Fashion in Colour

Humber Museums Partnership - Fashion in Colour

About Fashion in Colour


This exhibition looks at fashion from the 1960s to the 1990s.

In the 1960s more young people were working and earning their own money. They had money to spend on fashion, so for the first time in history young people dictated the styles. The new styles were youthful and playful. Women had short skirts and both sexes wore psychedelic colours.

This influence continued throughout the 1970s. The hippy movement helped to maintain the bright colours. In the 1980s there was a growing interest in fitness, making bright sportswear popular. Even outside of exercise classes people wore tracksuits and shell suits in clashing colours.

Plainer, darker styles were fashionable in the 1990s. But people weren’t ready to let go of colour just yet. Darker colours were often contrasted with neon detail.

The 1960s to the 1990s is one of the brightest and most colourful periods in fashion history.

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  • A living room, 1974

  • Beachwear, 1968

  • Bell bottoms 1974

  • Evening wear, November 1969

  • Skirt suit and trouser suit, September 1967

  • Frans Molenaar

The 1960s

The 1960s was a decade of change and revolution. This affected society in many ways.
Music such as rock and roll, blues and pop defined the 1960s. Popular acts included The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield.

The role women played in society changed throughout the decade. With many more women going to work, arguments began over equal pay. One of the most famous protests was at the Dagenham Ford factory in 1968. The contraceptive pill was first made available in 1961 and the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967, contributing to what became known as the ‘sexual revolution’.

As technology advanced, television became more popular and people began to listen to music on cassette tapes. BBC2 broadcast the first colour pictures in 1967 and the first video game, Spacewar, was introduced in 1962.

The Space Race dominated the 1960s. Russia put the first man in space in 1961 and America’s Apollo 11 achieved the first moon landing in 1969.

1960s Fashion

During the 1960s, revolutionary changes affected both society and fashion. Young people started to create styles and fashions rather than designers of high-end couture. Brands were marketing their clothes at young people as their income was at an all-time high.

Style influences came from music, TV and film. The space race and sci-fi programmes popularised futuristic fashion, with designers such as Paco Rabanne using PVC, plastic and metal to create the look. Later in the decade there was a reaction against the mass production of clothes and many looked to different cultures for inspiration, using more colourful prints.

The mini-skirt was one of the most popular and familiar garments of the 1960s. Its creation is credited to Mary Quant at her King’s Road Boutique, and André Courrèges in his couture designs. Mini-skirts were the staple of the ‘dolly bird’ look made famous by Twiggy.
In what was known as the ‘peacock revolution’, plain and formal menswear gave way to bright colours, frills, cravats and collarless jackets.

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  • A fashionable cape, miniskirt and tall boots, November 1967

  • A teenager's bedroom, 1967. The bolster cushions have been added to the single bed to turn it into a daytime sleeping area.

  • Childrenswear, September 1967

  • Evening wear, November 1969

  • Home furnishings, May 1967

  • Summer dress, August 1968

  • Skirt suit and trouser suit, September 1967

The 1970s

The optimism of the 1960s turned to concern in the 1970s. The post-war economic boom had come to an end and the price of goods had started to rise. One million people were unemployed in 1975 and workers were constantly going on strike. The news was filled with stories of bombings by the IRA. Many European countries overtook Britain in industrial success. Even the Prime Minister James Callaghan said in 1974,”Our place in the world is shrinking… If I were a young man I should emigrate”.

The 1970s did have positive aspects. The average British family was richer and had a higher standard of living than before. For the first time many people could afford to go on holiday abroad.

Culturally this was a rich time, with artists like Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie gaining popularity. It was also a period of extraordinary technological and social change. This included the first digital camera and pocket calculator. This was also the era when videogames became popular. Additionally, the rise of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 demonstrated the need for greater gender equality. Many people believe Britain changed more in the 1970s than ever before.

1970s Fashion

The 1970s started like the 1960s, with mini-skirts and bellbottoms being popular. There was also a rediscovery of the previous generation’s clothes, sparking an interest in historic patterns. An increasing number of immigrants to Britain caused an interest in ethnic fabrics. This included Indian scarves and Eastern European folk costumes.

The 1970s was the era of women’s liberation. This meant an increasing number of women joined the workforce. Woman wanted a practical and stylish sense of dress. The tailored trouser and trouser suit was a result of this, known as the ‘dress for success’ look.

Music genres were also associated with fashion. The growing concern for the poor state of the 1970s economy reflected in punk clothing. This was based around leather jackets, ripped jeans, PVC and safety pins. On the other end of the spectrum was Disco. This became popular in 1977 with the film release ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ Disco fashion included body stockings, leotards and shorts using fabrics such as Lycra. Glam fashion was also influential. Artists like David Bowie pioneered an androgynous and theatrical look.

Vivienne Westwood opened her first boutique in 1971, and Giorgio Armani produced his first fashion collection for women in 1975.

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  • A 1970s catalogue advertisement for living room furniture

  • Casual menswear, 1975

  • Childrenswear, 1974

  • Disco fashion, December 1979

  • Dresses from 1975, including the popular long maxi dress

  • Womenswear in 1975, including bell bottom trousers

The 1980s

The 1980s is often remembered as being a materialistic decade. The economy went from recession in the first half of the decade to a boom in the second. Margaret Thatcher, the first woman prime minister, was in power for the whole of the 1980s. Married in 1981, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer had the ‘wedding of the century’.

Technology continued to advance during this period. In 1983 Motorola launched the first commercial mobile phone and many saw it as a huge status symbol.

Channel 4 launched on television in 1982. The decade saw the phasing out of black and white television sets. Popular shows in the 1980s included ‘Only Fools and Horses’, ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Eastenders’. Films released included ‘Back to the Future’, ‘E.T.’ and ‘Dirty Dancing’.

Video games increased in popularity and consoles sold included the Commodore 64 and NES. Locally, the Humber Bridge opened in 1981. At the time it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

Music increased in diversity during the decade. Madonna, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston were the most famous pop stars. The album ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson is still one of the best-selling albums of all time. Heavy metal, hip hop and contemporary R&B were popular genres.

1980s Fashion

Fashion in the 1980s was generally quite eccentric and over-the-top. Hair was big and make-up was bright. Different subcultures created different styles and many became synonymous with the decade.

Large shoulder pads and a tiny waist is the look most associated with the 1980s. The prominent 1980s designer Thierry Mugler used this shape in his creations. Women were becoming more career-focused and used this style for ‘power dressing’ at work. The television show ‘Dynasty’ and its star Joan Collins became known for this look.

Music styles influenced fashion in a large way. Punk and Goth fashions were more visible. The New Romantics had an androgynous style, heavy make-up and pirate inspired clothes. Vivienne Westwood’s early 1980s collections also showcased this look.

The film ‘Flashdance’ and the actress Jane Fonda inspired aerobics and sportswear looks. Women wore tight leggings, legwarmers and oversized jumpers in daily life. Underwear as outerwear became popularised by designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and was worn by stars such as Madonna.

Menswear became more diverse. Athletic styles, power dressing and preppy looks were popular. Television shows also influenced what men wore, including shows like ‘Miami Vice’. Designers like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein created iconic looks for men.

The 1990s

The greatest changes in 1990s Britain came not from politics but culture. Being British became something unique and artists embraced their roots under the title ‘Cool Britannia’. This was the era when the Spice Girls and Oasis dominated the charts. Work by ‘Young British Artists’ like Damian Hirst filled galleries, while in the literary world J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book. Mr. Bean and Absolutely Fabulous began showing on television and Titanic broke box office records at the cinema.

1990s Britain was liberal on social issues and less class bound than previous generations. For example, 1994 saw the first woman priest ordained by the Church of England.

Icons of the age were those who appeared the most normal and had down-to-earth attitudes, such as David Beckham and Princess Diana.

1990s Fashion

Denim reached its peak popularity in the 1990s. Many women wore denim button down shirts and coloured jeans. Sportswear such as hoodies and leotards were also worn with jeans. More glamorous clothes included baby doll dresses, short skirts and high heels. Popular haircuts included the pixie cut and the bob cut.

Many men at the time wore clothes from Ralph Lauren and Stone Island. Fashions included jeans and matching denim jackets, V-neck sweaters and Hush Puppy shoes. Typical haircuts included curtains or long hair with a middle parting.

Music also influenced fashion for both genders. Fans of Britpop revived British labels such as Burberry, Doc Martin and Fred Perry, emulating stars such as Noel Gallagher. Grunge popularised loose fitting clothes, tartan flannel shirts, stone washed jeans and dark colours. Hip Hop inspired tracksuits, baseball caps and bomber jackets. Later in the decade Rave Culture continued a theme of bright colours which had been popular throughout the decade.

A major shift in UK fashion in the 1990s was the mainstream adoption of tattoos and body piercing.

Humber Museums Partnership