Youthquake, Swinging London & Boutique Fashion
‘Youthquake’ was the overarching 1960s cultural youth movement that changed the landscape of the fashion industry away from the dominance of Parisian and London couture houses. The term was coined by Diana Vreeland and first applied to the likes of New York socialite Edie Sedgwick. Nowhere was the Youthquake more prevalent than in Swinging Sixties London.
Here's a throwback to a 60s dress we sold a few years ago with the label 'Youth Quake':
The large population of Baby Boomers came into young adulthood in the 1960s and challenged the norms of the conservative post-war society they had grown up in. Women became more independent and rejected the idealized femininity of the 1950s. The British labour government offered subsidized college tuition which allowed many people of humble origins to pursue careers in the arts including fashion. Young people looked to London’s boutiques to reinvent and experiment with their style, aided by the explosion of mass produced, inexpensive, ready-to-wear clothing. Leaders in the boutique industry included Biba, Granny Takes a Trip, Hung On You, Dandie Fashions, Apple, Mr.Fish, Quorum and I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet amongst many others. In New York, Betsey Johnson was designing for Paraphernalia.
These boutiques were predecessors for the likes of high street stores Topshop and Miss Selfridge. Many of them were spearheaded by ambitious young career women eager to cater to their contemporaries. The most famous of these is of course Mary Quant, who opened her boutique Bazaar in 1955, paving the way for many others to follow. There was little time for the snobbery of made-to-order couture clothing.
The clothes were displayed like in an art gallery and to a soundtrack of rock ’n’ roll.
Trends included psychedelia, mysticism, velvets, Art Nouveau, Indian patterns, mini skirts, jumpsuits, androgyny and A-line silhouettes. Cashing in on the youthful desire for trends, the Scott Paper Company started producing disposable Pop-Art inspired paper dresses in 1966, which sparked a frenzy for a short while. Synthetic fabrics also exploded on the scene.
Poster girls for the Youthquake look included Edie Sedgwick, Veruschka, Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy.
It influenced many designer’s to jump on the ready-to-wear wagon and open boutiques of their own and some even closed their couture doors completely.
It also kicked off a series of celebrity endorsed fashion lines with some opening their own boutiques too, including:
The host of the popular music show 'Ready Steady Go!' was dubbed 'queen of the mods' and idolized by girls across England for her sense of style. She launched her own 'boutique' mail order clothing line in 1965 as well as her makeup survival kit.
The iconic model partnered with Taramina Textiles in 1966 to set up Twiggy Fashion. The clothing was designed by Pamela Proctor and Paul Babb, heavily influenced by Mary Quant. It was launched in the States the following year as part of the 'British Invasion'. The network ABC produced a 3-part documentary series about her time in America for the launch. Each purchase came with its own trademark hanger featuring her face.
The Puppet on a String singer launched her own label in 1967.
The Scottish singer teamed up with Freeman's catalogue in 1969 to promote a line of clothing made by Lenbry Fashions.
The lasting impact of this movement was the concept of the ‘bubble-up’ theory where ideas come from the streets and young people rather than high society, as well as using pop culture icons for marketing; the rich were no longer setting the trends. The ‘Beautiful People’ who exemplified boutique fashion included Mick Jagger, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pattie Boyd and Marianne Faithfull.
Trends and movements that emerged out of the Youthquake included Mods, Hippies, the Single Girl, the Peacock Revolution and Space Age fashion.
Many of the boutiques fell pray to widespread shoplifting and bad business practises, bringing an end to their heyday by the 1970s amidst a struggling British economy. However, while they lasted, they produced some of the most exciting fashion London had ever known. It was also the beginning of modern fast fashion.
The Kinks summed it up best with their 1966 hit: “And when he does his little rounds, Round the boutiques of London town, Eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends, Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion”.
We’ll take a look at some of the designers and boutiques below!
Check out our instagram reel of many of Swinging London's boutiques here:
Biba was the Swinging 60s retail emporium founded by designer Barbara Hulanicki. Hulanicki was born in Warsaw, Poland. Her father was assassinated in 1948, and she and her family moved to England. She studied at the Brighton School of Art from 1954 - 1956 and she won an Evening Standard competition in 1955 for beachwear.
Her career in fashion was launched when she became a fashion illustrator for magazines such as Vogue, Tatler, Harper’s and WWD. She designed clothing on the side and sold her first designs through a small mail-order business that was featured in the fashion columns of London’s Daily Mirror. The first item to take off from her mail-order business, called Biba Postal Boutique, was one dress in one size, one colour - pink and white check, similar to one worn by Brigitte Bardot - which a fashion editor at the Daily Mirror ordered 17,000 of them! The next big hit was an order for 1,000 of one smock top.
The success of these items led her to open the first Biba shop in 1964, with her husband. They took over an old chemist’s shop in Kensington, London, one of the popular shopping areas during the Swinging Sixties. The name “Biba” is the combination of her and her sister’s names, which she came up with overnight when they decided to launch their brand. She sold very affordable clothing, with her dresses costing £1.5 - £2 at the time, selling to teenagers who were just starting to make their own money and found there was a gap in the market for youthful and fun fashion. The shop was immediately popular, and became a hangout spot for artists, film stars, and musicians like Mick Jagger, Bowie, and Marianne Faithfull began hanging out. Cathy McGowan began wearing Biba’s designs on the Friday Night show, so whatever she wore was available to all the teen girls the next day! This really catapulted the success of the shop. Biba mainly sold one or two items, in one size, and every girl had to have it! The expanded their clothing to feature unisex t-shirts, velvet pantsuits, mini skirts and more.
The Biba shop was designed top to bottom in an Art Deco meets Art Nouveau style. Biba cosmetics were introduced in 1969, as well as a line of footwear.
As the brand grew, Bergdorf Goodman’s in New York partnered with the brand and opened a Biba Boutique one one of their floors in 1970. In 1973, the Big Biba department store opened. It was a seven-story building on Kensington High Street. The shop was extravagantly designed so each floor had its own theme. It became a huge attraction, with up to one million visitors per week! The first floor was the children’s floor, with a storybook village that had a castle, a saloon, a carousel, and a kid’s cafe with toadstools for tables! The music department featured a huge working record player.
They sold everything, from food to makeup to clothing to household products. The food department had a big baked bean can holding baked bean cans, a can of Warhol’s Condensed Soup, containing cans of soup, and a large dog modeled after Hulanicki’s great dane Othello, that housed dog food. Lingerie and nightwear were sold on the boudoir platform, that had a bed, nightstand and wardrobe. There were communal change rooms with an Egyptian theme.
There was also the iconic Rainbow Room Restaurant, which featured rainbow coloured lights on the ceiling. It was often a hot spot for the Rolling Stones and other celebrities like Twiggy, and doubled as a concert venue. David Bowie even recorded music videos there. There was a rooftop garden as well where you could enjoy tea or a cocktail, among exotic plants, flamingos and penguins!
Much of her merchandise was stamped with the Biba logo, including the food, wallpaper and makeup. They sold Biba playing cards, matchboxes, and colouring books. The logo was designed by Antony Little, and adapted to different products by designer Kasia Charko who has kept a Biba archive on her website. She also designed some of Biba’s ads.
The Biba look was dubbed the “Dudu” look, consisting of dark, short and tight dresses, dark lips and makeup, and all of Biba’s accessories. Biba was also the first store to allow customers to try on their makeup before buying it, so girls would flock the shop bare-faced in the morning and do their makeup before going to work!
Big Biba closed in 1975, after England’s economy began failing and keeping such an extravagant shop afloat was no longer viable. Hulanicki moved to Brazil in 1976 and designed for Cacharel and Fiorucci, and then moved to Miami to become an interior decorator in the 80s, where she still lives and works as a decorator today.
Dame Mary Quant is best known for popularizing the mini skirt during the heyday of the Swinging Sixties. She created a fashion empire designed for the modern youthquakers, embodying the freedom and energy of the time. In 1953, at 19, she graduated from Goldsmiths and took an apprenticeship at Mayfair milliner, where she customized hats with her dentist brother’s curved incisor needle.
She was already making her own androgynous clothing, out of tweed, gingham and Liberty prints, which were often associated with children’s and men’s clothing.
In 1955, she founded her own boutique called Bazaar, with her future husband and a friend. The shop was part clothing store, part restaurant, part club. They sold accessories designed by their artist friends, and she designed clothing that she couldn’t find, already embracing a more modern approach to dressing by removing waistlines and creating clothes that were fresh and new. At the time of boutique’s opening, Harper’s Bazaar took notice and featured a Quant editorial in their September 1955 issue.
In 1957, the magazine ran the first profile on the designer. Right after the feature, she asked Vidal Sassoon to cut her hair into her signature bob look. Her second shop opened at this time as well. She wanted to shift the young generation from dressing like their parents, and pioneered her non-conforming trends. The window displays at Bazaar were often quirky and filled with props, and the hours would often extend into late evening, making it a hot spot to enjoy loud music, free drinks, and mingling with a unique crowd. The basement of the boutique was a restaurant, frequented by Princess Margaret, the Rolling Stones and even Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco.
In 1961, as the contraceptive pill became readily available to married women, the conservative agenda towards women was being countered by satirical media like Private Eye magazine. People began speaking out against outdated political and social views. Quant was part of pushing this envelope, saying that “clothes should be a tool to compete in life outside the home.” and that “the young intellectual has got to learn that fashion is not frivolous; it is part of being alive today.” Her political views were imbued in her fashion designs, embracing the new generation of young people who wanted to express themselves fully, shock their parents and authority figures, and reject the status quo that the previous generations followed. Her work is acknowledged as part of 20th century women’s emancipation and the democratization of fashion.
In 1962, JC Penney partnered with her and in 1963 she launched a cheaper wholesale line called the Ginger Group so she could sell internationally. By 1966, she was manufacturing makeup, colourful tights and hosiery, underwear, rainwear, footwear and a swimwear line. Her makeup line was inspired by her models, who she would watch use inferior makeup products to trace their eyes. Her first makeup product was a fat coloured eye pencil. Her iconic Daisy logo became a registered trademark and was stamped on everything. She was building an empire that was in tune with the freedom and energy of the youthquake movement.
When she introduced the miniskirt in 1965, it was shorter than anyone had ever dared to design before her. It was “so short, that you could move, run, catch a bus, dance” and it took off.
She also created the skinny rib sweater which was inspired by her trying on an 8-year-old’s sweater, and she invented hot pants in 1966! She’s also responsible for being the first to do “wet look” clothing when she created a line using PVC and designed weatherproof boots for her footwear brand, Quant Afoot.
She received the Order of the British Empire in 1966. In 1968 she designed a line of berets for Kangol, and 1969 saw her elected Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts. By the end of the 60s, Quant was the UK’s most high profile designer, and it was estimated that up to 7 million women own at least one of products in their wardrobe.
In 1970 she introduced household furnishings and a line of domestic textiles with ICI Fibres. Court Line Aviation commissioned Quant to design their uniforms in 1973 and she had a retrospective at the London Museum called Mary Quant’s London. She introduced a line of childrenswear in 1978 and continued designing and opening shops throughout the 80s and 90s. In 1988 Mini commissioned her to design the interior of the Mini 1000. In 1990, she was awarded the Hall of Fame Award by the British Fashion Council and became a Dame in 2015. She died in April 2023.
Foale & Tuffin
Foale and Tuffin was an English fashion company established in 1961 by Sally Tuffin and Marion Foale. It was one of the main English brands that was part of the Swinging Sixties London scene. The two women graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1961, and received sewing machines for their 21st birthdays from their parents. They bought a cheap steam iron, and created their first collection of dresses in their shared apartment. Mary Quant was their inspiration for knowing that they could create their own label and pursue their dreams of design successfully.
At RCA, Foale won a competition to design a new mantle for the Queen to be worn at the Order of the British Empire dedication ceremony and it is still being used to this day.
They heard that local shop Woollands 21 was looking to stock young designers, so they brought drawings of their designs to the buyer Vanessa Denza. Foale said it was the first time they showed anyone their dresses, and they sold two of the dresses which they sold 70 of in the first few weeks! Another large order was placed and they ended up finding a factory to work with.
In 1962, Vogue took notice of the brand and chose one of their dresses to be photographed by David Bailey. This was their Vogue debut and eventually they became a regular fixture in Marit Allen’s “Young Ideas” section in British Vogue. They were featured along other young designers like John Bates and Jean Muir. Allen also wore their clothing, and her Foale and Tuffin wardrobe was even sold at auction in 2010!
In 1963, they opened up their own shop in Carnaby Street, with their studio upstairs. Their goal was to run their own business without the help of a man, and they succeeded, with all of their own financing. They were the first young women designers to open their own boutique independently. They made shift dresses for trendy boutiques like Browns and the Mod shop Top Gear. Their shop was around the corner from Liberty so they used a lot of Liberty florals in their collections.
Their goal was to create fun clothes, eschewing the Parisian couture that dominated fashion through the decades before them. They dressed teenagers and young women like themselves, embracing colour and shapes that were fresh and exciting. They designed trouser suits that flattered the female form, and ended up selling their clothes in America via J.C Penney and the Puritan Fashion Corporation under the label Paraphernalia, which Betsey Johnson also designed for! They actually toured America with Mary Quant and a band called The Skunks
Denza from Woollands asked the pair to design clothes for the new Sindy doll, which was a huge opportunity. Sindy was “the free, swinging girl that every little girl longs to be, the ultimate liberated dolly bird”. The shift in fashion was in part thanks to the design duo - the young people didn’t want to look Parisian, they wanted their own way of dressing and not to look like they were trying too hard. The “birth of cool” was beginning. Check out the outfits they designed at this blog!
In an interview they said ‘We don’t want to be chic; we just want to be ridiculous” and they definitely embraced and inspired the eccentric energy permeating the youth of the 60s.
They launched leotard suits, an item they called “The Body” which were long and lean. They also designed clothing for the 1966 film Kaleidoscope, it features kaftans and smocks in beautiful paisleys and florals.
Their last collection was in 1972, called Coco Frills. Tuffin went on to become a ceramicist for Moorcroft Pottery and then founded her own company, Denis Chinaworks. Foale became a knitwear designer and launched her own label.
Here are a few films that feature the essence of this magnificent time period.
Darling (1965) starring Julie Christie as Diana Scott, a young successful model and actress in Swinging London, toying with the affections of two older men. Received five Academy Award nominations including Best Costume for designer Julie Harris.
The Pleasure Girls (1965) follows Sally after she moves to London to pursue a modelling career, moving in with Angela and Dee. The girls soon discover the carefree world of the single girl in Swinging London of the 1960s. Costume design by Lee Landau.
Blow Up (1966) starring Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles and Veruschka. The story is set within the mod subculture of 1960s Swinging London and follows a fashion photographer (inspired by David Bailey) who believes he has unwittingly captured a murder on film. Costume design by Jocelyn Rickards.
Smashing Time (1967). A satire of Swinging London as two girls arrive in the city dreaming of making it big in show business but find the city much tougher than expected. Costume design by Ruth Myers.
Georgy Girl (1967) starring Lynn Redgrave follows carefree Georgy as she resists the advances of a swinger in 1960s London. Costumes by Mary Quant!
Bedazzled (1967)- the OG film set in Swinging London starring Raquel Welch as Lilian Lust and featuring clothing designed by Jean Muir.
Joanna (1968) starring Donald Sutherland and Geneviève Waïte. A country girl moves to London to study fashion and falls in with sexually liberal artists, aristocrats and youths. Costumes by Virginia Hamilton-Kearse and Sue West.
And an honourable mention to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)! Austin awoke in the 90s after being frozen for 30 years in the first film but in this sequel he travels back in time again to 1967 and its fun! Costumes by Deena Appel.