A Brief History: 1960's
Emily May explores democratisation, ephemerality and the everyday in 1960s dance and fashion.
Mini skirt by Mary Quant, 1960
The “swinging 60s” were an age of international social revolution in various different spheres. Post-war austerity was left behind in favour of a growing economy, consumerism, the invention of a new “youth culture” and relaxation of censorship and social taboos. Developments can be noted in numerous cultural spheres, namely music and of course, fashion.
One of the most notable developments in 60s fashion was a democratisation of style. In ages gone by, fashion was a playground merely available for the socially elite, however the 60s gave birth to an emphasis on a younger, less affluent market, and therefore saw the creation of labels, designers and boutiques that were more affordable and relevant to the lives of everyday people. A key example of this philosophy in London is designer Mary Quant’s boutique Bazaar, which opened on the Kings Road in 1955 and was a popular shopping destination throughout the 60s.. Quant’s mission was to sell modern clothing “suited to the actions of normal life.” Later in the decade, in 1964, Barbara Hulinicki (a designer credited with the invention of the mini skirt) also opened her infamous store Biba which held a similar mission statement to Quant’s Bazaar. In reference to her designs Hulinicki stated “I wanted to make clothes for people in the street, and Fitz [Hulinicki’s partner] and I always tried to get prices down, down to the bare minimum. Affordable prices also enabled a new era of “disposable fashion”. Whereas clothes were previously built to last for many years, durability in the 60s came second to style. Why would clothes need to last when they became outdated by a new look on a weekly basis? Paper dresses and items made from disposable materials were a short-lived fashion fad in the United States, and epitomize this new throwaway, temporary culture.
Image, Judson Church, Nightfall (1963) Photo by Peter Moore
Image of Trisha Brown, 1960.
Democratisation, the preoccupation with the “everyday”, and disposability are all trends that can also be noted in developments in modern dance of the 1960s. Most notably, across the pond in swinging New York, Post-Modernist dance was a reactionary movement which questioned the artistic ideals and principles upon which work was made. A key principle of the post-modernist movement was to explore every day, pedestrian movement as a valid performative language a principle which was particularly evident in the work of celebrated pioneering choreographer Yvonne Rainer. Basic actions such as walking and running were key features of Rainer’s movement language, as she stated in her 1965 manifesto, she rejected spectacle and virtuosity, previously key features of dance. The everyday nature of Rainer’s (amongst others) choreography reflects the postmodernist ideal that anyone can be a dancer, echoing the democratisation of style in the fashion world which this article previously discussed. For example, Rainer’s seminal work Trio A (1966) to this day, is widely taught to dancers and non-dancers alike. The work of choreographer Trisha Brown is also comparable to the disposable and impermanent nature of 1960s fashion. Although dance in its nature is always fleeting, Brown’s interest in staging work in non-theatrical settings enhanced the art form’s ephemeral quality. By placing her choreography in alternative locations such as lofts, rooftops and in the streets (at the end of the decade in 1970 Brown presented the self-explanatory work Man Walking Down the Side of a Building in and around Wooster Street, New York City), Brown transformed artworks into fleeting happenings or events. These events may be restaged elsewhere, but would never be identical to what occurred at that exact moment in space and time.