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Belgian Fashion in The 1960s

Written by Zoe Verbandt. Reviewed by Marthe Bonnez


The fashion of the 1960s was greatly influenced by the cultural context of its time. For both women and men, clothing became more casual across all ages. It was the feminist movement that led to the emergence of new trends and tendencies. Women were no longer staying home as housewives but went to work in order to support their household and country. They were earning money and thus were capable of creating their own identity. In Belgium, the rise of feminism in the late 1960s was marked by a group called ‘Dolle Mina’. The group was originally founded in The Netherlands but quickly made their way to Belgium. The Dolle Minas were a rebellious group who took to the streets to protest. They held campaigns on topics such as equal pay, abortion, expensive daycare and women in politics, etc.

In womenswear, one can identify three main trends throughout the 60s. In the early years of the decade there was a continuation of the 1950’s ladylike elegance. This transition from one decade to the next was marked by skirt suits and matching accessories. The mid-1960s, on the other hand, was defined by a youthful style. A revolutionary fashion design was the mini skirt and mini dress, attributed to Mary Quant. It marked a sign of liberation for women, they were more free and were not afraid to show themselves. Quant designed the skirts with bold and colorful mod prints. The archive of The Modemuseum Antwerpen contains a 1965-1969 Belgian example of the mini dress. As can be seen in the picture, the dress is light pink with a high collar and short sleeves. A full transition from below-the-knee skirts of the 1950s to upper thigh skirts was made by the mid-60s. Nevertheless, the mini skirt reached its height and made room for the new style of the late 1960s. Skirts became longer again, reaching full-length. This development went hand in hand with the tendency towards the hippie aesthetic.

Changes in menswear fashion happened more gradually. In the beginning of the 1960s brighter colors and patterns were introduced, but it was not until the mid-60s that the suit itself started to change. There was a growing influence of the youth and by the early 1960s, teenagers formed a significant part of the population in Belgium. They wanted a fashion that could highlight their differences in terms of politics, morals, and lifestyle from their parents. The entertainment and music industry aimed at this demographic because they were perfect consumers with disposable income and few responsibilities. The primary influence on men’s fashion was no longer movie stars, which had been influencing the fashion scene since the 30s, but now rock stars such as The Beatles and Mick Jagger determined the trends. These rock stars wore military jackets, causing military elements to also have an influence on men’s fashion.

For Belgium, the 1960s was a period of crucial development. In 1963 The Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp was founded by Mary Prijot (1917-1998). Its early years were primarily devoted to fine arts but within a short period of time, it developed into a complete and extensive fashion program. Pioneers of the Belgian designers during the sixties were Yvette Lauwaert (1939) and Ann Salens (1940-1994). Ann Salens is considered as the first Antwerp avant-garde designer. Her self-taught fashion designs offered an alternative to the traditional Parisian ideals of beauty and the traditional image of women. At the end of the 1960s she opened a store in Antwerp where she sold unique crochet designs. Her designs generated international attention for a short period of time and became an important source of inspiration for Belgian designers.

The 1960s was a period in which fashion was dominated by big cultural shifts. The feminist movement allowed for different types of clothing, patterns, materials colors to cater the women of that era. The new fashion designs reflected women as powerful individuals who contribute to society in an active manner. The growing youth population also influenced fashion in the 1960s. Fashion increasingly focused on the young, hip, and happening, broadening the definition of fashion to be more democratized and diverse.


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