60s Fashion: beehives, slacks and Brylcreem

At the beginning of the decade, the fashions were very lady-like, as they had been in the fifties, with perhaps a hint of Coco Chanel.

My girlfriends and I lusted after the clothes worn by ballerina-turned-actress Audrey Hepburn and the ultra-chic Jackie Kennedy, wife of the American president. We wore fitted clothes and high heels, little black dresses at night and hats and gloves when we went to town.

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The Jackie Kennedy look inspired millions of women around the world

For work we might have favoured jacket dresses and pencil skirts or ones with sunray pleats. We sometimes wore our cardigans back to front. We spent all day in stilettos or kitten heels.

We dressed for the occasion; ballet flats and tights or capri pants were fashionable, but strictly for casual wear, as pants were frowned upon in the workplace. Our boyfriends might have sported a car coat and a pair of string gloves for driving. They might even have owned a car.

Accessorising 101
Matching accessories, we were told, were vitally important. Handbags and shoes simply had to match. We would never think of combining silver and gold jewellery, possibly because Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, had ruled against it.

Not many ears were pierced and there were few visible tattoos. A watch was a prized possession, possibly presented as a gift for coming of age. A woman’s watch had a very small face, and some could be worn as pendants. A man’s watch was simple, usually worn with a leather strap or an expandable metal band.

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The hairstyles of the day required care, precision, and an awful lot of hairspray

The Accutron from Bulova was the first so-called electronic timepiece, launched in 1960, but the company was beaten by Omega in a fight to have their watches worn by the first man on the moon.

Big hair and lots of hairspray
There was a new emphasis on hair and makeup. We piled on eye shadow and eyeliner and lush false lashes. Our lips and cheeks were pale pink or nude.

We bought hot rollers and swapped outdated perms for hairstyles called The Flip or The French Roll, and we teased our tresses into shapes like beehives, sometimes adding false pieces and padding to achieve the ‘big hair’ look.

My hair was so long I could almost sit on it, so when I wore it up it added several inches to my height. To keep our creations in place, we used products such as Elnett or Hidden Magic, heavy-duty hairspray that could bring on an asthma attack in an otherwise healthy individual.

Some of us wore our hair short in a geometric cut, hoping to look like Mod English designer Mary Quant or the elfin model Twiggy.

When the film Cleopatra was screened in 1963, we rushed to the stores to buy the eye make-up worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the title role. We attempted the new Cleopatra Look by Revlon. Unfortunately, Richard Burton didn’t come with it.

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Jean Shrimpton's simple shift dress caused quite the stir in 1965

The shift to shorter hems
Clothes became less constricting and we embraced the shift dress.

Young English model Jean Shrimpton attended Derby Day at Flemington racecourse with her friend, actor Terence Stamp, in October 1965.

She was photographed shockingly hatless and wearing a loosely cut dress with the hem several inches above her knees, exposing her shapely legs, which were thought to have been bare. This caused a sensation. The miniskirt had arrived.

I was quick to adopt the shift. It meant I was able to buy a small amount of fabric and put an outfit together in a couple of hours on my mother’s trusty Singer sewing machine.

Slacks and winkle pickers
Boys were influenced by The Beatles and embraced the singers’ hairstyles and fashions.

They stopped using hair products such as Brylcreem and adopted the ‘mop top’. Their suits became narrow and shoes were pointed at the toes, earning them the nickname ‘winkle pickers’.

Men started to smell really good, thanks to colognes like Brut and Tabac, which the advertisers preferred to call ‘aftershave’ to make them more appealing to the Australian masculine pride.

Some of my male student friends favoured duffel coats, polo neck sweaters and desert boots as their uniform. Many of them added a pipe. Suede and sheepskin jackets made their debut.

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Male fashion in the mid-60s featured casual woollen gear

An ad in Pix magazine on 7 April 1965 told us ‘Men of adventure relax in Sax Altman slacks’. A blend of Terylene, they were aimed at ‘Fit, lean brown men — women stare at’. I suppose he was brown because he worked at his tan.

Psychedelic movement
Psychedelia made it to Australia and our fashions changed dramatically. Trousers became tighter around the hips and flared at the bottoms. To get into our jeans we had to lie on the floor and pull the zipper up with a wire coat hanger.

Heels grew higher, sometimes with platforms added. There was an abundance of denim. Men cultivated lush, droopy moustaches and sideburns or ‘mutton-chops’.

Hair was worn long by both sexes, with the occasional curly afro. We added headbands. Men and women wore similar floppy hats and high boots. Fringed suede vests and bags and round sunglasses were the rage. Fashion became more androgynous. Men could get into your pants.

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Audrey Hepburn's stunning wedding dress as photographed in 1969

I was very flexible when it came to fashion. I occasionally liked to dress in ethnic designs, favouring long, embroidered Indian dresses. To add to the hippie look, I might have strung my own love beads.

At the same time, I rushed to buy new glamorous jumpsuits and culottes from fashion houses. They looked splendid but, being all in one piece, were a nightmare if you needed to go to the toilet.

Fashions changed enormously during the decade of the sixties and, in 1969, The Australian Women’s Weekly featured the wedding of Audrey Hepburn on the cover. In the photograph, Audrey is standing outside the church, holding the hand of her second husband, psychiatrist Andrea Dotti.

Her dress is the palest pink with long sleeves and a high cowl collar, and the hem of her skirt is four or five inches above her knees. She wears a fine pink scarf wrapped around her head and pinned under her chin. Needless to say, Audrey Hepburn looks divine.

This is an edited extract from Living the 1960s by Noeline Brown (NLA Publishing, RRP $39.99), available online and in all good bookstores.

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Image credits: NLA Publishing