Where are the White Gloves? The Fashion Revolution of the Sixties
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the age of white gloves, fashion catered to the chic woman who bought expensive couture clothes, wore them to elegant cocktail parties, and prescribed them for their daughters for their debutante balls. After the assassinations of the 60s, the battles over desegregation, the beginning of the Vietnam War, and the advent of the youth protest movement, young people seemed to be everywhere, in miniskirts, black turtlenecks, and above all, jeans. In the space of a few years, the fashion mood changed with the market: a more elegant outlook aimed at an older clientele was overwhelmed by the rebellious mood of the baby boom generation, whose large numbers and prosperity enabled them to dictate an almost anti-fashion attitude. Young women refused to "come out", the Beatles replaced Lester Lanin, and the fox trot was succeeded by the twist. White gloves, the symbol of an older generation, were discarded.
By 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon, skirts had risen to thigh level, and new hi-tech materials like plastics, synthetics, and metals began to appear. Paper was touted for disposable clothing for a generation on the move.With women's liberation and the "burn the bra" movement came pants, see-through clothing, and unstructured lines that almost denied the female figure. Meanwhile "street fashion" embraced leather bell-bottoms, micro miniskirts, long hair, and love beads. The great couturier Balenciaga gave up his couture business in 1968, leaving the field to designers like Courrèges and the young Bill Blass, who designed for the younger woman, and to the free-form outfits, recycled clothing, and flowers of the hippie generation.
In this exhibition, a gown by Balenciaga from the early years of the decade and elegant suits by Dior and Chanel represent the white glove years of the early 60s. Minidresses by Courrèges and Blass, whose precise cut and dartless construction suggest "woman as little girl;" a knitted pants outfit by Emilio Pucci; and a geometrically shaped printed cotton dress by the Finnish firm of Marimekko express the transitional phase of the mid-sixties, while the Nehru jacket and Beatles cap show the increasing influence of the exotic and of Pop music. A paper minidress and the metallic bar front of the Pierre Cardin dress show how new materials expanded the possibilities of design.
From the end of the decade, "street fashion" is represented by the leather and suede man's costume with beads and lacing, and the ubiquitous torn blue jeans and body paint sum up the near breakdown of traditional fashion that ended the decade and continued into the next. Finally, in the Wetmore room, the exhibition ends with the traditional wedding dress, designed by RISD student Clifford Gastler in 1964 of disposable paper, a perhaps unwitting, but prophetic comment on marriage as well as on the revolutionary, fast-changing nature of 1960s fashion.