Thrifting 101, Part 16: Dating vintage clothing by era - The 1960's

Like many fashion lovers, I've had a serious, passionate relationship with vintage clothing since I first fell in love with dressing up.  This relationship began when I was in middle school and has grown stronger with each year that passes. My attraction to vintage initially began as a sort of rebellion - I wanted to dress independently from my peers, and wearing vintage and thrifted clothing set me apart. But I also loved the time machine feel vintage clothing caused - stepping into a decades-old item instantly transported me back to that era.

My first pieces of vintage clothing were hand-me-downs from my parents. My mom and dad were pseudo-hippies to the extreme. They did not head for San Fransisco following the Grateful Dead. They didn't live in a commune or grow their own vegetables. Nor did they construct homemade signs protesting the Vietnam War, nuclear development, or civil rights. However, they were dressed appropriately for such activities. I am certain they believed their clothes demonstrated their inclusion into the counter-culture. A far as they were concerned, they were radicals. They were bohemians. Along with their generation, they left the mainstream behind and bravely moved forward into the world of dirty hair and folk music.

My mother ironed her locks straight, parted them in the middle, and grew them down to her waist. Early photos of her document the free-spirited hippie style that dominated the 1960's - bell bottom jeans, clogs, love beads and peasant blouses. She also owned a leather fringed vest, minidresses in ethnic prints, and Native American jewelry. My dad sported an impressive Jew-fro, the afro of the whitest white people populating the planet, and a bushy mustache. His clothes were purchased at the army-navy surplus store. His claims to glory were the road trip he took around the country in his VW minivan, and his trip to Woodstock, where he hitchhiked and slept in the mud.

Eventually, my mom and dad abandoned their dirty clothes and counterculture ways. My dad began to wear neckties and suits. My mom cut her hair and started listening to Blondie. They bought a co-op in a deeply suburban neighborhood, sold their VW minivan, and eventually passed their hippie clothing down to me.

Last week in Thrifting 101, I began exploring the history of fashion from the 1920's to the 1950's  in order to help you determine the age of a garment while thrifting. This week we'll pick up in 1960, and follow the fashion timeline to the 1980's. Understanding more about the history of modern dressing is a great way to figure out when a garment was made. 

Missed any previous parts of the series? Up to this point, Thrifting 101 has focused on tips for newbies and those dealing with the squick factor, advice regarding how to shop at a thrift store, thrifting for the clothing snob, recommendations for finding the best thrift and consignment stores, tips for determining what days are the best for thrifting, a post where I explained my love for thrifting, advice regarding thrift store etiquette, tips for cleaning vintage leather, a post of my favorite thrifting and vintage blogs, tips for identifying and cleaning thrifted jewelry, advice for storing vintage and thrifted garments, and advice for shopping for vintage online.

The 1960's

1964 junior's catalog

1960 began a decade which may well be recorded as one of the most fashion-conscious periods in recent history. It was a decade that broke many fashion traditions, mirroring social movements during the period.The postwar baby boom resulted in large teenage population, and these young people spurred a revolution in fashion not seen since the carefree flappers of the roaring twenties.

Early 1960's fashions largely continued the silhouettes popular in the prior decade. However, slim new shapes were seen alongside hourglass silhouettes of the 1950's.  The full skirt and fitted bodices of dresses gave way to straight shirt-dresses, and simple cotton shifts. Slim flat-front pants were also popular. Collarless and sleeveless dresses were preferred, with lean lines and an undefined waist. Dresses often came with a cropped boxy overbodice in matching fabric, or a matching fabric coat. Solid pastel or neutral colors dominated fashion. Jackie Kennedy's pillbox hat and simple, clean shift dresses remain emblematic of the period.

Softness and naturalness pervaded fabrics, and traditional seasonal taboos were ignored and a number of colors, fabrics, and patterns were acclaimed as year-round staples. Unlike in previous decades, fashion direction was dictated more by time of day than by temperature or locale.

In 1964, Mary Quaint introduced the miniskirt, and the fashion world changed forever. Quaint worked with bright colors and bold patterns and ushered in the mid-sixties Mod movement. Styles were reduced to boxy or A-line shape, with slim shirts and fitted pants. Funky, with-it clothes , influenced by Pop Art and Op Art, began to appear, often featuring Mondrian prints on shift dresses and geometric, linear designs. Clothes such as these were accessorized with bold costume jewelry. Variations of polyester and acrylic fabrics were used, in addition to PVC, vinyl and Lucite. Footwear for women included low-heeled sandals, kitten pumps, and white knee-high boots. Accessories were often made from patent leather or glossy vinyl. Flat boots with pointed toes, also know as Beetle boots, also became popular.

Mod fashion
The miniskirt was also utilized in babydoll dresses, another style popularized by the Mod movement. The baby doll look was quite literal: it featured very short skirts, high waistlines, puffed sleeves, Peter Pan collars, jumper or apron affects, lots of lace and ruffles, and sometimes even bloomers. Hemlines kept rising, and by 1968 reached mid-thigh.

Mary Quaint in a babydoll jumper, mid 1960's

Mid-sixties fashion also included a brief popularity of Edwardian style, characterized by crushed velvets, jeweled braiding, and brocades in rich colors. Striped shirts, mini-dresses with lace collars and cuffs, and opulent coats were embraced by teenagers and college students.By 1968 young people had found another place to shop: antique clothing shops, army-navy outlets, and ethnic stores. At antique stores women hunted for fringed shawl, lacy blouses, long velvet coats and dresses. Ethnic stores provided tie-die tunics, embroidered clothes, Mexican wedding dresses, trade-bead necklaces and and rings hung with miniature bells. Even the most conservative designers adapted the new ethnic look through bolero vests, dirndl skirts, and glittering brocades.

By the late 1960's Edwardian fashion evolved into the psychedelic hippie look, characterized by bellbottom jeans, long shawls, scarves and fringed jackets. Influenced by the emerging folk music scene, clothing was inspired by simple country wear with the use of corduroy, flannel, and denim. Ethnic influences continued to pervade fashion. Fringed buck-skin vests, flowing caftans, Mexican peasant blouses, gypsy-style skirts, scarves, and bangles were also worn by teenage girls and young women. Indian prints, batik and paisley were the fabrics preferred.

The long skirt showed up in 1965, and by 1986 the midi dress appeared in nearly every major collection. With its fitted bodice, long sleeves, and full skirt, ending just below the knee, it was an extension of both the peasant-ethnic influence and the babydoll dress.

Hippie group, San Fransisco 1967 (photo by Irving Penn)

More conservative women preferred lounging or hostess pajamas. These consisted of a tunic top over floor-length culottes, and were usually made of polyester or chiffon. Designers such as Scassi, Anne Klein, and Norell featured palazzo-pant pajamas in silk, stretch fabrics and polyesters, either paired with long loose tops or short cropped blouses.

Late 1960's polyester lounging pajama pattern

Another popular look for women and girls which lasted well into the early 1970s was the suede mini-skirt worn with a French polo-neck top, square-toed boots, and Newsboy cap or beret. Long maxi coats, often belted and lined in sheepskin, appeared at the close of the decade.Animal prints were also popular for women in the autumn and winter of 1969. Women's shirts often had transparent sleeves.

Sources used for this post:
  • Fortier, Melanie: The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping Quirk Books (2009) 
  • Milbank; Caroline Rennolds: New York Fashion Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (1996)
  • Odulate, Funmi: Shopping for Vintage: The Definitive Guide to Vintage Fashion  Publisher: St. Martins Griffin (2008)
  • Tortora, Phyllis and Eubank, Kevin: Survey of Historic Costume, Fourth Edition Publisher: Fairchild Publications, Inc. (1998)


  1. Good job with the research and imparting it to us in such a readable fashion. I love thrift shopping and vintage clothing.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Great post Elissa. You wont believe me! I haven't gone thrift shopping yet! But TODAY the lovely Katie is taking me :) So Excited!

  3. I really love the vintage clothing and I have some collections of vintage clothing which is my most favorite.I purchased the some of the vintage clothing from dressy costumes which are very reasonable in price and on each and every costumes they are offering some discounts.


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