak instead of a high curve. Pink blush was subtle and almost non-existent. You can buy reproduction 60s makeup at Besame.
- Powder- Flesh tone
- Blush- Soft rose pink
- Eye Shadow- White-pink, purple, light blue, aqua
- Eye Liner- Dark brown or black, top and bottom lined and extended outwards
- Lipstick- Deep pink, orange-red
- Eyebrows- Shaped into a soft peak
The babydoll look was in in the mid 60s. Pale white skin, white lips, bold black eyeliner and heavy eyeshadow. It was a stark contrast to the girly look of clothing until the mid ’60s when a layer of childishness was added. Eyes were exaggerated with extra long lashes, shimmer eyeshadow, arched brows, light spot blush, and lips turned to a baby pink pout. The combination, looking back, was a scene from a child-meets-ax-murderer horror movie.
- Powder- Pale, almost white
- Blush- Warm brown/bronze sculpted the cheeks under the cheekbone
- Eye Shadow- Frosty-pink, green, blue
- Eye Liner- Dark brown or black
- Lipstick- Peach, shimmer pink outlined in a darker lip liner. Slightly overdrawn in the top corners
- Eye lashes- Add fake eyelashes to top and bottom
- Eyebrows- Natural and feathered
For bronze tone faces the pasty white look wouldn’t work but the other shaping and drawing techniques would still apply. The goal was to create a face that glows, with dramatic eyes, and full lips.
- Powder- Matching skin tone
- Blush- Warm brown/bronze sculpted the cheeks under the cheekbone. Lighter bronze on the cheek apple, nose and chin
- Eye Shadow- Dark pink, green, blue
- Eye Liner- Black
- Lipstick- Deep pink, peach, shimmer pink, red-pink, nude
- Eye lashes- Add fake eyelashes to top and bottom
- Eyebrows- Arched in the early years. Peaked in the later years.
Late 1960s Fashion: The Hippie Look
The late ’60s saw a movement of anti-fashion, a political statement, that grew so popular it became a mainstream fashion style. Real hippie clothing and hippie fashion was entirely different. Early on, festival going hippies wore mainstream fashions such as the shift dress in psychedelic colors of 1966-67. Tye-die was popular in 1968, taking plain white men’s undershirts and dying them with multiple colors. The more color, the better. The gaudier the colors, the better!
In 1968-69 the fashion shifted to earth tones, faded denim jeans, embroidered tops and tunics, and handmade accessories such as headbands, friendship bracelets, and hair wraps. The flower child decoration of patches, embroidery, painting, and peace signs were added by many hippies to make their jeans feel less commercial or to make a anti-war statement.
Hippie fashion influenced mainstream designers who turned back to the down to earth, homemade, ethnic folk arts and crafts styles. Forest green with brown suede, sunshine yellow with denim blue were signature colors of the ethnic-hippie ’60s. Crochet pieces, suede vests, wood beads, and embroidered trim decorated shift dresses. It was a blend of current silhouettes and folk art decoration.
The 1970s continued the hippie trend into mainstream fashion. The youth-oriented looks turned to the complete opposite– granny style. Romanticized granny clothes from several generations ago, like pioneer women, returned fashion back to long dresses and sleeves, ruffles, lace trim, small cotton prints, and long hair (worn down, not up, this time.) The age of the mini skirt “grew up” and turned into adults, not like their parents, but like generations before, which seemed to have a simple life that hippies idolized. Continue learning about 1970s fashion here.
1960s Fashion for You
Now that you know about women’s fashion in the 1960s, why not dress like it? Many of today’s contemporary “modern” clothing is inspired by mid-’60s fashions. A-line mini skirts, contrast collar shift dresses, textured tights, low heel flats, boots, and swing coats. They all have roots in the sixties. The current trend for round retro sunglasses is also heavily inspired by the 60s.
To create a 1960s inspired wardrobe, start with a dress (or pants and top) and add a pair of stockings or knee socks, flat or boot shoes, jewelry and a coat for winter. We have links to all the great 1960s inspired clothing online to make your shopping mission easier. For shoppers in the UK, start here.
Need outfit ideas? Look here at these outfit ideas
Need more help with your 60s outfit? Just ask us anytime!