This past week my husband and I watched the original version of The Pink Panther again, a film that was released in 1963 starring the wonderful Peter Sellers. Yes, it was pretty silly (that was the point, after all) but it still was a lot of fun, especially to revisit its iconic visuals: the fashion, the vehicles, and the uncrowded urban environments. They all spoke very clearly of another period in time, our youth.
I think during times of uncertainty and massive changes (as we are witnessing) we take comfort in time-traveling to the past to let ourselves dwell, even for a little while, in what felt like more secure – or at least more familiar – territory. That could explain why we’re seeing a lot of 50s’ and 60s’ retro fashion popping up on the scene.
Every generation sees some kind of retro fashion re-dos. Lately, you might have noticed your grandkids sporting very “Flashdance” type 90s’ attire including leggings, cropped tops, and super wide-leg pants.
So, what are the “new” throwback trends for our generation and who can wear them?
The 50s and early 60s were a time when conformity and modesty in dress prevailed… except maybe for those bullet-like brassieres worn under tight fitting sweaters (not to mention the scandalous emergence of bikini bathing suits which by current standards looks pretty tame.) But in general, a lot less skin was on display back in those days.
The attire of celebrities on the red carpet represented elegance and restraint. And women generally aspired to emulate that level of refinement. So, we saw a lot of knee-length or slightly longer skirt suits, button down blouses or shirtmaker dresses, and fuller skirts. But in the higher end of fashion, there were some dramatic elements sprinkled in, and that’s what seems to be re-appearing.
The main Dramatic piece we’re now seeing are the colder weather “cocoon” type overcoats. These would appear in rich textiles like heavy cashmere and wool. Even today we would consider them a bit “oversized” which has been a current trend again for about two years now. But the construction was not as exaggerated as the oversized blazers today.
These current blazers mimic menswear in terms of the size of the shoulder pads and overall proportions. What we saw then, and are starting to see more of now, suggests being embraced in the fabric (hence the name “cocoon”) not overwhelmed by it. And it is more in proportion with a woman’s body. It has a more “rounded” silhouette in general instead of a more angular, hard look.
In addition to the traditional materials – wool and cashmere – you might find some of these types of coats today in gabardines, or plaids. Those can add a little punch and fashion-forward element. The gabardines would work for someone who has a lot of Classic style in their wardrobe. The colorful plaids are a nice touch for a wardrobe with more color and a more High-Spirited or playful style.
And many of these jackets and coats have a built-in or detachable long and large scarf, made of the same material. You can imagine a 50s’ or 60s’ socialite wearing this type of jacket with a cloche hat or turban.
Today’s versions are modernized with details like fringed scarves, patterns, or contrast stitched trim. The scarves are either in exactly the same fabric, color, or in a pattern of complementary colors. The first release of these types of coats, typically at high-end prices, sell out like hotcakes. But you can be sure to find knockoffs on Etsy for prices and, likely quality, all over the map.
We started seeing a return to lots of cropped boucle tweed Chanel-type jackets this past spring and the trend is still going strong. That’s likely because it’s such a wearable and flattering style for so many women and so many body types.
If you’re very lucky (because real Chanel jackets rarely get re-sold) you might find an original version at a resale site or vintage shop but more likely, an estate sale. Still, 60 years is a long time to keep something that will still look in good shape.
Fortunately, there are a lot of copy-cats available far and wide at very reasonable prices. (Interesting factoid: fashion designs and especially handbags are not copywritten, opening the door for lots of knockoffs.) One of my clients is an expert seamstress and she makes her own Chanel-type jackets.
The details can include fringed hems, contrasting trims, pearl trims, and pear or gold round buttons. Many were ¾ sleeved, most were cropped (just to the waist) but later were seen in longer versions, which was a welcome addition for women who carry weight in the waist and middle section.
Because they are so iconic, they remain a versatile and sophisticated piece that just about anyone can wear with maybe the exception of someone who is very bohemian or who lives in jeans and oversized sweaters.
You can always wear them as part of a skirt suit with a plain knee length pencil skirt. The young fashionistas wear them with very short miniskirts and shorts. But to bring this type of jacket fashion forward for us, and to get much more wear out of it, try pairing it with jeans. That will elevate an everyday look for an afternoon luncheon.
It can also be a nice finishing piece for date night if worn, for example, with a satin drape-neck tank underneath. If you have a splash of drama in your style, toughen it up by wearing this type of jacket with leather pants and boots or booties. For evening attire or holiday attire, wear it over a long midi or even ankle-length knit skirt.
Can Go-Go boots be far behind? Well, heavy lug soles are out: streamlined, and flat is in, so say the industry movers and shakers. That’s because they have to come up with something to make last year’s style seem out of date. The industry is, of course, built on perpetuating feelings of insecurity and FOMO.
Personally, my shrinking frame loves the additional height from chunkier heeled shoes. But yes, flats never really go out of style. And they are more feminine in general than the lug soled loafers and booties we’ve seen in the past few years. (BTW – those lug soled shoes still work and from what I’ve seen, all ages still love them.)
So as for flats, think of Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s in her cigarette pants, wearing a crisp white blouse, and ballerina flats. And everyone wore ballerina flats those days. That’s a look we’re seeing. Except that right now, leggings are starting to have a revival as an alternative to cigarette pants.
What is unique about the new flats is that they have really pointed toes – I mean exaggeratedly pointed toes. As I’ve said before, if your foot is that shape, have at it. If, like me, you have square toes and crooked little toes these are a challenge. If you can find a pair that is wide enough for the natural shape of your toes and then has a longer point beyond, that’s a compromise.
As for heels, think lower. Stilettoes are not friendly for a lot of us anyway. And the wedge heels that were everywhere even last year have gone missing.
Then there were the kitten heels, which were kind of like trainers for teens to eventually learn how to wear higher heels. They were wildly popular in the 1950s, waning in popularity by the 1960s, but resuscitated by Audrey – again – in the movie Sabrina.
So, once again we’re seeing tiny little kitten heels on sling backs, on ankle boots and booties, and even on tall boots. Frankly, to my eye some of them look a little weird and out of proportion. A tiny kitten heel, especially if placed at the very back of the heel on a tall boot, will throw your weight off, and pitch it forward into your toes.
Podiatrists have said that to be comfortable and ergonomically suitable, a heel on a shoe should sit right under the middle of your own heel. That’s why block heels are also still in fashion. We saw both kitten heels and block heels in the 60s and they are back.
So, if you like kitten heels, wear them with dresses and longer skirts – or if you dare, and still have great legs, shorter skirts with dark tights. And wear the chunkier heeled slingbacks with jeans and pants. As for the chunky heeled ankle boots, those pair nicely with wider leg jeans and pants, and even skinny leggings. You’ll also find them in patent leather which really do look like Go Go boots.
As for leggings and skinnier pants, like so many things – skirts, long coats, jackets, blouses – we’re seeing them in leather. Now, in the first edition of my book, I cautioned against older women wearing leather pants. I have changed my mind. A lot of more Dramatic and bold personality types look fabulous in them at any age. So, why not wear leather pants and 60s’ style ankle boots?
Now as for miniskirts, fringed macrame tops, and flower power dresses (yes, they are coming…) this jury is still out. We’ll have to see how many of the younger girls are wearing them. That’s my litmus test as to whether I am going to look ridiculous emulating a new generation that is trying to re-capture my generation.
What throw-back styles would you wear? What do you think of the more “lady-like” 1950’s coats and jackets? Do you still have one from back then? Are you willing to wear chunky ankle boots again?