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Mod Styles and the London Scene


In the early to mid-1960s, London, England, briefly became the fashion center of the world as a revolution in style rocked the world of dress. Carnaby Street was a street in the Soho section of London that was home to many of the innovative boutiques and shops associated with London fashion of the mid-1960s. The most famous of these was His Clothes, the flagship of a chain opened in 1957 by clothier John Stephen, whose outrageous looks, cheap prices, and fast turnover of styles helped transform menswear fashion retailing. Stephen's mod, short for modern, designs and relaxed sales approach signaled a break with the stuffy customs of conventional British clothing shops, and helped turn Carnaby Street into a center for young clothes fanatics of both sexes.

The changes in men's fashions were labeled a "Peacock Revolution" by Esquire magazine columnist George Frazier (19111974), one of the first mainstream journalists to take notice of the flamboyant fashions parading along Carnaby Street. These fashions included Nehru jackets (close-fitted, single-breasted coats with stand-up collars and no lapels) in psychedelic colors and patterns, velvet suits, bold patterned shirts and ties, and pointy-toed boots with high heels. John Stephen dressed rock stars like the Who and the Rolling Stones, creating a unisex look marked by long, exquisitely styled hair and a lean silhouette, or shape. Their clothes were flamboyant and designed to attract attention. Even the Beatles traded in their drab gray suits for paisley scarves, flowered shirts, and striped bell-bottomed pants in the mid-1960s. Lines between the sexes became so blurred that a 1964 London Sunday Times magazine article on London styles famously asked "Is that a boy, or is it a girl?" Despite, or perhaps because of, this ambiguity, the look became extremely popular, even outside of Great Britain. The French designer Pierre Cardin (1922) created an American version of the slim-lined European silhouette, which, along with the immense popularity of jeans, led to the acceptance of extremely close-fitting clothing.

The young women of London wore their hair long as well, usually straight, or cropped into the angular cuts made popular by hair stylist Vidal Sassoon (1928). One of the great influences on women's fashions of this period was designer Mary Quant (1934), who opened her flagship boutique Bazaar in 1958 on the Kings Road in London. Quant, who coined the word "youthquake" to describe what was going on in fashion at the time, sought to liberate women from the tyranny of the long skirt and cardigan with a series of fresh, innovative designs. These included a line of signature jumpers, ready-to-wear dresses, colored tights, hipster belts, plastic garments, sleeveless, crocheted tops, and her most celebrated garment, the scandalously short miniskirt. The mini became a worldwide phenomenon, and Quant eventually branched out beyond clothes into cosmetics, all bearing her trademark five-petaled daisy.

Around 1967 the growth of the hippie movement and its styles replaced the London Scene as the center of fashion innovation, but in its brief period as a fashion center London had a huge influence on international styles.

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