HistoryWired About the Program Help Comments Smithsonian Institution
Fashion in the 1960s

In the 1960s, social and political movements shook U.S. society. Young men and women challenged some of the lines of gender, race, and class accepted by their parents. Many middle-class youth adopted working-class garments such as jeans and T-shirts. Many young men wore the flamboyant colors associated with dandies and women since the 1800s. Many young women contested the idea that beauty--defined by narrow, Euro centric standards--was their duty.

With the rise of the feminist movement, some women abandoned conventions of feminine appearance. In 1968, feminists picketed the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, NJ. They threw symbols of women's oppression--bras, dishrags, makeup, diapers, steno, pads, high heels--into a trashcan. Feminists objected to restricted clothing and argued that the fashion and beauty industries cast women as sexual objects.

In the late 1960s, jeans designed for male bodies became part of a unisex uniform for youth. By dressing alike, young women and men minimized the significance of gender and emphasized the "generation gap." Jeans worn by men and women were a statement against fashion, in part because the rugged denim garment had working-class associations.

Women of all ethnic backgrounds took up the idea that narrow concepts of "beauty" and a constant concern with fashionable appearance contributed to women's second-class status in American society. Many young women opted out of the fashion system by shopping at surplus stores, making their own clothes, or buying inexpensive garments from street vendors.

Long-haired young men of the 1960s rejected the older generation's authority and standards of masculinity. Accessories and clothing that their parents associated with "femininity" further blurred the distinction between the sexes. Many young people used their appearance to underscore their opposition to the Vietnam War. They created a new connection between masculinity and anti-militarism.

In the late 1960s, some African Americans who were disenchanted with integration turned to styles and fabrics that expressed a connection to Africa and a sense of "Black" identity. The "Black is Beautiful" movement also played a part in the decade's broad movement toward unisex looks. African American men who adopted the "natural" hairstyle rejected what they saw as an older generation's compromise with white standards of appearance. The "natural" hairstyle expressed not only political stance but also new gender ideals. A man's "natural" represented an assertive masculinity. African American women who adopted the same style implicitly claimed that self-assertion was appropriate for them too.

From Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service exhibition, "Try This On"


Start HistoryWired | About the Program | Help | Comments

Smithsonian Institution | Terms of Use | Privacy