The psychedelic fashion that pervaded the Sixties is back again with an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, aptly titled “Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip.”
The exhibit chronicles the radically changing styles of the Sixties over a 14-year period from 1960 through 1973 and features designers such as Mary Quant, Pauline Trigère, Yves Saint Laurent, Geoffrey Beene and Oscar de la Renta, among others. The fashions reflect the tumultuous and “big cultural changes that took place — the rise of feminism, protests against the Vietnam War, the youth-oriented market…the invasion of the British, The Beatles and models like Twiggy,” says Donald Albrecht, curator of architecture and design and the sbow’s co-curator. “[The exhibit] tells two stories, one’s an aesthetic story and one’s a kind of a social story.”
The clothes are organized into four periods: First Lady Fashion, Youthquake, New Bohemia, and New Nonchalance. The first era launches with the demure and elegant style of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, which lasted from 1960 to 1963 and featured muted colors, sleeker designs, bouffant hairdos, pillbox hats and pearl necklaces. Clothing of this period was a “perfect balance — it’s not conservative because it has a youth and vitality to it but it is still very formulaic,” explains Phyllis Magidson, Elizabeth Farran Tozer curator of costumes and the exhibit’s co-curator.
As the decade enters its mid-point from 1964 to 1966, the Youthquake, a term first coined by Vogue editor in chief Diana Vreeland, erupts with brighter colors and materials such as vinyl, which “were never used by mainstream fashion designers,” notes Albrecht.
Following the rise in brighter colors and unique materials, the period hits a peak with New Bohemia, “where things become really psychedelic and wild,” Albrecht says. Clothing during this period is characterized by unusual color combinations, strange patterns and psychedelic patterns.
What goes up must come down, and the period ends with “the New Nonchalance.” “It kind of calms down and goes more muted and simpler,” says Albrecht, noting that styles reverted back to the sleek designs of First Lady Fashion, but this time reimagined for a new generation of women.
Exhibitions showcasing psychedelic fashion may not be revolutionary, “certainly we’ve seen a number of exhibitions that really focus on the wildest moment,” notes Magidson. “But it didn’t just get there quickly, it was an evolutionary process and we decided to track it for 14 years and just see how it launches and hits a peak — and you can see it very clearly — and then comes down again.”
Each period of clothing is accompanied by stunning accessories and media. Clippings from WWD and Vogue showcase the same pieces that are featured in the exhibit, and alongside these clippings are rare accessories such as earrings, purses and necklaces on loan from Tiffany and Cartier.
“We have pretty clothes, they’re great; but they mean so much more when you think of what they’re saying about the time,” Magidson concludes.
“Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip” on display through April 1.