When you compare the trends of the late 1960s to those of the modern day era, and even the technological advances made, the changes are glaringly obvious. Most obvious perhaps is the fashion of beauty trends of the two eras. Now, here are some of the most surprising things that were attractive to men 50 years ago.
Although curbing racism was tried with the Civil Rights Movement, racism was still more or less the norm in the early to mid-60s. There were actual laws in some states put in place that banned people from marrying people from another race. The anti-miscegenation laws were canceled out in 1967, but despite the progressive movements, there was still a lot of racial prejudice. In the 1960s, African-American ladies were still not allowed to participate in the Miss America pageant, and in 1968, there was a disputing Miss Black America Pageant held on the same day as the other to demonstrate the discrimination of the organization. Two years later, the first African-American state title winner, Cheryl Browne, was crowned at the Miss America Pageant competition.
Even though the African-American community was growing stronger, the preference for much lighter skin was still prevalent. The mentality began to change a little more in the 1960s and people embraced their skin color even more. Today, things are much different. Although the color discrimination is still lurking, it is much better.
Although fuller figures made their presence known and threatened to take over as the dominant standard of beauty, with the iconic voluptuous figure of Marilyn Monroe, there was still a major lean towards thinness. In the book titled, Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children, the author, Sarah Grogan wrote that the slim trend became more widely accepted with the turning of the years, ‘’particularly acute… when the fashion Model Twiggy became the role model for a generation of young women.” As time went on, “models became thinner and thinner,” Grogan wrote in her book.
With the desire for thinner, less curvy bodies emerged the elimination of voluptuous chests. In the late 1960s, the complete elimination of cellulite became more of an obsession.
Younger girls were mostly the casualties with the desire to be extremely thin, and this was a major preoccupation in those days. By the 1960s, teenagers were no longer worried about how they could become better people; they were obsessed with how they could become thinner people.
Of course, as the desirable chest size decreased, so did the ideal butt size. Women were fearful of any traces of cellulite in their bodies and were reported to have gone to all kinds of extreme measures to eliminate cellulite and fat within their hips and thighs. Vogue magazine, in the late 60s, did an article on a woman who was reported to have “managed to reduce her 39-inch hips down to 34 inches through exercise, ‘standing correctly,’ and using ‘a special rolling pin.’” This might seem like a weird regimen for hip and butt decrement, but they were actually popular in the late 60s. Some women even went as far as hiring special masseuse who could rub their butts for them.
Although women went into these extreme regimens to suit fashion trends and appear pleasing to male suitors, this was not the entire reason for the boyish figures. Battleground: The Media, edited by Robin Andersen and Jonathan Alan Gray, noted that “the changing shape of women’s bodies has in many ways served to reflect larger cultural values.” Throughout history, “a thin, straight figure was prized” at times “when women were striving to demonstrate their equality.”
In Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century, Akiko Fukai wrote that “the young found that displaying their physique was the most effective means of setting themselves apart from the older generation.” The miniskirt trend was popularised as “bare legs… developed through various conceptual stages in the 1960s.”
With the rise of the hemlines came more attention to the shapeliness and length of women’s legs. With the era of miniskirts came another obsession: having the right legs for miniskirts. Women’s legs were more emphasized in the 1960s, and the trend evolved into an influence on the kinds of shoes in trend. Boots were all the rage then, and tall, pointed boots served to balance out the short skirts.
In tandem with women being obsessed with boyish figures emerged the popularity of androgynous styles and unisex clothing. The 1920s was the era when this style was first popularised, as androgyny was identified as going hand-in-hand with women’s search for independence and equality. The rise of androgyny in the 60s also helped to “denote freedoms gained and the rejection of a preceding claustrophobic femininity”, according to Rebecca Arnold’s book, Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the 20th Century.
What might serve as even more of an interesting point is that men also embraced this androgynous rage in the 60s. For some time in the late 60s, unisex trends were everywhere, and this led to some confusion. Also, it was at this time that the evolution of gender roles was kicked off.
THE LOLITA LOOK
Women opposing curves and standing for lither, young-looking bodies led to the media and fashion world being flooded with prepubescent looking women. Youthful, lithe Lolita types were I full dominance in the fashion world, and this is where popular model Twiggy gained her fame. It seemed the norm that maturity and any signs of age were completely unwanted, and considered ‘’a dirty word, a sign of premature death, and therefore something to be warded off as long as possible.”
The Lolita look of that time was the embodiment of what the 60s stood for, vigour and youth.
Rebelling against the set gender norms did not just stop at androgynous, unisex clothes. Women evidenced their rebellion with as much as their underwear. By the end of the 60s, it was a norm for women to be braless, standing for “a political, protest move symbolizing freedom and rejection of traditional views of femininity,” wrote The Lala.
Popular designer, Yves Saint Laurent, contributed to this fashion statement by influencing the trend to serve as a fashion trend as well as a form of protest. He made a mark by modeling his sheer clothes on women who wore no undergarment, and that was also a political statement.
LONG, STRAIGHT HAIR
This era was popular for deviating from some of the more formal expectations and traditions. In the late 1960s, the preference for long, straight hair grew, and even men were included in this trend, as they wore their hair long. Again, these changing hairstyles were not simply about subscribing to fashion. Many also considered it a rebellious act against the choking standards set, where women were to have certain hairdos, and men were to have very short hairdos.
Although the 1960s brought about a lot of change in the fashion and social stream, advertisements and television shows from that era show that women were still portrayed as sexual objects and homemakers. The giant strides taken towards ensuring some level of gender equality seemed to have little or no effects, as women were still limited to certain rights men had. This limitation was most evident in the fact that an unmarried woman could be denied a credit card in the late 60s- and even married women sometimes were denied on if their husbands were not present to co-sign. Women were also banned from serving on juries in some states.
Moving to the world of education, Ivy League schools were still grossly underpopulated by women in this decade. In the 1870s, women were allowed only under special circumstances to attend the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell. Big names like Yale and Princeton only opened their doors to women in 1969, and Dartmouth, Harvard and Brown did not start accepting until the 70s. In 1981, Columbia finally offered women admission.
Picture the 1960s, and a lot of people would tell you that the image includes a decade-long booze-fest with unprecedented drinking. This is partially true, but it was definitely more of the standard for men to drink as much alcohol as they wished than it was accepted of women. Although the number of women moving away from the stereotyped ideal, it was still seen as unfeminine for a woman to indulge in alcohol too frequently. It was perfectly acceptable to indulge in a glass of wine with dinner, but for getting drunk- a big no.
Placing a limitation of women’s sobriety was not only a societal pressure; it was also heavily announced on the media and public announcements. While heavy drinking among men is considered a sign of virility, it is often met with disproval in the case of women and that feeling was constant right up until the end of the decade. Just think of the saying ‘Drunk as a lord’.
Women might have been frowned at for smoking in excess, but with smoking, men considered it very attractive on a woman. Even though the link between cancer and smoking had already been established before the 60s, men and women still embraced the vice. The practice was so widespread that in 1964, there was a proclamation that “Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action.”
Even with these warnings and findings, smoking was still considered as a sophisticated, glamorous act. In the 1960s, the rise of the building feminist movement made tobacco companies push their market towards women, targeting them as their ideal customers by portraying smoking as one of the signs of gender equality. ‘you’ve come a long way baby!’ was the slogan of Virginia Slims which were launched in 1968, and other ads from that era portray young and attractive women smoking at their leisure, conveying the message that the pastime was elegant, refined and sexy.
Women working reached a crucial height by the late 60s. Even though they were making a mark and building on what would still become a huge movement, working women were still faced with a lot of stigma in their workplaces. It was still considered as a more preferable norm where single women worked, but married women were not as accepted. This was mostly because they considered a woman’s primary duty being that of housekeeper, homemaker. In the year 1967, only 44% of American couples lived in lived in dual income households, and that is in comparison to the over 50% of married couples today. It was thought that a wife and mother who was a working woman would serve as a destabilization on the lives of their families.
Middle-class women were perhaps the most affected by the stigma, and if they chose to become working women, they had to put their careers on hold until their children had grown up. It is now easier to picture just how depressed and lacking in self-esteem those women forced to stay home must have been.
Miniskirts were all the rage in the 60s, and the rise of the hemlines meant that women were much more concerned about the state, shape and length of their legs. By the time the 60s were halfway through, the trend of leg makeup was taking shape. Makeup on legs was not really a new phenomenon. In the course of the World War II, women drew on stocking seams on their bare legs, to create the illusion they had stockings on when there was a shortage of stockings. The newer trend was; however, one of vanity, to cover up any perceived flaws that the miniskirts would expose. Women in those days would take the time to carefully apply makeup to their legs to hide and blemishes and flaws, and then put on their hosiery.
This trend is an embodiment of the confliction that surrounded women in those days. On the one hand, there were building on and fighting for a huge women’s liberation movement, but on the other, they were still concerned with the pressures to fit into society’s idealized version of a woman.
Athleticism was considered another pleasing trait in women of the 60s. This was mostly because engaging in athletic activities was viewed as the best way to maintain a good, attractive figure. Women in the 1960s were more active in sports in high schools and colleges, even though there was still bias between women’s sport and men’s sport.
Women who had athletic physiques were attractive to society’s eye, but still were not fully accepted by society. The US still had a long way to go before securing proper funding for women’s sports, and in 1987, the first female athlete appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Today, female athletes are looked at as being capable, strong role model figures, but in the 60s they were hardly taken seriously, mostly thought of as fitness enthusiasts who engaged in the activities as a hobby.