Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Swinging Sixties in the UK – did they really ‘swing’?

The Stones at their recent 50th Anniversary gig at the o2 in London - tickets sold out in 7 mins in spite of being priced between £95 and £406!)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about why, in spite of the general aura of optimism in the 1950s, it was far from being my favourite decade in terms of design.

And I hinted that I preferred the style of the Sixties and Seventies, though it was more than just the designs in themselves that ushered in a great wave of liberation from the stuffiness of the Fifties.
Left: Jean Shrimpton with the Rolling Stones.
I recently received a photograph of myself and all my college contemporaries, taken when we went up to university in 1962. And with a couple of exceptions, a right frumpy lot we looked, in our unflattering chunky sweaters, tweedy skirts and specs that Dame Edna would be proud of! But during those 3 years in Oxford there was a seismic shift taking place.
Cathy McGowan helped to popularise the mini-skirt
What I loved about that time, even more than the sharp, youthful, geometric cut of the clothes, was what I would call the ‘democratisation of style’.


Whereas previously fashion had been determined by the world of Haute Couture, with the rich and famous of the establishment in mind, now it became possible for everyone, from shop girl to ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’ to dress stylishly and live in well designed surroundings. 

In many ways it felt like a time of rebellion, a time when young people, teenagers even, claimed an identity, a culture, all of their own for the very first time.

It was a time of quite drastic new beginnings. In 1962 –63, the popular TV show, ‘That was the week that was . .  ‘ made fun of previously revered figures of the ‘establishment’ in a way that was at first regarded by many as outrageous!

The UK version of the Interior Design magazine, House Beautiful (1964 –68) together with Terence Conran’s ‘Habitat’ stores made good design, with a strong Scandinavian bias at first, available and affordable to most for the first time.
In the spirit of rebellion that I associate with that decade, it was out with the traditional styles of our parents’ homes and in with colourful, bright clean lines and in particuar, all sorts of exciting accessories, such as outsized pepper mills, terra cotta chicken bricks and colourful enamel cooking utensils. (I still have some of them, chipped and no longer usable in the kitchen but still pretty enough to hang on to!)

With air travel becoming more affordable to the ‘average’ family, and with flights from Manchester airport (1961) and Luton (1962), package holidays started to take off, mostly to European destinations. Together with the intrepid launch of the Sunday Times Colour Supplement in 1962, that featured a new lifestyle, including recipes for foreign dishes by authors such as Elizabeth David, foreign foods started to find their way into our supermarkets and into our kitchens, adding a welcome variety to our rather bland English 'cuisine'.

The Rolling Stones, the Beatles and other young 'pop groups' rose to fame in the Sixties, there was a strong emphasis on youth and young people and this was reflected in the vibrant fashions of the time, many of which would have been difficult for an older person to wear!

 The Pop TV show ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ went on air in 1963 with Cathy McGowan, one of the programme’s presenters, evolving into a fashion icon.

Mary Quant (made an OBE in 1966 and 'Still Swinging at 77' according to the Daily Mail) and her friend, Vidal Sassoon, led the way. Through Carnaby Street and the King’s Road, Chelsea, the UK became the leading light in the world of fashion and in many ways, ‘where it was all at’!

The spectacular success of the Biba boutique in Kensington demonstrates a generation hungry for something new and all their own, something different from what their ‘elders and betters’ expected them to wear! And the top models of the time, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, bore no resemblance at all to the models of the previous decade!

Looking back now, the concrete tower blocks, that seemed to spring up everywhere in the Sixties, were mostly hideous monstrosities. And many of the fashions in clothing and interior design can seem ridiculous – but then, isn’t that always the case when we look back at fashions from not so long ago? 

To me the Sixties seemed like a time of genuine and general optimism, a time of change when style ceased to be the prerogative of the privileged. A lot of factors contributed to this shift but I think the rock and pop musicians had a lot to do with it.

I can remember exactly where I was, who I was with and what I was doing when I first heard about the Beatles. Can you?



Jayne said...

Great blog post today! What a walk down Memory Lane! I used to love watching Ready, Steady Go!

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Jayne - you don't look old enough to remember 'Ready, Steady, Go!' :)

Crystal said...

I love the stones and it would be awesome to see them! The beatles are my faves and even my daughter loves them and she wasn't even born when they appeared in this country. Hermans Hermits are another I really know you all in the UK have blessed us yanks with such wonderful music!!! ;-)

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Crystal - I had forgotten all about Hereman's Hermits till you mentioned them! The Sixties were a really inspired and inspiring era - and I haven't even mentioned my favourite children's book illustrators of that time!

Unknown said...

I saw them live in 1963!
They were awsome then and they are awsome now.

Judy Adamson said...

Oooo - lucky you! But great to see them in concert on TV recently :)