Fashion: Up, Up & Away

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"Those show-offs who wear dresses up to their bottoms know nothing about fashion," fumes Jo Hughes, the super-saleslady at Manhattan's Bergdorf Goodman who has made a career out of helping stylish women stay in style. Snaps West Coast Designer James Galanos: "All they've done is chop five inches off the hem and they call it new. To me it's a laugh." It is no laugh to Norman Norell, 67, dean of American designers. "Elegance is out," sighs the master of elegance. "It's a fascinating, frustrating time to be a designer."

What angers Hughes, amuses Galanos and frustrates Norell are the new youth-oriented, high-rise styles, executed in eye-popping colors and freewheeling fabrics, that have turned the fashion world topsy-turvy in the '60s. The uprising has come close to creating a multi-skirt-length culture, and it is being opposed as vehemently as it is being cheered. "I hope that adult women will stop trying to look like kids it's a disaster when they do and develop their own look," says Seventeen Fashion Director Rosemary McMurtry. Scolds Society Columnist Suzy Knickerbocker: "The next thing you know they'll be yanking little ones out of the fifth grade, freaking them up in the name of fashion, and throwing them on the magazine covers."

Youth in Command. The most visual, persistent and audacious element of the new fashions is the miniskirt. In the three years since it made its first real appearance in small, offbeat boutiques and far-out discotheques, it has surged onto the campuses, into offices, out on the avenue anywhere at all that youth defiantly chooses to show its colors. By general agreement, a true mini rises to just mid-thigh. But with dresses growing shorter by the season, whole new categories have had to be advanced. "Now," notes one San Francisco designer, "there is the micromini, the micro-micro, the 'Oh, My God' and the 'Hello, Officer.' "

In fact, the mini is only the symbol of a far-ranging change in fashion that has toppled the old dictators of style and brought into power a new group of designers, plugged in to the here-and-now tastes of youth bold, irreverent, geared high, full of jokes and independence. Fashion feeds on change, and what is In one moment is often Out the next. The flapper dresses of the 1920s, for instance, skimmed the top of the knee for only two years (1926-27) before hemlines began falling. Dior's New Look, which sent skirts plummeting in the post-World War II years, began in 1947; three years later, hemlines were on the rise. But there are also more durable upheavals based on fundamentally altered outlooks and attitudes; the present revolution, which has been a long time brewing, is one of them.

Like all revolutions, it began, as Coco Chanel acidly observes, "in the streets." Once, styles trickled down from a handful of wealthy and conservative women whose clothes were made to order by entrenched French designers. Being chic was the objective, but always in a dignified and ladylike way. Now youth is in command, and it is the college and young career girls who make the mode. What Actress Julie Christie wears has more real impact on fashion than all the clothes of the Ten Best-Dressed Women combined.

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