Thursday, 21 August 2014

Living in Style - the 60s

Space helmets were a fad

60s interior decor and style in general was a game of two halves. In the early 60s, tasteful Swedish reigned: the lady with the beige handwoven rug with a faint brown stripe was dressed in restrictive tailoring in muted autumnal shades. By 1969 she was wearing purple velvet and living in a squat. But half-way through the decade, the colour was turned up,  and modernism mutated briefly into futurism (space-helmet hats) before morphing into Victoriana and a fascination with the 20s and 30s.

The early 60s interior

“The house was decorated in Coral’s favourite white and shades of green: white cupboards, white fireplace, white Venetian blinds, olive green and white willow-pattern wallpaper. The bathroom had some unusual features: a shaggy bearskin rug and pots of roses on top of the lavatory cistern.” (From a life of Coral Browne the actress – in the 80s she collected antiques and marble obelisks.)

pictures by Canaletto printed on melamine for a table-top

one wall in dark grey with life size silver trees (“Woods” by Cole & Sons), or black with a white brocade pattern

art featuring vintage cars, art made of watch parts in the shape of vintage cars on black velvet.


a giant red brandy glass on top of the television

Swedish glass - thick and dark green

candy striped sheets

nautical memorabilia especially things in the shape of ships’ wheels

16th century style sun faces.

passementerie and fringes on curtains, lampshades and bins – an odd hangover from Victorian upholstery

pale-blue velvet, pale-blue fitted carpet

prints from Boots and Woolworths: the crying boy, exotic maidens, swans, ballet dancers in swan costumes, sunbeam striking through a breaking wave. (By Vernon Ward and J.H. Lynch)

biscuit barrels etc decorated with hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades

spiral staircases

East European folk art

matching wallpaper and curtains

Late 60s decor

Around 1966 it seemed everything changed. Bridget Riley's geometric "dazzle" paintings became fashionable Op Art. Mary Quant's clothes for teenagers were all black and white. We wore white eyeliner. We painted our fingernails white. We chucked out the coral lipstick and wore - white. (Beige was more flattering.) We wore Op Art dresses, Op Art PVC (a new wonder-fabric) raincoats and hats.

The word "trendy" came into being. Trends came thick and fast.

Everything was “fun” and throwaway: paper lampshades, slot-together plastic lampshades, self-assembly paper chairs, modular cuboid furniture, paper knickers (they live on in hospitals), paper carrier bags (perfect for advertising and for making a statement).

Bright Casa Pupo rugs replaced the beige haircord. They came in flowery patterns and went with thick white pottery.

We chucked out the Sheraton and hung circular mirrors with thick red frames. We weren't quite sure what Pop Art was, but we got the look.

We lounged in peacock chairs, basket chairs suspended from the ceiling, or hammocks.

We chucked out our restrictive "girdles" and wore tights instead. Men's shirts and ties were going to be replaced by nylon turtle-neck shirts. Dull evening dress was jazzed up. Middle-aged men grew their hair longer, and grew mutton-chop whiskers which went perfectly with giant blue velvet bow-ties, kipper ties and frilled shirtfronts. (They grew the hair but failed to wash it more often. And it looked very silly combined with a combover. These ghastly aberrations soon faded from the scene.)

Op art was followed by psychedelia: There was a fashion for taking hallucinogenic drugs – because they made you see the world in bright rainbow colours. Manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and added vivid, clashing colours to their patterns for fabric, clothes and wallpaper: lime-green, orange, purple, pink, yellow, turquoise. Green/purple was popular. Patterns were swirly. Paisley (from Victorian era Indian shawls) was already fashionable – now it became bigger and brighter. Jacobean embroidery went through yet another regeneration. Op Art was remade in lime and pink. You could get a psychedelic mini-kaftan with a ring-pull zip and flared sleeves in M&S. Very daring. Posters, magazines, graphics had the look. It dated very fast.

Psychedelia was replaced by a depressing hippy ambience with burgundy walls, a vague 30s/Victorian feel, everything old and dusty, curtains closed during the day, purple ostrich feathers from Biba, old lace clothes hung up, old shawls, vases with incense (which left dust and bits everywhere). Spanish and Chinese shawls. Kimonos and printed silk.

Women who lived in a room like this had a chest of drawers and dressing table mirror, but the drawers wouldn’t shut, all surfaces were covered with clutter, the mirror was draped with bead necklaces, the dressing table covered with cheap little boxes. The brass bed had clothes hanging off the end. There’d be an orange crate by the bed for a lamp and an overflowing ashtray. The rest of her clothes hung on a hook on the back of the door. If there was a wardrobe her best clothes would be in a heap on the floor of it.

In every bedsit, there was an oblong art deco mirror hanging from a chain, and a central light with a marbleized bowl shade. Both going for £££££s in vintage shops today.

On the walls were posters of Alphonse Mucha and Van Gogh’s sunflowers. People with degrees had prints of Sienese art.

It wasn't really that seamless: hippy flowery fabric was both around in the early 60s – before hippies. When hippies came in (summer of 67), flowery fabric was swiftly labelled “hippy”. Colours were getting brighter before “psychedelia”. Daisies were “in” in the early 60s too - but they were quickly whipped into service for “flower power”.

Fashion Crimes of the Past

More here.


  1. Hello Lucy,

    I recently stumbled upon this wonderful 1960s style post and thought I'd mention that we just published a blog post about popular fashions from the 1960s, "If You Grew Up in the 1960s, You Definitely Wore These Things"

    I just thought this might be a fun post for your blog and enjoyable to you and your readers. Let me know what you think!

    Thanks, Lucy!

    Kind Regards,

    Mark Subel
    Chief Digital Officer
    Twitter: @Crestleaf
    Our Blog:
    About Us: (a Top 100 genealogy site by Genealogy in Time Magazine) is a free online family tree builder that has been used by tens of thousands of people to document their family history. Along with the family tree tool, we provide free access to 90 Million+ historical records.

  2. Don't know whether to thank you or tick you off for advertising! ;-)

  3. Very nice write up Lucy bit before my or just 'in' time of 68..
    I still felt nostalgic though. My mother was still wearing a beehive well into the very late 70s. Oh and yes tick them off!