The Sixties will be Swinging once again at this year’s Revival – here’s how to fit in
It is a much-quoted statement that the ’60s didn’t actually start until The Beatles arrived on the scene.
But, on the evidence of the recent retrospective at the V&A, Mary Quant was already in full swing from day one of the decade, way ahead of the Fab Four.
Quant’s unique and pioneering clothing lines, with their playful and flirty mix, set the bar for women’s fashion for the following 10 years and gave young girls a new and optimistic post-war mindset.
By the time the last motor race at Goodwood was staged in early July ’66, she had been awarded an OBE and become a household name. Only two months earlier in that final year of racing at the Sussex track, American magazine Time coined the phrase ‘Swinging London’, with Quant as their standard-bearer.
How many of the capital’s inhabitants were actually swinging was never stated, and it wasn’t really until the following year and the Summer of Love that things changed for good (or for the worse).
So what was the rest of the nation up to sartorially during Goodwood’s half-dozen years of the ’60s?
Like so much of British culture in the late ’50s – be it films, music or even car styling (albeit suitably restrained) – the influence and aspiration of the USA ran through everything, not least clothing.
The American college-derived ‘Ivy look’ was huge among the nation’s 20-somethings. For men it was still suits with a collar and tie, but the cut was that much sharper and the materials that bit more exotic.
Hats were for boring pipe-smokers like Harold Wilson, not suave US presidents such as JFK, and hair was now styled, not simply cut. This fashion, with a healthy dollop of Italian influence, would morph into the Modernist movement so loathed by their sworn enemies in the Rocker fraternity.
For women, Quant and Bazaar (Mary’s Kings Road and Knightsbridge boutiques) not only drew London’s fashion-conscious, but also attracted admirers from all over the British Isles.
She is often credited with creating the miniskirt, though her output during the early ’60s featured varying hemlines, not to mention trouser suits.
Trousers or jeans were increasingly embraced by young women, the need to wear frocks being associated with their mothers’ generation.
Audrey Hepburn made the ‘little black dress’ iconic, but she was more often seen in a pair of fitted slacks with a crisp white blouse.
These youth fashions reflected a growing confidence, finally putting an end to the austerity of Britain’s post-war years – a trait personified by cheap, classless cars such as the Mini.
Even the briefest trawl of Pathé news footage showing street scenes from the early ’60s will reward the Mini fan with countless shots of Issigonis’ masterpiece in all its variants.
Quant, an owner herself, once enthused: “I just loved it. It was a handbag on wheels. The Mini car went exactly with the miniskirt. It did everything one wanted, looked great, it was optimistic, exuberant, young, flirty – it was exactly right.”
Because the Mini was so indiscriminating, it allows the Revivalist the broadest canvas to fulfil their fashion fantasies.
Kelly Dawson and Scott Ogden of Brighton-based Dawson Denim helped judge the Goodwood Revival’s Best Dressed competition for many years, so are the perfect people to ask about suitable attire to wear with the BMC icon for a day at the races.
“With the Mini there isn’t a right or wrong outfit, except maybe full Rocker gear,” says Ogden. “For most Mods it was the logical step up from a scooter. No more damp Italian threads and far more attractive to a potential girlfriend.
“But it really is all-inclusive: beatniks, Ivy league, bowler-hatted businessmen – none would look out of place behind the wheel of a Mini. The same goes for women.”
Dawson concurs: “The great thing about ’60s fashion for women is the small heels on shoes. The last thing you need during a long day at the Revival is gravity-defying stilettos.”
For those who don’t want to show their knees, there are plenty of authentic alternatives to the miniskirt, too: “Pinafore dresses were huge, as were matching tops and skirts – as in the classic Vogue shot of Jean Shrimpton on a Mini.
“Miniskirts are tricky for obvious reasons, and in the years we judged very few nailed it. Jeans, ski pants or slacks, worn with the right blouse or jumper, can look just as stylish and be a lot more comfortable.”
Where to shop
Most cities now have shops selling ‘vintage’ gear, the quality and pricing of which differs hugely: in London, Rokit and Beyond Retro are among the more reasonably priced.
Charity shops, once a top source, provide slim pickings these days but flea markets and vintage fairs offer keen pricing. Finally, the internet is an increasingly good source for Revival kit, not only vintage-specific sellers but also larger sites such as Etsy and eBay.
Images: Will Williams/Getty Images