For the U.S., 1968 was a sociopolitical crossroads at which a war, political schisms, activism, youth culture, style, the arts and the widening gender gap all converged in a fast moment of change. The exhibit 1968: The Year That Rocked History, which officially opens to the public on Saturday, February 7 and runs through May 10 at the History Colorado Center, brings all of those divergent directions together; in advance of the show's debut, we're rolling out a suite of lists to prep you for the 1968 experience.
In fashion, 1968 marked the rise of clothing both geometrically precise and soft and romantic, as well as the fall of some experiments like the doomed midi skirt. Top designers began to launch ready-to-wear lines that brought affordable high fashion to the hoi polloi in the streets, and everyone's sense of style was touched by a youthful air of revolution. Keep reading for our primer of 1968 fashion trends.
Mary Quant and Carnaby Street
Hand in hand with the musical "British Invasion" came the mod fashion equivalent, and the youthful style of London's Carnaby Street boutiques. Right at the top was designer Mary Quant, who might or might not have invented the miniskirt, but either way, she did much to popularize the short skirt in the '60s, along with the stylish patterned tights that London girls on the street wore to ward off the chill of the fog and rain. Another Quant invention? Hot pants. And what goes around comes around: Short skirts, dress shorts and patterned tights all have a place in plenty of modern-day closets. In addition, Quant also helped launch the sleek geometric haircuts created by stylist Vidal Sassoon, and could easily have been her own best model.
Space Age Fashion: Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges and Paco Rabanne
The Space Age Fashion trend was characterized by geometric shapes -- often simple a-line minis (Courrèges challenged Mary Quant's claim to the invention of the mini) -- and the introduction of hard-edged, modern materials used for prominent zippers, goggles and stylish plays on space helmets. Cardin employed appliquéd symbols in shiny vinyl and plastics, while Courrèges championed the go-go boot (including one style that mimicked the Mondrian aesthetic), crash helmets, acid colors and PVC garments in a palette of primary colors and metallics. Fashion bad boy Paco Rabanne's claim to fame? He draped his model's bodies with a kind of chainmail of connected plastic or metal discs or rectangles, and he also famously created Jane Fonda's space-age sex-kitten costumes for Barbarella.
Yves Saint Laurent: Pantsuits, safari jackets and ready-to-wear
Though Pierre Cardin originally led the move to ready-to-wear lines by fashion houses, Saint Laurent soon followed suit, bringing his liberating specialties -- the same pantsuits, culottes, safari jackets and tunics he rendered in richer fabrics with couture finishing for the rich -- to street-level. More daring were his gauzy see-through blouses, paired with long velvet skirts, feathers and ruffles.
When you don those flowing contemporary peasant blouses and ethnic-inspired dresses from labels like Free People, you're really recycling the same bohemian style that thrived from the late '60s into the '70s. Rich fabrics, ruffles, decorative handwork and voluminous folds of material are all trademarks of a look then driven by the "do your own thing" hippie and rock-music culture. Jerusalem-born British designer Thea Porter was one of the first to pioneer the boho look at her Soho shop in London; others, including the highly theatrical Zandra Rhodes and Hair costume designer Marian Clayden, also worked the vintage/gypsy style. On the street, young women embraced romantic, empire-waisted gowns from the Young Edwardian label by Arpeja.
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Want a more in-depth overview of 1968 fashion? In conjunction with the 1968 exhibition, History Colorado will host "Fashion in the 1960s," a presentation by Denver designer Mona Lucero at 7 p.m. April 8. Admission is $5 (or free for museum members); reserve tickets and get information about this and other 1968-related programs (other titles include "Colorado's 'Hippie Problem' in the 1960s;" "Jimi, Janis, the Family Dog and More: 1968 in Music"; "Motel or Motor Inn?" and more) online.
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