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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"


Levi Strauss and Company

Levi Strauss was a German Jewish immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1847. At first he worked as a peddler in the South, but in 1853 he moved to San Francisco to found a dry goods (general merchandise) store with his brother-in-law. The store sold merchandise ordered from the East Coat. To create more business, the company, named Levi Strauss and Company, sent out "drummers" into Northern California, so that customers could order goods and have them delivered.

One of Levi Strauss's customers was a man named Jacob Davis, a struggling tailor in the mining area. His customers, mainly teamsters and miners, had complained that their pants were ripping apart. Davis, in response to these complaints, fashioned his trousers out of heavy material riveted at the stress points. Because the tailor had not been successful in previous business ventures, he contacted Levi Strauss and suggested that the two men go into partnership, with Strauss paying the patent application fees. Strauss agreed and in 1873 the company started manufacturing "waist overalls," what we today call jeans. They were made out of a variety of fabrics, including duck, canvas, and denim. With Strauss's canny business sense, the style of work pants was very successful and became the mainstay of the business. Eventually blue denim became the standard.


Related Images

Back of Levis' brown duck trousers
Back of Levis' brown duck trousers

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