We in the clothing biz speak often of “fashion decades,” but here’s a little secret: there’s no such thing. Sartorial eras are hardly parceled in ten-year periods — and the 1960s, maybe more than any other time, are proof enough of that! The decade that brought us the beats and the hippies, the mods and the peaceniks, was just as diverse in fashion as its social chaos might imply. In the 1960s, getting dressed, like doing pretty much anything else, was a tug-of-war between old and new. No one knew quite who she wanted to be, and the styles of the time reflect that.
Prim-and-proper ‘50s dames shook hesitant hands with their groovier proto-’70s counterparts, and the results — well, intoxicating. Keep the best of the old and wed it to the new. 1960s outfits were a glorious mash of growing pains. Here’s how to harness the ’60s glamour, from Betty and Joan to Twiggy and Jean, for the modern day.
1960s Outfit- Housewife / Mad Men
Kicking off, of course, with that icon of icons: Betty Draper. The face of Mad Men style is a solid bastion of the Old Guard. While Joan and Peggy favored the beehives and sweater dresses of later ‘60s style, Betty’s look was a ‘50s throwback. Not without a ‘60s twist, of course — those headbands and button-ups were so chic it hurt. The 1960s housewife was more streamlined than her ‘50s counterpart. Dress shapes were simplifying, whittling slowly down to the sheaths the decade would make famous. Colors were lighter, hairdos were smoother — the neckline game, though, was strong as ever. Betty’s lapels on her shirtwaist dress were on point.
These ’50s/’60s style dresses are perfect for recreating a 60s housewife outfit:
Swanky 60s Party Outfits
The 1950s style swing dress continued well into the 1960s, not just for daytime outfits, but for evening cocktail parties too. Swanky black, white, gold, or pastel party dresses in either the full-skirted swing style or slim pencil dress were sophisticated and less fussy than the ’50s styles. Hemlines were shortened to knee length while necklines rose up to more modest and simple round or boat necklines. Long empire waist column dresses were more formal than the shorter cocktail dress but equally swanky. Learn more about 60s cocktail/party dresses.
Accessories were also simple, and shoes were either short kitten heels or tall stiletto heels. Single or multiple strands of pearls, chunky gold statement necklaces, cocktail rings, and button earrings added sparkle to the plain dresses. Shop ’60s jewelry. Consider adding vintage gloves, a small hat, and a clasp frame purse for a look that can go from day to night.
Here is another set of ’60s party dresses from the later part of the swinging sixties. Dresses were short with a boxy tunic shape, high neckline, and long sleeves that were often sheer. Besides classic black, bold colors like green, yellow, red, pink, lime green, baby blue, white, and cream were all options. For accessories, strands of long pearls echoed back to the roaring ’20s while big plastic hoop earrings placed the look into the future. Nude pantyhose helped show off legs with low heel slingback pumps or tall strappy heels for the dancing feet (twist anyone?). A bouffant hairstyle (or wig) is fairly easy to do and definitely belongs with this outfit.
1960s Outfits- The Mods
Mod girls were Flappers 2.0, and it sure shows in their clothes! The 1940s and ‘50s emphasized a slim waist and a tailored bodice; the ‘60s shook things up. High waists, low waists, no waists — all fair game and then some. The empire-waist peasant dress (we’ll get to that) is perhaps best associated with the decade, but it’s the sweater dress that’s truly classic. Streamlined, swingy, and above all short, these knitted dresses have never really gone out of style.
‘60s girls accessorized the rather plain silhouette with downright fabulous collars and sleeves. The prints on mod dresses were out of this world! Geometric circles, paisley, color blocking, honeycomb, or solid bold colors with little faux pockets(yellow, orange, green, red, black and white). Most skirts and dresses were paired with matching tights or tall socks, low heeled shoes, and sometimes a cloche hat (just like the ’20s!). And, of course, a swing coat atop it all.
Black and white is probably the most popular mod outfit. The mixing began far before the mod revolution. We have to thank Film Noir movies (1930s to 1950s) for some influence in black and white fashion. Even when color came out and Neo-Noir movies replaced Film Noir, the color palette was still grayscale. White dresses with black accessories as well as black dresses with white accessories were edgy, trendy, and still sophisticated enough for the mothers of the youthquake. Shop black and white dresses, hats, gloves, handbags, belts and shoes.
Casual Young Mods
Another very mod outfit is the ’60s mini skirt. These short skirts were scandalous in the ’60s, yet all the girls wore them. Paired with a high neck blouse, turtleneck shirt, or short sleeve stripe knit top, colorful tights, and boots, they were not for the faint of heart! Shop these mod mini skirts and retro tops with boots:
1960s Outfits – Jackie O Style
Those classic ‘60s skirt sets — half Jackie O style, half gal-about-town, all dangerously darling. The silhouette was boxy, a departure from Dior’s more tailored New Look, but its clean lines and impeccable matching made it all woman! This look is a fun one — it’s a perfect example of the 1960s “transition” stage. The sheath dress with bow and cropped jacket maintain the class, but the booties and opaque tights keep things just mod enough. The scarf and pearl earrings, of course, are mainstays. Check out the collar, too — Peter Pan collars were huge in the ‘60s, and they’re fortunately back in style!
1960s Casual Outfits with Pants
It ain’t Great-Granny’s fashion show — ladies wear pants now! Cigarette pants, to be precise, which are much more pleasant than they sound. They had a side or back zipper and a high waist so as not to be confused with men’s trousers. Pair that with the decade’s madness for plaid, and you’ve got quite a look. Caps and beret hats borrow a more rugged aesthetic, and the button down blouse or crew neck sweater brings it all together. Add a pair of ballet flats or loafers for a casual day at home. Mary Tyler Moore wears them well, don’t you think? Shop 1960s pants.
1960s Hippie Outfits
The latter half of the decade? Let’s call it “‘70s lite.” The bohemian look was decidedly IN, but the silhouette still borrowed from the mods. Before there were granny gowns, there were the cutest little peasant dresses — Swinging London’s answer to Woodstock. Anything goes when it comes to these prints: tribal, psychedelic, tie-dye, folk, whatever your sartorial sense desires. Not to mention some absolutely groovy sleeves! Most dresses were short with flower power prints and eye-popping colors in 1968. By 1969, the trend moved into the earth tone ’70s with embroidery, bell-bottom jeans, fringe, fur vests, and headbands.
Folk/ Tribal/ Boho hippie with a late 60s twist:
Find these 60s dresses and more here.
So there you have it. A handful of 1960s outfit ideas to inspire your next retro outfit or for a 60s costume party. Need help with your outfit? Just ask. Have a 1960s outfit to show off? Email us and we might add to the page to inspire others.
Article was written by Skye Makaris in collaboration with Debbie Sessions of vintagedancer.com
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.