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How Baby Boomers Transformed Fashion

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Tarini Chandak

– The two decades between 1960 and 1980 were revolutionary for political, social and fashion-related reasons. The swinging 1960s changed how we viewed important social norms, the 1970s saw political upheavals and transformations, and the influential Baby Boomer generation rocked the fashion world as hip teenagers.

In this important time, engineers, fashion icons, designers and everyday women defined some key fashion trends that remained immortal in the face of a changing world.

Baby Boomers and Fashion: Creating a bang with a bikini

While the bikini’s origins can be traced back to antiquity, Louis Réard, a French engineer presented the modern bikini on 5 July 1946. With no popular fashion model willing to wear this daring piece, it was originally modeled by Micheline Bernardini, a dancer from a music hall, at a press conference in Paris. While French women welcomed the design, the Catholic Church scorned it, and the media found it scandalous. The majority of the Western world did not catch on to the fashion trend immediately. It was only as Brigitte Bardot strolled the beaches of Corsica in Manina, the Girl in the Bikini and Ursula Andress made every girl dream of being a Bond Girl in Dr. No, that the bikini gained wide acceptance in Western society.

It can be argued that the rise of the bikini is closely linked with the rise of feminine power. As French fashion historian Olivier Saillaird once said: “the emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women.” While the bikini is still being an ever-controversial fashion item (it is still banned in many nations around the world), the swimwear industry is now worth $13.25 billion annually, with a large portion of that being attributable to the sale of bikinis.

baby boomers and fashion
Ursula Andress in Dr. No
baby boomers and fashion
Brigitte Bardot in Manina, the Girl in the Bikini.

Baby Boomers and Fashion: Making a statement with a mini-skirt

The mini-skirt is widely-attributed to a British design and fashion icon, Mary Quant, who helped drive the London-based Mod fashion movement and encouraged the commercialisation of trends, such as short skirts and hot pants. Since the late 1950s, designers had been shrinking hemlines, and Quant was part of this movement. She believed that this new fashion was liberating for women as it allowed them to feel empowered and able to move more freely such as when running to catch a bus. It is also important to note that other claimants for the title of creator of this fashion trend include British designer, John Bates and a Parisian, André Courrèges.

As the mini-skirt gained traction from the 1960s onwards, it has endured as a symbol of youth culture, sexual liberation and the rise of pop and rock culture, tied to iconic bands such as The Beatles e The Rolling Stones.

Baby Boomers and Fashion: Kicking up a notch with the boot

Though the boot has existed in fashion consciousness since the 19th Century, it was in the 1970s that the modern knee-high boot became a fashion staple. Prior to this time, boots were generally worn for utilitarian purposes, to avoid dirty streets or complete hard labour. It was designers such as Yves St. Laurent and Beth Levine who bought a fashionable boot to the masses, and icons such as Nancy Sinatra who cooed to the immortal song, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin”, that cemented the importance of the modern boot.

In many ways, fashion’s adaptation of the boot reflected a lot of changes that female Baby Boomers saw in their lives, and the attitude that these individuals had towards fashion. Baby Boomers were changing the way things were done, changing the way we viewed the world, and changing the purpose and design of the boot.

baby boomers and fashion
A sample of the mini-skirts and knee-high boots that were popularized in the 1960s and 1970s.

Baby Boomers and Fashion: Leaving a legacy

While these three trends are only a snippet in the evolution that fashion saw during this time period, they reflect the metaphorical rise of the female, and a focus on liberation, expression and creativity that has lasted in fashion ever since. It is also interesting to note how these trends have still remained in fashion, as key staples for the modern women’s wardrobe. The next time you consider throwing away some old garment, you might not consider the legacy the Baby Boomer generation has left on the fashion world, but do consider how the past might not be as bygone as you think.

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