By 1965, half of the USA’s population was under 25 years of age. The young men and women of the ’60s had witnessed social injustices of their parent’s generation and wanted change. That change, reflected in 1960s men’s clothing, was a continuation of casualness, a slimming of the figure (boyish shapes), and brighter colors and patterns last seen in the late 1920s.
Most 1960s men’s fashion history books focus on fashions in London. Very little is discussed of American men’s fashion which, although it had some influence from London, also had its own uniquely casual American look. We will discuss both styles in this Article but focus more heavily on American clothing.
The 1960s men’s everyday look consisted of slim-fit trousers, a button-down shirt or polo shirt, and a patterned sport coat. This Ivy League look started on college campuses, but was adopted by businessmen who began to wear it instead of traditional conservative 3 piece suits. The Ivy style gave way to the mods, influenced by British fashion and music icons. This, in turn, changed again as the American hippies took over in the late ’60s with their recycled vintage, back to the earth roots, peaceful defiance. All three distinct looks influenced each other, creating an overall modern fashion decade.
The Peacock generation was one name given to British men’s fashion in the ’60s. It referred to how fashionable young men were putting themselves on display, inviting commentary, and expressing individuality by wearing a variety of unusual clothing. Color were brighter, patterns bigger, clothes tighter, and the price tag cheaper. Fashions changed quickly, and young men flocked to small boutique stores in big cities to get the latest flashy outfits.
1960s men’s clothing was worn tighter to show off youthful bodies. Shirts were unbuttoned to show off a bit of chest and pants lowered down on the hip. Bold colors and big color block patterns shouted “Here I Am.” Even basic suits and sport coats were worn with a bold pop of color, like a red vest or neck scarf. Older men who were afraid to adopt these stand-out statements still had plenty of greys and browns to wear, but even they adopted some of the newer slim styles in toned-down colors on the weekends.
The Conservatives and the Ivys
1950s men’s fashion continued into the early ’60s, often called the Continental or Ivy Style. The continental look embraced the conservative man in the gray flannel suit who would cast of his lifeless suits for casual clothing on the weekends. Some of the key features are:
- Sportcoats with contrasting trousers, colored vest, dress shirt and skinny tie. Fedora hat optional. Shop here.
- Casual polo shirts, belt, and solid or patterned trousers on the weekends. Shop shirts and pants.
- Tennis sweaters, cardigans, and sweater-vests instead of sport coats. Shop sweaters.
- Athletic sweatshirts, T-shirts, and Cabana sets at home or on vacation.
Men’s Suits and Sportcoats
Into the ’60s men’s business suits continued to be dull and lifeless, bland greys and browns with the sack fit and single pleat leg. Some suits were updated slightly with textures like tweed or corduroy or given noticeable patterns such as plaid, checks, and herringbone.
Suits were modernized a bit with a lower waistband, flat-front trousers, narrowing lapels, and 2- instead of 3- button jackets, which eventually dropped down to just 1 button. Suit jackets were also being worn over non-matching trousers. Keeping jacket and trousers in the same color family kept the look conservative enough for the office.
These updated suits that were worn without a hat, and often called the “JFK Look.” Across the pond, a 3 button suit jacket with a high neck was dubbed the “Britisher style.”
Outside of the office or to a business casual lunch, men could wear the latest trend for sportcoats in bold patterns and contrasting colors. This look was heavily influenced by the Ivy League style who wore mismatched suit jackets and pants with a bold colored suit vest or sweater vest. Red and yellow were the most popular vest colors that popped under dark blue, grey, or tan sportcoats. Dark vests were worn with lighter colored jackets. Brightly colored dress shirts replaced vests in the mid to late 60s.
Sport coat colors and patterns grew bolder as the decade progressed. Subtle and muted patterns in the early years gave way to wide boater stripes, large plaids, windowpane, and black and white checks or herringbone. Solid colors such as red, ivory, white, bright blue, light grey, and mustard yellow were equally paired with dark trousers in another solid color (or pattern in the later years). The final years also saw an explosion of pastels and pinstripes, a nod back to the mid-1920s. Baby pink, sky blue, sunshine yellow were spring and summer favorites.
Men’s Dress Shirts and Ties
Dress shirts were white, pinstriped, or pastels for most of the decade, letting the outerwear be the focus. Neckties could be solid, wide striped, or patterned, but again to keep in balance with the outerwear, neckties were usually plain, striped, dark, and very skinny ties. Skinny ties balanced with thin lapel coats and narrow shirt collars.
In the late 60s men’s dress shirts exploded with rich colors, small patterned ties, and flashy gold cufflinks. Ties were still skinny but gradually widened to a classic width as suit lapels began to widen. Shop ties.
An alternative to the tie came in the late 60s- the neckerchief. The neckerchief was folded like a cravat around the neck and puffed out from under an unbuttoned shirt collar. The look was suave against the brightly colored shirts and sport coats. This was often too mod of a look for the conservative set, but the young Ivys found it liberating compared to the noose of neckties.
Learn more about the history of men’s neckties.
Men’s Casual Shirts
Casual clothes for the conservative or Ivy set turned to the golf or country club look: polo shirts, skinny belts, and single pleat or flat-front trousers. Polos were often trimmed in contrasting stripes or made up in large two-tone color blocks, a carryover from the ’50s. Some feature printed designs reflecting the Atomic Age/Space Age. Many had zip-up collars instead of buttons. The horizontal striped polo shirt mimicked classic fisherman shirts while vertical panel shirts were borrowed from 50s bowling shirts.
Besides the polo, the button-down shirt in plaid, stripes, or prints remained the essential men’s shirt for almost every occasion. Western shirts with piping trim were frequently seen in small-town America. Camp shirts, worn untucked, remained popular summer shirts.
The mod look influenced casual shirts, even for conservative men with an increase in bold color combinations, stand out stripes, and multi-color plaids. Of course, there were plain colors too such as pastels in spring, saturated colors in the fall and earth tone colors in the late 60s. Contrasting white buttons gave them a modern look. Collars were also small and wide-set.
Just like shirts, men’s sweaters took on similar colors, stripes, and color-blocked patterns. The pullover sweater (jumper) and cardigan achieved a new status of high fashion when Italian knitwear makers Missoni and Gino Paelo introduced innovative designs and knitting techniques. Sweaters appeared with jeans at ski resorts or just around town for the average man who wore it as a replacement for a sport coat.
Large Chevron or wide stripe blocking, geometric tile designs, chunky knits and new textures such as mohair went mainstream quickly. Ivy Leaguers latched onto the sweater revival, not only with new designs, but with the classic Tennis or letterman sweater, sweater vests, and V neck cardigans.
Men’s Overcoats and Jackets
Outerwear coats in the first half of the 60s remained similar to the conservative 50s. Knee-length car coats and overcoats called Knee Breakers in Britain topped men’s business suits. Short guards coats, camel hair overcoats, polo coats, British warm coats, and plaid car coats hit just above the knee. The shape was slimmer with double-breasted coats — especially trench coats — leading the fashion trend. There were also boxy bone-colored mac coats which were perfect for spring.
For more casual looks, the sherpa lined suede hip-length coat or quilted puffer jacket offered better warmth without the weight. For spring days, the Harrington jacket (light bomber style) continued to be a casual favorite for young and old. In 1969, the bush jacket returned to fashion with four pleated pockets and a belt.
Slip on Shoes
Most men continued to wear Oxfords and moc toe shoes for all occasions, however it was the slip-on loafer types that took off in the ’60s. Even conservative men enjoyed the ease of slipping into a pair of shoes instead of dealing with tie laces. Toes were pointed in the early ’60s and blunted by the later years. Black shoes were favored over brown and shiny was better than matte.
The Ivy kids loved a classic penny loafer or moccasin shoe. Shoe designs were clean, smooth, and minimally embellished. The newest invention was the white leather loafer with black sole, worn with white pants and sportswear in the summer. It crossed the border into mod style, yet real mods hardly ever wore them.
With casual clothes came the slip-on and tie shoes in lighter colors (bone, grey, tan) and soft textures such as suede. The suede chukka boot was another popular option on college campuses. As pant hems were rising, boots became more popular in the mid-60s with all men.
60s Men’s Hats
Conservative men couldn’t think of leaving the house with a hat, yet the new generation took pride in their perfectly combed hair. Some people blame President Jack Kenedy for promoting hatlessnes, while others chalk it up to the youthquake movement. This doesn’t mean there were no hats, only new styles to reflect a new culture.
The first was the snap-brim fedora — a short crown, V-dent, narrow brim fedora with a snap-up brim at the back. Made of dark felt in winter and light sennet or coconut straws in summer, they had hatbands they were more detailed in design instead of the classic wide stripes. These hats complemented the new slim suits perfectly. Even the mods wore them. Shop mens ’60s style hats.
Displaying young bodies at the beach created a shift in men’s swimwear. The bikini brief for men lowered to below the belly button. Stretchy knits made them more comfortable to wear and support. Boxer style swim trunks also lowered a bit and raised up in the leg. The surf style (boardshorts) had longer legs and a drawstring waistband. Colors were bright horizontal stripes as well as psychedelic prints that rivaled non-beach clothing.
The matching cabana set (trunks and camp shirt, t-shirt, or shirt jacket) was an absolute must-have at the poolside (and a perfect cover-up for the not so young and fit bodies). The only truly new design were the Basketball trunks, cut with a tulip-edged side seam and white piping that appeared around 1966 and carried well into the ’70s. Learn more about the history of men’s swimwear and shop retro swimsuits and cabana sets.
The mod look was first introduced to American youth in 1964 from British pop bands such as The Beatles who appeared on TV. They wore narrow lapel 4 button jackets, slim pants, and Cuban heeled boots on the Ed Sullivan show that year. The Rolling Stones also made an appearance wearing mod clothing with longer, shaggier hair.
The mod look mixed:
- Skinny rib body shirts, turtle necks in vibrant colors. Shop Shirts.
- Dress shirts in bold stripes or big prints, white collars. Shop Shirts.
- Flag shirts, neckties, shoes, hats, pins.
- Skin-tight low waist denim/suede/poly knit pants with a small flare to fit over boots. Shop pants.
- Fitted blazers in rich fabrics (velvet, silk, damask), stripes, tweed and herringbone. Shop suits/sportcoats.
- Skinny ties or silk neckerchiefs in bright solid colors. Shop ties.
- Wide belts or hip chains.
- Large bead or hanging pendants necklaces.
- Chelsea boots, winklepickers, Shiny slip-ons. Shop shoes.
- Caps – fisherman style, cadet caps, newsboy caps. Shop hats.
Part throwback to the Edwardian age and part futuristic, Mod men’s clothing blended old and new together in a look that could be conservative yet trendy or outright flamboyant. The look dominated the UK but was less mainstream in the USA. Fashion-forward young men were the primary audience who looked to buy Mod clothing, thinking it would attract young girls who were obsessed with the British bands.
Mod clothing was made cheaply, lasting only a season, and replaced when new styles came in. For the first time, men joined the Fast Fashion race. Those not bold enough to fully embrace the Mod look found ample selection from mass-market department stores. The Nehru jacket, Apache scarf, Flower print shirts, bell-bottom pants, and tie-dyed and psychedelic printed T-shirts were common cross overs to the middle-class.
Sharkskin suits (two-tone mohair with a shine), short double-breasted jackets (called bum freezers), long suit jackets, collarless jackets, and exaggerated collar jackets were all adopted by the mods. Some had velvet collars, most had narrow lapels and 3-4 high buttons. Double-breasted sport coats with deep side vents, wide lapels, and a short length, were sought after by most young mods. The blazers in stripes, solid blue with white buttons, olive green, and powder blue were just a few of the best colors/patterns. Some casual blazers had epaulets on the shoulders.
Instead of button-down shirts under their sport coats and blazers, mods wore a turtleneck or mock neck shirt. If a dress shirt was worn it had to be unique, perhaps white with an oversized spearpoint collar, stripes or a bold geometric, paisley, or psychedelic pattern. Neckties were optional, but usually black skinny knits or polka dot silks.
Motown bands such as The Temptations embraced the mod style with bright color suits and shiny black or white shoes. Most suits were specially designed for the group, often leading the trends mainstream would follow.
Mod Men’s Shirts
Take a look at men’s fashion options today and you may notice a strong resemblance to the ’60s. Slim fit knitted shirts, striped button downs, bold paisley prints, ringer tees, mock necks, and color-block polos had men dressing casually but neat back then as well as now.
Casual mod shirts were explosions of flower prints, small polka dots, and color blocking. Some had white cuffs and collars. Bright colors — orange, green, yellow, as well as classic black or white — dominated the mod style. Vertical stripes were big on rib-knit shirts. High necks were a must. Even T-shirts, like the very popular striped ringer tee (Breton stripes), had a nigh crew neck and slim, body-hugging fit.
Mod Men’s Pants
Shirts were always tucked into trousers with a 3-inch wide belt cinched around the hips. The hem on the pants rose just above the ankle, exposing boots or white socks. Most mod pants fit the leg tight, hinting at the muscles underneath. Flat front pants with a high crotch created a need for underwear that minimized.
Pant materials moved away from dressy wools into the new stretch knit synthetics that allowed more and smaller patterns to dominate men’s pants of the 60s. Plaids checks, herringbone, angled pinstripes, vertical stripes, and corduroy each called attention to a man’s lower half. A slight flare at the ankle was a precursor to the bells to come starting in 1968-69. They fit over the boots every mod was wearing. Some beach or summer pants cropped a few inches above the ankle featured the bell shape already, but the explosion of big bell-bottom pants was not part of the mod style.
In 1968, all things Flower Power were blending mod and psychedelic hippie styles together. For men, pants now featured large flower prints, tribal designs, paisley, and vertical stripes. Wide wale corduroy pants were also best sellers for the less bold. The blue jean, too, entered mainstream fashion circles. Jeans now featured a low rise waistband and flared legs with a snug fit. The straight leg jean was also popular, at first as workwear or a western denim pant and later as mod fashion.
Mod Men’s Coats and Jackets
Oddly enough, the mods turned back to the past with long crombie overcoats in big plaids or plain colors, velvet textures, Edwardian brocades, and shiny tanned leathers. Most overcoats hung straight down with small collar and little or no lapels. The fitted overcoat was the opposite of the minimalist mod style. It was more common in Britain than in America.
Americans and Brits loved the fishtail Army parka. Army green with a tie waist and hood, it was casual, warm, and an odd contrast to mod pants and shoes.
In America, casual jackets with soft shirts and tight pants were preferred over the more formal topcoat. The Nehru jacket trended in 1967-1968. It had a long fitted tunic jacket with round, stand-up collar (Mao collar). They could be plain colors, but Americans preferred brightly colored and patterned Nehru jackets. Collars, cuffs, and edges were sometimes highly decorated and trimmed.
There were other new collars and lapel shapings on designer mod suits in the 60s. The Cloverleaf and L-shaped lapels added subtle variation to classic suits. The Bal collar, mandarin collar, and collarless jacket each offered a striking new international look to the mod style. Once this style was made into service uniforms (bellhops, waiters, clerks) the look went out of fashion.
The double-breasted navy blue pea coat was the other style of winter coat that started with the mods, but was quickly adopted by mainstream America and Canada.
The colored leather trench coat with an all-around belt was for the boldest of the mods. Antique leather coats came in many other styles as well, usually of the shorter models, and in every color from black to red.
Finally, the Harrington jacket/bomber jacket/golf jacket was also adopted by Mods. It changed subtly over the decade into a light collarless windbreaker with elastic wristbands. They echoed the “cool” and stylish Italians who rode Vespas, the preferred transportation of Mod men.
Boots, especially Chelsea boots and half ankle booties, were the big new shoe style for mod men in the 1960s. Young executives wore them with a suit during the day and with casual pants and shirts on the weekends. Lace up traditional boots worn by the Edwardians fit perfectly into the dressy mod wardrobe too.
Oxfords were generally out but still an option, while slip-on loafers, monk straps, and mocs with buckle straps (especially in very dark or very light colors) were high fashion in the Space Age. Shoes were simple, streamlined, and shiny. The winklepicker shoe with one to two eyelet lacing and sharp pointy toe was the extreme mod shoe. Very pointy toes were problematic, so the trend died quickly.
By the end of the decade, shoes came in bright colors as well as a revival of classic two-tone- black and white wingtips. Most shoes were worn with…. white socks!
Casual mod shoes embraced the suede Chukka boot, suede loafer, and bowling shoes. Tri-color bowling shoes were a unique mod shoe that intended to stand out rather than blend in. Bright bowling shoes with a plain dark suits certainly did the trick.
Cuban heel boots aka Beatle Boots, buckle strap boots, or Chelsea boots were just a few of the boot and bootie styles that the mods favored. They wore them with ankle cropped pants and vivid printed socks.
Mod Men’s Accessories
Hats: The mods wore the Dutch boy/trainman/fisherman/ Nureyev cap in cloth or leather. Just about any kind of short-brimmed cap was acceptable.
Neckties: Bow ties, traditional and skinny neckties, as well as ascots of silk tied in a fluffy puff or big bow were part of the mod fashion. Apache scarves with paisley or floral prints tied at the side of the neck or in front if worn with a Nehru jacket were the most dramatic. The late 60s saw the extra-wide tie in paisley or polka dots.
Sunglasses: Round glasses, square (really they are thin rectangles), and aviator sunglasses with plastic or metal frames.
Around 1967, a new era of culture and fashion was replacing the Mods. Counter couture events, gatherings, and peaceful protests were happening in major USA cities. San Fransisco had 1967 The Summer of Love, which was a celebration of global multiculturalism as well as antifashion, non-conformism, and anti-consumerism. In New York, Woodstock in 1969 drew over 400k young music fans to a peaceful 3-day concert series.
The hippies rejected fast fashion, shopping at thrift stores instead. They purchased anything ethnic, western, well worn, or gender-bending. They learned to make bead necklaces and headbands, tie-dye T-shirts, and tool leather. Recycled clothes were upcycled with patches, embroidery, and beading. Trimmed with suede fringe, topped with a floppy western hat, and worn with flared jeans, the men’s 60s hippie look was something the mainstream world couldn’t comprehend.
In the first years, they also borrowed psychedelic clothing that had entered the mainstream. Vivid swirls of color on shirts and pants mixed with fringe vests and boots. The clash of color, style, and texture made hippies the creators of the Trippy style.
Hippies also created historically inspired throwback fashions. By shopping thrift stores they were able to buy dramatic vintage clothing or recreate historical styles from the Renaissance on up to the Art Deco Hollywood age. Mixing heavily decorated velvet jackets, white ruffles dickies, heavy gold chain necklaces, and psychedelic flares, the Retro hippie look was a costume for those with something important to say.
The final hippie look was the ethnic style. Traditional clothing worn by men in the Middle East was seen as the opposite of tailored Western fashion. Wearing an African Dashiki, Indian Batik tunic, and Native American jewelry and moccasin boots spoke to the old cultural traditions of handmade wearable art long gone from American society.
These three hippie styles created these iconic hippie fashions:
- Tie-dye T-shirts, antiwar sentiment “Make Love, Not War” or funny slogan T-shirts, Prison number T-shirts, American Flag shirts.
- Fringe cowboy jackets and vests, handmade cotton vests.
- Afghan carpet coats, furry vests.
- Indian batik tunics, African Dashikis, collarless Mandarin dress shirts.
- Long Arabian kaftans (dresses).
- Army surplus jackets, shirts, and pants decorated with painted peace signs, flags, fringe, feathers, beading, and embroidery.
- Jeans, jeans and more jeans, decorated to express oneself.
- Long straight hair, short fluffy curly hair, unkempt beards.
- Love bead necklaces, handmade bracelets, and rings (wood, faux ivory).
- Bandanas, Eastern printed silk scarves, native American beaded headbands.
- Western cowboy hats, straw hats, floppy hats.
- Aviator sunglasses with colored lenses.
- Leather or rope sandals (Birkenstocks, Jesus/biblical/Greek sandals).
Blue jeans became an anti-fashion statement against a world of suits and ties. At Woodstock, there were only two ways to look cool: wear your flared jeans or go naked. Many jeans worn to this half a million youth gathering were decorated with flowers, peace signs, patches of fabric, or even tie-dyed. Customizing jeans became a way to express individualism.
On top of that, about half the men went shirtless (it was very hot) and the other half kept it simple with high neck t-shirts, striped ringer t-shirts, or suede vests plus denim jackets and plaid shirts for nights. Shoes were optional. Boots for some, leather sandals for most.
For the Summer of Love in 1967, the hippie look was more colorful with psychedelic or paisley prints shirts, a bandana or neck scarf, flower wreaths, hip-hugger pants (stripes or prints), and love beads. Not every man was an extreme dressing hippie. Most men came for the music dressing in their everyday casuals — turtleneck shirts, button-down shirts, corduroy pants, loafers, and sunglasses. Being a hippie was more about what you believed, not what you wore.
The hippie looks gradually influenced mainstream fashion in the 1970s. It never entirely replaced the conservative, Ivy, or mod fashions which also continued in the 1970s, but it certainly made a mark on history as being one of the most creative, diverse, and individualistic fashions of the 21st century.
Dressing in the 1960s style today is fairly easy. Thanks to a revival of the Mod look, especially in the UK and the boho hippie look in the USA, there are plenty of choices locally as well as online. Here are a few outfit ideas to get you planning your next 60s outfit. Don’t forget a ready-made costume for Halloween too.