The Swinging Sixties: My London

As a teenager in London during the 1960s, I witnessed first hand the explosion of modern fashion and music that became known around the world as The Swinging Sixties. As well as the music scene, fashion for ‘ordinary people’ suddenly arrived. Young designers, boutique shops, and modern clothes that rocked the stuffy attitudes of the time.

Mary Quant led the way, designing the first ever mini-skirt, and exposing the legs of a generation of women for all to see.

Here she is (in the hat) presenting a new collection in the early 1960s.

The women modelling the clothes became celebrities for the first time too. The teenage model Lesley Hornby was known professionally as ‘Twiggy’. She was a Mary Quant model, and her child-like appearance and stick-thin body epitomised the style being promoted. Twiggy is still as popular as ever today, remaining a household name.

Certain areas of London soon became associated with fashion. People flocked to them, just to be seen, or to see others.
King’s Road in Chelsea was a popular Saturday haunt.

In up-market Kensington, the Biba store attracted fashion shoppers too.

But it was Carnaby Street, close to Piccadilly Circus, where the scene exploded. Every shop sold fashionable clothes, many of which were affordable to teenagers working in regular jobs.

Just standing around and posing in your new outfit became popular, and many Londoners would take the trip to the centre just to look at the more fashionable girls strutting their stuff.

The music scene was heavily associated with fashion too. Here a young man dressed in ‘Mod’ clothes poses outside the popular ‘Flamingo’ nightclub, in Soho.
Nobody would have dared to go to one of these clubs without wearing the ‘right’ clothes.

But for me as a teenage boy, it was all about the legs. As skirts got shorter, and women grew their hair longer, spotting glamorous young women on the street was a very pleasant pastime indeed.

Let me know if you are old enough to have some fond memories of the wonderful Swinging Sixties.

85 thoughts on “The Swinging Sixties: My London

  1. Not old enough to have experienced the sixties but old enough to be disappointed to see what has become of Carnaby Street and the rate that small market sic venues close. I wonder if there will ever be a time when there will be an excitement of new fashions and music genres to match the sixties and seventies (maybe even include the early eighties).

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  2. I only know the history, but it was the time after two horrible world wars. Why not having fun to forget the horrible past. By the way: UK was and is much more fashion addicted as Germany ever could be. This is a part of culture too, and i think very positive. Michael

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  3. Oh, yes! I begged my parents to let me go on a 6 week student tour to France. As soon as my group got there, I noticed all the Europeans were wearing mini skirts. I stayed up all night hemming my skirts. I loved the β€˜60’s.

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  4. OMG OMG I so love seeing these pics Pete! I was not born yet but my mom wore the same skirts and dresses and she had the same haircut! I am born in 1970 so this was my parents youth and I have pictures of them with similar haircut and clothes LOL

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  5. Living in rural Scotland I kind of missed out on the swinging sixties though watched it all enviously from afar. I remember arguments over school skirt lengths and rolling my skirt up from the waistband as soon as I was out of the door. By the time I was of an age to buy the clothes I wanted we’d moved on to bell bottoms or long Indian cotton skirts – oh, and cheesecloth shirts for a while.

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  6. Oh the wonderful memories. I graduated in 1971, a year early. Our high school battled the dress code for years. Finally in 71 they got rid of the dress code and girls could wear mini skirts and pants and go go boots. Back then I was of the opinion if I could sit down properly it was not too short. The guys no longer had to wear button down shirts. Oh the horror. It was such a fun time for me.

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  7. I’m a 90s baby, so I wouldn’t recall seeing how people dressed during this time. I love the way they dressed though! I bet a lot of parents weren’t happy with Mary Quant’s fashionable mini skirt! Haha I don’t know how many times my own mini skirt β€œdisappeared” after going in the washer growing up!

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    1. I had heard this tidbit about the mini skirt. Apparently one of the complaints from female occupiers of the Mini Cooper, popular at the time, was that when they exited the car it required them to hike up their dress. Story goes, the makers had Mary design a shorter skirt… and the term “mini skirt” more referred to the association with the car than it’s resulting “shortness”. Although the term equally applied as a descriptive for the short dress itself. Would anyone know if this is fact or some urban legend?

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  8. oh this is fun, Pete! yes, i remember the 60’s! the mini-skirts (i wore them) and the music (danced with them) lol. how funny is that the first make up i wore was mary quant in the late 60’s πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ thanks for posting πŸ™‚

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  9. I love this post, Pete. I was only old enough to *want* to wear the clothes, but I loved them. When other first grade girls used their crayons to draw a stick-figure family — I drew clothes. But for me, it was never about the lenght (or lack there of) of the skirts or about famous designers, or having the most expensive or the most popular. It was all the colors, the variety of styles, and the whimsical patterns of the prints, for both women and men. Hugs on the wing!

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  10. You Brits dictated our musical and style culture of the 60’s. Nearly every product had TV commercials that had a female Brit-accented voice over… which pretty much fed the allure that all Brit chicks were slender and hot. I didn’t know too many guys wearing Edwardian-style suits, but that was popular in print ads.
    During one summer.. might have been 1968 (I graduated in ’69), I got mildly hippie-ish and wore a Nehru outfit with a huge peace symbol on a chain around my neck; quite out of character for me even at the time. Even today I reflect.. “What the hell was I doing back then?”
    I think after a few parties and being the butt of laughter I capitulated to my more conservative self.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Doug. I confess that the thought of you in that get-up with a peace symbol around your neck has managed to make me smile. πŸ™‚
      And we may have dictated the 60s, but you got us back good with baseball caps, MTV, and Rap Music!
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

    1. I always used to think that flower power and the hippies killed off the ‘swinging’ 60s. πŸ™‚
      But now I can see that they were just another aspect of the times.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  11. I was born in 59, so the sixties were my formative years I suppose, but I lived on RAF camps so a different kind of life. My mum made me some hot pants which were a godawful purple I chose but they were long gone by the time I was of ogling age 🀣

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  12. Although not in London, I do remember these fashions and some of the ads. Being in the U.S. we couldn’t wait to see what was happening in London. I was still pretty young, but we were enthralled by some of the new TV shows from the UK that were making their rounds in the States. The shows were not always the best, but we watched for the fashion. It really was a magical time!

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  13. These fashions were all the rage in Canada in the 60s. I sewed my own clothes and bought Mary Quaint patterns. Soon my friends wanted me to make them outfits too. You didn’t need very much fabric for the mini skirts. Great memories!

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  14. Being in little Perth, Western Australia at the time and being still at school I feel I missed out. But one amusing memory – My friend’s older sister took us on the bus to see Mary Poppins at the cinema in the ( tiny ) city centre. She asked us to walk ten paces behind her as she was wearing her Mod outfit and didn’t want us spoiling her image! We meekly agreed. Whether anyone noticed her I don’t know, perhaps some teenage boys got the chance to admire her legs!

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  15. Unfortunately, I was too young to really appreciate the ‘swinging sixties’, and living on the south coast, London was rather out of my reach, but I very much enjoyed the arc of progression of music from my earliest favourites, The Beatles (who else?), through rock and ‘progressive’, at the end of the decade, when I was in my mid-teens. My older brother, who was in a band, and his wife, Jane, experienced all the glamourous (and, no doubt, not so glamorous) aspects of the sixties, and Jane has co-authored a very well-received novel set in those times, Only One Woman. Check it out! https://janerisdon.com/

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    1. Thanks, WB. The 1970s arrived to take the wind out of our sails. Young people became ‘serious’ again, and prog rock was far too pretentious for me. But those few years from 1963-1970 were a memorable time indeed.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  16. Great post….girl watching was an excellent pastime as the skirts got shorter….but only a few down here we were not a fashion center of the time…..Hell if you wore Levis then everyone knew you were poor for they we cheap back in the 60s…..the South was really NOT the place to be in the 60s….chuq

    Liked by 1 person

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