These Retro Fads Were All The Rage In The ‘60s – But The Truth About Their Origins Is Startling

From brief trends to landmark movements, countless fashion fads have come and gone throughout the decades. The 1960s stand out in that respect, as the era spawned a number of memorable crazes. And on that note, we’ve compiled a list that details 20 of those retro fads, touching in particular upon their many intriguing origin stories.

20. Women’s Tuxedos

In the mid-1960s, a new fashion trend emerged for women thanks to the efforts of famed designer Yves Saint Laurent. At that time, the French icon released a female-exclusive tuxedo known as “Le Smoking.” While pundits weren’t too impressed, consumers nonetheless embraced the unique style in the latter half of the decade.

It’s believed that Saint Laurent came up with the idea after taking note of Niki de Saint Phalle’s fashion choices. The famed sculptor often dressed in trouser suits. But women have been wearing tuxedos for even longer than that, of course. Actress Marlene Dietrich, for example, turned a lot of heads when she sported one in the 1930 movie Morocco.

19. Brown and Orange Designs

During the 1960s, people certainly weren’t afraid to embrace some of the more colorful designs that were to be found in clothes stores. However, as the decade wore on, consumers slowly moved away from those eye-catching “psychedelic” garments. Instead, they decided to wear outfits bathed in orange and brown shades.

According to the Who What Wear website, brown and orange designs came to prominence thanks to a public “backlash” against those earlier garish outfits. And if we look a little deeper, the darker colors could also be attributed to Eastern fashion. As the 1960s went on, people were more than willing to wear clothes with Asian influences.


18. Unisex Clothes

As the 1960s came to a close, men and women’s fashion went through a brief phase that made a sizable impact. Specifically, 1968 marked the year when there was a marked rise in the sales of unisex clothes. Alongside that, clothing shops across the United States opened areas dedicated specifically to such items up until the end of the decade.

Jo Paoletti, a professor at the University of Maryland, believes that the unisex movement emerged to contest the “gender stereotyping” from the previous decade. Furthermore, the style itself was said to originate in France, when certain tailors put together outfits that strived to go beyond accepted male and female conventions. While the fad didn’t maintain a high profile for long in America, it did nonetheless leave an impression going into the 1970s.


17. Contrasting Buttons

When it comes to certain outfits, an additional splash of color can help spruce them up. In the 1960s, though, a particular fashion trend persisted, as designers included contrasting buttons in their work. The consumers of that time went on to embrace the look, with the clasps standing out from the material.

But the origin of this particular trend might surprise you. Indeed, contrasting buttons didn’t come about just because they could light up an outfit. In fact, the Who What Wear website reports that money played a significant role in their emergence. Due to the financial hardships of the 1950s, the clasps were seen as a cheap method to upgrade items of clothing.


16. Military Jackets

As the 1960s reached its midway point, people started to embrace an intriguing fashion trend. During that period, clothing shoppers showed a strong interest in military jackets, which sometimes led them to thrift stores. There, they’d be able to pick up used garments that came from the armed forces.

This fad has been largely attributed to certain music stars from the decade. Artists such as The Beatles, Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix all wore outfits of that type, which encouraged their many fans to follow suit. Meanwhile, Yves Saint Laurent played his part in the rise of “soldier chic.” too, as he designed an iconic pea coat with a military aesthetic in the 1960s.


15. Plastic and Synthetic Designs

In most instances, pieces of clothing are defined by the materials used to create them. On that note, the 1960s gave birth to a fashion movement that changed the way clothes were designed. For you see, unlike previous decades, customers were now given a chance to buy outfits made from sources such as plastic and nylon.

According to the website of England’s famed V&A museum, these ideas came from younger creatives within the fashion industry. At the time, they were looking to add a modern spin to the outfits that dominated the market. And their plan paid off in the end, as people embraced these novel designs throughout the era.


14. The Bardot Trend

During a period when fads were consistently cropping up, the off-the-shoulder trend stood out for a very good reason. Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot both attracted plenty of attention when they wore tops of that type in the 1960s. As a result, these fashion stars inspired plenty of other women to follow in their footsteps.

Before long, in fact, the look itself was dubbed the “Bardot trend.” However, such off-the-shoulder designs date back at least to the 19th century. It’s said that they were very popular in the 1850s, as Napoleon III’s empress often sported them. Nowadays, the likes of Kate Middleton have been known to wear these outfits, keeping the fad alive.


13. The Maxi-Skirt

The 1960s marked an interesting time for women’s skirts. To explain more, Elizabeth Wilson took a closer look in the book Icons of Fashion: The 20th Century. She explained, “Between 1965 and 1967, the uncluttered, futuristic design of André Courrèges and Mary Quant – featuring short skirts, childish pinafores and boxy shapes – were superseded by a return to the styles of Art Nouveau, Hollywood and William Morris.”

That shift eventually led to the rise of the maxi-skirt at the end of the decade, a garment that reached down to women’s feet. Full-length skirts weren’t a new phenomenon, though, as Wilson highlighted earlier. Indeed, their origins can be traced back to the start of the 1900s, when designer Paul Poiret decided to abandon the dress bustles of the late 19th century.


12. Satin Blouses

Much like military jackets, satin blouses also emerged as a popular trend in the 1960s thanks to a famous face in the music industry. Cher loved these items of clothing and sported numerous different designs throughout the decade. The fabric gave the shirts a distinctive appearance, as they glimmered under light.

Yet while people embraced satin blouses during this period, it wasn’t a new material. It actually dates back hundreds of years, in fact, with China serving as its point of origin. From there, European countries eventually became enamored with it in the 1300s, ahead of the fabric’s reemergence as a must-have item in the 1960s.


11. The Beatnik Style

During the 1960s, there were plenty of people who identified as beatniks, which of course in turn influenced their fashion choices. In most cases, these individuals would wear dark turtleneck jumpers and a pair of black jeans. Alongside that, beret hats were a big part of the look, too, while ladies had a choice of sporting trousers or a skirt.

The beatnik trend stemmed from certain creatives living in that decade, including numerous poets and artists. For example, the likes of Andy Warhol played a big role in bringing the style to the public eye. As for the look itself, the plain attire was a statement against the dominant values of the period.


10. Boutique Shopping

At the turn of the 1960s, boutique shopping was at its height. This popular trend gave consumers a new experience when they went off to buy clothes on the high street. As Linda Przybyszewski explained in The Lost Art of Dress, “Boutiques were groovy places where modern music played, and young owners and customers collaborated on new looks that came only in small sizes.”

The fad first started back in 1955, when a woman named Mary Quant established the Bazaar store in London, England. To begin with, she outsourced all of the goods in her shop, before later creating the outfits herself. After that, Bazaar really grew in popularity over the next few years, leading the way for boutique shopping going into the 1960s.


9. Printed Silks

As we highlighted earlier, people living in the 1960s weren’t afraid to embrace some outlandish colors when buying their clothes at stores. And things were taken to another level once printed silks arrived on the market. Coupled with the aforementioned bright shades, these bold designs were perfect for the era.

The trend itself was led by a man named Emilio Pucci, who made printed silks throughout the decade. These garments, which were referred to at the time as an “ethnic style,” ranged from dresses to scarves. Furthermore, the V&A website also reveals that Pucci’s efforts foreshadowed some of crazier designs from the era.


8. Rocker Fashion

The rocker look was one of the more recognizable fashions from the 1960s. Much like the beatnik trend, the style was fairly simple, focusing on darker colors. The comparisons between the two end there, though. Indeed, rockers would usually opt for leather jackets and designer jeans, along with specialized motorbike footwear.

Women were able to adopt the look with very little hassle, too, as it was a somewhat unisex get-up. Part of the style was inspired by rock musicians from the previous decade, especially their hairstyles. As for the leathers, they reflected the group’s preference for traveling around on motorbikes together.


7. The Jackie Kennedy Look

Over the course of the 1960s, there were several eye-catching trends for women to latch on to. One of the most iconic looks encompassed a “boxy suit,” as well as a piece of headwear called a pillbox hat. This particular style was inspired by Jackie Kennedy, the former First Lady of the United States.

Thanks to Kennedy’s impeccable fashion sense, many ladies from the era tried to mirror her. The look was arguably even more important than that, though. You see, while World War Two raged on, tailors in America attempted to fill in for their colleagues in France. And once the 1960s rolled in, the Kennedys then showcased these U.S. designs in the brightest of spotlights, highlighting a shift in the industry.


6. Vintage Men’s Clothes

This is an interesting one. Given how popular “retro” fads are today, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were a fairly recent phenomenon. But, surprisingly, people were embracing the past during the 1960s as well. For instance, some men from that era started to buy older items of clothing, which kick-started a craze.

These vintage outfits dated back 20 to 30 years and served as a contrast to other items from the 1960s. But the reasoning behind the fad was a little deeper than that. As it turns out, men embraced the older styles to take a stance against the “consumerism” of the time, according to the Fashion History Timeline website.


5. Mod Fashion

Alongside the rockers, the mods were another popular group throughout the 1960s as well. Their fashion choices were fairly eye-catching, as the men would sport parka jackets over the top of their suits and polo shirts. Meanwhile, the ladies often dressed in outfits designed by Mary Quant, whom we spoke about earlier.

It’s believed that the movement came about thanks to the rise of Italian-style clothing and U.S. jazz music at the time. Indeed, mods were usually spotted in coffee houses that played the latter. The trend eventually reached such a level of popularity that it also inspired the appearance of rock groups including The Who.


4. Babydoll Dresses

Unlike some other garments from the 1960s, babydoll dresses were designed with comfort in mind. Instead of highlighting the figure of the wearer, these outfits were quite baggy in the middle, which in turn made them easy to wear. They weren’t particularly long, either, and women started to embrace them throughout the decade.

The Who What Wear website claims that babydoll dresses rose to prominence during the period for a good reason. According to the site, ladies saw the garment as the perfect counterpoint to outfits from the 1950s. Those latter items had been more focused on “sculpted styles” – the complete opposite of the babydoll design.


3. Peter Pan Collars

While most neckbands are quite inconspicuous, the same can’t be said about Peter Pan collars. These large pieces of material would extend out just above the shoulders, resting on the upper part of the wearer’s chest. Women took a real liking to them as the 1960s progressed, embracing their inner “lost boy.”

The style originated from a 1905 production of Peter Pan, in which an actress named Maude Adams showcased the collar in the titular part. After that, Pattie Boyd helped popularize the trend in the 1960s with her appearance in the movie A Hard Day’s Night. And if that wasn’t enough, Barbra Streisand wore one at the 1969 Academy Awards ceremony.


2. The Space Age Look

By the midway point of the decade, consumers were treated to a new range of clothing that really stood out from previous styles. Outfits such as trouser suits and dresses with sharp angles hit the shelves, bathed in shades of silver and white. Due to those features, this popular trend was referred to as the space age look.

Given how well publicized the “space race” was during the period, Who What Wear claims that tailors wanted to design outfits with that very theme in mind. In particular, the designer André Courrèges played a significant role in the rise of the space age look. His work really caught the eye, as he utilized fabrics that few people had seen before.


1. Hippy Fashion

Arguably the most famous movement to emerge in the 1960s, the hippy culture birthed some memorable fashion trends that pushed the boundaries of the times. In addition to the long hair, people sported colorful vests and bell-bottom jeans. Their outfits were inspired by both Eastern and African styles, with Native American touches as well.

The trend came about in the middle of the decade, as certain individuals looked to stand up to corporations in America. Alongside that, the Vietnam War also added fuel to fire, which inspired others to join the cause. That led people to create their own outfits, often utilizing materials from thrift stores.