Fashion History: Teens in Swinging London

13 01 2009

London became the center of fashion for a specific market segment from the end of the 1950s through the 60s. London’s emergence as a fashion capitol was well-rooted in the production specialization in menswear after the mid-18th Century “grand denial” of the new industrial aristocracy.

In Europe, the post-war decades represented a period of strong economic growth. A new social and consumer group under the age of 30 emerged, and acquired a distinct identity and culture, now know as the Youth Culture. Their incomes were the highest ever registered and they spent to purchase items that symbolized their identity. For the first time, young people had become the engine driving fashion change. Previously, young people had always dressed like their parents.

Subcultures like the Rockers and the mods emerged, and by the 1960s, a new group of British designers had emerged to represent them. They challenged the position of Paris as the capital of haute couture, and were educated in special art schools, going on to satisfy the demand for simple, unorthodox clothing for teens.

Boutiques became the hot places to hang out, and Mary Quant, Vivienne Westwood, and Twiggy came to represent the face of British youth fashion.

Mary Quant opened the Bazaar Boutique on King’s Road in Chelsea in 1955. At that time, this neighborhood was a place where the bohemians lived and hung out. Quant began making her own clothes because she didn’t like the ones her mother had supplied her with. She wore them around Chelsea, and grew a fan base and market through word of mouth. She developed the mini-dress in the mid-1960s (although it is disputed who originated the idea). The mini-dress became a huge fashion staple, as did stockings and wildly colored, clunky shoes. Quant’s own footwear collection made headlines with the 1967 collection of ankle boots made from PVC.

Quant and others experimented with common industrial materials, such as plastics. Some were more successful than others: Quant’s “Wet Dress” was a flop because, though it was made of PVC, it proved not to be waterproof.

Vivienne Westwood took Quant’s philosophy of rebellion to another level. She dated the lead of the Sex Pistols and came to represent Punk and provocation. In fact, she changed the name of her first boutique from “Let It Rock” to “SEX”.

Beyond the mere shock factor of her boutique, Westwood’s fashion fearlessly delivered to a generation embracing the sexual revolution, rock n’roll, and all the goods that went along with it!