People’s memories of what we wore in the 1960s are almost invariably wrong.
Television and the last days of the newsreels show the Young Things shopping at Biba and other boutiques on Carnaby Street, or towards the end of the decade in dirty and shapeless paisley in the middle of a field. This was what made the news, but it wasn’t what the rest of us were wearing.
For the most part, even the middle classes couldn’t afford to shop on Carnaby Street. These type of boutiques, now found in Notting Hill, were expensive then and are expensive now. Most of us were wearing clothes that were handed down from older siblings or bought from Woolworths. For very important occasions, a trip to Dorothy Perkins for a party dress or John Collier for a 50/- suit was in order – but they were for best. For the rest of the time, we stayed in our school uniforms and used them for any ‘formal’ occasion with a parent: going shopping, going to a cafe, going for a day out. Even on weekends!
But the clothes we got for special occasions got more colourful and more plastic as the decade wore on. Nylon and polyester had the benefit of not needing ironing and you could wash them in the sink with warm water from the tap – no more boiling, spinning and mangling. The downside: boy did we sweat… and we were still waiting for antiperspirant to be invented (or at least taken up by boys, who didn’t want to smell “queer”).
Still, at home we defaulted to clothes that looked like they were – and often actually were – made in the 1950s. Newsreels and collective memory don’t record this.
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