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French Fashion in the 1960s

French Fashion in the 1960s

The 1960s was an explosive period with funky to borderline weird space-age trends to brand new androgynous silhouettes.

Synthetic fabrics and dyes made fashion more readily available to the common women. Every rule was broken joyfully. It was a period of long-awaited change.

Many people were tired of being shaped to the same conventional mold.

The Shape

The silhouette of the 1960s can be divided into three categories, all worn throughout the sixties by different women.

Hyper Feminine and Classic

The hyper-feminine style of the late 50s incorporating full circle skirts, A-lined dresses, and suit dresses spilled over to the early 1960s.

The best version of this style was seen on Jackie Kennedy, dressed by Givenchy and Chanel, and is still sported by Kate Middleton today.

This shape stays the choice of many women even though the trends change to skirts getting shorter and dresses losing structure. 

That is because they wish to hold on to the lady-like image of the 1950s along with its cultural connotations.

Although elegant and stylish in its own way, it cannot hold a candle to the wave of innovation hit by the new age 60s fashions.

Younger girls wore boat neck dresses or buttoned-down blouses with peter pan collars.

Shapeless But Colorful

Blue satin strapless cocktail dress by Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior, Paris, 1959
Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By the start of the early 60s, dresses had risen above the knee, and the first Dior collection led by Yves Saint Laurent was less structurally inclined than his predecessor’s.

By the mid-sixties, we were introduced to the miniskirt movement of free-shaped shift dresses. This androgynous style was loose and comfortable.

The gamine body type belonging to Audrey Hepburn was gaining popularity over the full-figured hourglass, like that belonging to Marilyn Monroe.

Gamines were petite and almost boyish with short hair.

France was heavily inspired by the British youthquake fashion movement during this decade. Synthetic fabrics and dyes made it possible to mass-produce intricately designed printed dresses in high-quality fabrics for the common woman.

If you walked out on the streets of Paris during the sixties, you would see a multitude of both sleeveless, brightly colored or black and white printed straight dresses with extremely short hemlines. 

The mastermind behind this look was a British designer named Mary Quant. However, the style was imported to French runways by designers like Andre Courreges and Pierre Cardin.

Men also got to enjoy crazy patterns on button down shirts and suits. There were never before seen patterns and combinations of patterns on the runway and in both high and common society.

Masculine and Symbolic

Pants and tuxedos for women. However, few in number women had been wearing trousers since the 30s. During the 40s, many traditionally masculine jobs were taken over by women to keep the economy running.

During this time, dresses were not practical, and many women opted to wear pants out of convenience.

Pants have always been the symbol of financial independence since the great American depression. It was in the 60s when women had the freedom to work by choice and started to reject traditional housewife propaganda.

This was reflected in their clothing choice; women started wearing pants more than ever before. This shift was still before pants were accepted as genuinely androgynous.

So this was still seen as a rebellion against traditional gender norms.

The second wave of feminism that swept through the 60s was a very optical movement. It showed many feminists discarding what was traditionally feminine as something that shackled them.

Corsets completely disappeared, and bras were burned in the streets. Many second-wave feminists chose to wear pants to symbolize their equality with men – a subtler symbol than a burning bra.

This exact political stage made Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking Women’s Tuxedo launched in 1966; the smash hit it was.

He was quoted saying that a tuxedo is something in which a woman will always feel in style. Since fashions fade and style is eternal. 

He did not simply slap a man’s suit on a woman but molded it to her body. The French designer’s tutelage under Christian Dior left him well versed in the importance of structure in tailoring.

Legends like Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy wore pants and pantsuits regularly.

The Hair

French Bob in the 60s
A woman with blonde hair with a bob haircut
Image by Shervin Khoddami from Pexels

French Fashion in the 1960s was incomplete without the hairdo. Hairstyles in the sixties were all about the volume. while Americans were known to say, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”

The French knew the power of moderation. Thank God!

The borderline fluffy bob sported by many celebrities and actresses in the 1960s was a moderate way to have short hair.

Many weren’t afraid to crop all their hair off in a pixie like Audrey Hepburn. However, those who chose to wear their hair long Wore it in luxurious blowouts and updos.

You could picture hair taking inspiration from the atomic bomb’s mushroom cloud. As strange as it sounds, it was the effect of the craze of the atomic age.

However, as all trends have competitors, the fluffy volatilized hair competed with the slick geometric bob. Both styles survive to some extent today, each with its own cult following.

The Makeup

Woman Applying Mascara.
Woman Applying Mascara
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Makeup in the Early sixties was the same as in the fifties. Women opted for a lot of blush and colored eyeshadow.

Pastel blues and pinks with cat eyeliner was still all the rage. Dark lips were still dominating the scene and False eyelashes were a must to balance such heavily colored eyes.

During the mid-sixties, however, we saw a lot of focus on applying mascara to the bottom lashes and falsies to make the eyes appear rounder and more childlike.

While colored eyeshadow remained to some extent, it was also combined with rounded graphic liner and pale nude lips. The combination of pastel shadow and graphic liner has returned due to the makeup in the popular HBO show “Euphoria.” 

One of the main characters, Maddy’s makeup mood boards, are heavily inspired by 1960s editorial looks.

However, as popular as this trend is today, trendy women back then, especially Parisians, moved onto the 1920s art deco revival by the late 1960s. They preferred smudged smokey eye looks.

Shows like Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” show how fashion progressed from the start of the 60s towards their end.

The Shoes

Have you ever heard Nancy Sinatra’s famous song, “These boots are made for walking?” Then you’d know that the singer was right to say that one of these days, these boots will walk all over you.

With women becoming more independent and hemlines continuously shrinking, shoemakers took the opportunity to show off women’s legs.

Knee-length fitted leather boots made their first appearance. Ankle boots were also welcome in the working woman’s wardrobe.

Space Age fashion

A rocket launching.
A rocket launching.
Image Courtesy: Piqsels

The space age has had a huge effect on the fashion industry. Entire collections were released in the late sixties based on the concept that they may be worn in space or inspired by space travel.

Uniquely shaped dresses, convoluted headgear, thigh-high leather boots, geometric leather belts, and more were introduced to the fashion scene during the end of the decade. 

The Movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” illustrates the sentiments and predictions people in the 60s had about the twenty-first century.

Even though some of these designs were simply bizarre and didn’t last long, they opened a new era of uncapped creativity in high fashion.

Designers were never as free as they are now. From a business standpoint in the fashion industry, any publicity was good publicity.

This was just the beginning of crazy controversial stunts to get the world’s attention in an increasingly competitive fashion world.

This space age craze was not exclusive to clothing, but each industry tried its hand at products fitting a futuristic aesthetic.

There is a highly specific space-age style of furniture, technology, kitchenware, and even vehicles.

Just as people choose to dress up in sixteenth and seventeenth-century period garments, there is also a space-age fashion subculture.


Changing gender roles, the availability of cheaper materials, fresh new designers, and ready-to-wear collections led to a new era of French fashion in the 1960s.

Rules were thrown out the window by many, while some clung to older silhouettes.

The 60s were undoubtedly one of the most iconic decades of fashion history, with many trends still followed religiously today.

The world was hungry for change and the fashion industry delivered with extra help. They understood the assignment, so to speak.

While breaking the rules meant a few failures and flukes, there was more achieved in fashion history in a very short time than ever before.

Header image courtesy: Image by Shervin Khoddami from Pexels