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Fashion History: The Summer of Love

Fashion historian Colin McDowell discusses the influence of 1967's Summer of Love on the fashion industry.
Carnaby Street in 1968 | Photo: H. Grobe via Wikicommons
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  • BoF Team

Understanding fashion's rich history continues to be crucial to a successful career in the industry. Take BoF's Fashion History for Today online course with Colin McDowell and learn fashion's fundamentals.

LONDON, United Kingdom — A keen understanding of cultural context is deemed essential to any career within the fashion industry. "You might well think, what has history got to do with fashion? Everything has to have a context, even fashion," explains Colin McDowell, who was a designer and illustrator before turning to academia and writing.

"My online course is different to most in that it looks at the cultural aspect of fashion as well as the actual rag trade aspect. People like John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and [Christian] Dior were obviously influenced by what had gone before — it's very important that we link all of these things together to make a present and real zeitgeist," he adds.

Consider the cultural history of the hippie movement, which remains a strong influence in today's fashion. "The summer of love, 1967, how could we forget it?" says McDowell. The hippie subculture began prior to the summer of love, but 1967 marks the year the media started documenting the cultural movement and its search for free love as a peaceful rebellion against straight-laced baby boomers and the Vietnam War. "It was a highly decorative period, really full of joie de vivre," says McDowell. Closely associated with the era is its fashion, which embodies the "make love not war" movement as much as its preference for nudity or the Woodstock music festival.

“Hippie fashion was a do-it-yourself fashion. It taught people that they don’t need to go and buy something in a shop, they can make it themselves,” McDowell explains in his BoF course: Fashion History for Today. The fashion focused on romantic and soft fabrics, peasant blouses and flared jeans, tie dye and embroidered folk dresses, most of which could and would be made by amateurs.

This DIY mindset presented a challenge for designers, but many drew inspiration from the trend in a refined and expert way. The best example of this was Yves Saint Laurent's Autumn/Winter 1976 haute couture collection, which looked to the cultural and historical context of the hippie fashion movement. One of Saint Laurent's previous shows was taken to Moscow, where he became fascinated by the Russian peasant dress of the 19th century.

“He took it back to Paris, made it into couture and it was really probably one of the greatest collections ever,” says McDowell. Saint Laurent had reacted to the zeitgeist of the era. “Whether you’re designing a car, an aeroplane or a skirt, if it doesn’t fit in with the spirit of the age, it isn’t going to last, and it isn’t going to excite people.”

Just as Saint Laurent drew on the hippie aesthetic of the sixties, contemporary designers and brands, influencers and marketing team continue to draw on the idealised era, as explored in McDowell's course: Fashion History for Today. Discover how the summer of love remains relevant today and how designers like Zandra Rhodes and supermodels like Kate Moss continue to reference the era in a modern context.

Understanding fashion's rich history continues to be crucial to a successful career in the industry. Take BoF's Fashion History for Today online course with Colin McDowell and learn fashion's fundamentals.

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