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Seminal Styles of the 20th Century, Part Five

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From white kid gloves to a roll in the mud, ladies and gentlemen, we bring you the rise and fall of the Madonna/whore decade!

  Camelot and Beyond

Even as the nascent revolution took shape, with swelling ranks that would soon topple the land of Joe Average and trample its ruins, there were still mainstream icons of kid-gloved propriety that held us in their sway. As JFK fever swept the country, no one woman had more fashion leverage than First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. (Recently, sanctimonious pundits gawped, “Faux Pas!” when current F.L., Michelle Obama, appeared sleeveless at an official function, however, true fashionistas knew it was far from a first. Mrs. Kennedy often bared arm in the course of her tenure at the White House, and while the Right Wing may have taken her husband to task over his politics, Jackie’s fashion sense was—and is—considered, even by most conservatives, sacrosanct.)

In the ’60s, the new medium of television was growing like a giant baby whose insatiable maw demanded teat nearly nonstop. In order to compete, newspapers and magazines had to shift into high gear. The result: the first paparazzi presidency. JFK and Jackie found themselves living under near constant scrutiny. A sea change had been set in motion that would soon blur the line between politics and celebrity forever. Once-great orators would become talking heads, their words no longer pondered over and handcrafted, but produced for them by others with degrees in spin and marketing.

To her credit, Jackie Kennedy was seen as rich and classy, demure, but managed not to come off as a dishrag. She was possessed of a quiet strength that would ultimately influence everything from the clothes we wore to how we behaved in the face of tragedy. The healthy, outdoor lifestyle that the Kennedy clan espoused (minus the alcoholic frolics and sexual dalliances) was easily assimilated into Jackie’s casual wardrobe. However, for public appearances or photo ops, Mrs. Kennedy was given to wearing classically tailored suit dresses, her trademark pillbox hats, and white gloves.

A nation of women in love with ideal Camelot represented emulated and adored her. In Hollywood, the country’s obsession with Jackie manifested in the doppelganger wardrobe sported by Audrey Hepburn in Stanley Donen’s 1963 classic whodunit Charade (a film undoubtedly shot before the president was).

  Happy Blowjob, Mr. President

The dream of Camelot was short-lived, and as history has borne out, it was a chimera of smoke and mirrors. On the surface, the bright and brilliant Kennedys epitomized the perfect family, but beneath the veneer roiled a more lurid truth.

In the Camelot of storied legend, it was the queen who took a lover, but in the 20th Century kingdom, it was the king who couldn’t keep it in his pants. JFK may have loved his wife, but his infamous extramarital sexscapades revealed that his public and private tastes were a clichéd manifestation of the classic Madonna/Whore trope: the girl you married, in this case, Jackie, was usurped in the bedroom (or was it the Oval Office?) by the girl you fucked—reigning screen sex siren, Marilyn Monroe, proving once again, that Hollywood wardrobe trumps haute couture.

If there were any doubts that Jackie knew about her husband’s affair with the movie goddess, Monroe’s rendition of “Happy Birthday. Mr. President” in a near see-through gown—the stuff that wet dreams are made of—laid them to rest. When Monroe, both star and star fucker, transformed an innocent ditty into implied fellatio broadcast on national television, there was little question as to the intimate nature of her relationship to the leader of the free world.

It was a gauntlet tossed down from Whore to Madonna, and while it may not have gone unheeded, it was moot. Within a year, both JFK and Monroe were dead. While there is much speculation that Monroe was on the verge of spilling her secrets about the presidential affair, as well as her liaison with RFK, and was therefore sent to permanent dreamland on the wings a suppository overdose supplied by—depending on the conspiracy theory of your choice: LBJ, the CIA, or Peter Lawford—what course Jackie might have taken in light of her husband’s infidelity we will never know.

  War is Not Healthy for Fashion and Other Living Things

In the wake of JFK’s assassination, new role models emerged. The glamorous Kennedys were traded in for what was behind Door Number Two: the Good Ol’ Boy Johnson clan. Yee-haw! (Note to self: Never trust a president who enjoys hoisting beagles aloft by their ears.) As formidable as a Southern belle as Ladybird may have been, she was no Jackie in the style department.

One of the first casualties America suffered as the conflict in Vietnam gathered momentum during the ascendance of the Johnson presidency, sucking yet another generation of young men into combat, was blind faith in the government. (See note to self, above.) By decade’s end, the long-held sentiment, “Ours is not to question why; Ours is but to do or die,” was replaced by “And it’s one, two, three, What are we fighting for? Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn, Next stop is Vietnam; And it’s five, six, seven, Open up the pearly gates. Well there ain’t no time to wonder why. Whoopee! We’re all gonna die.* The naive exuberance of early rock ’n’ roll, and the fashions it evoked, would soon enough be sluiced down the intake tube of a psychedelic-folk-rock-blues-funk meat grinder—Turn! Turn! Turn!—powered by civil and political unrest, racial turmoil, an unpopular and un-winnable war.

Thanks to television, the war in Vietnam played out on the nightly news. Annihilation was a side dish served warm to accompany the newfangled prefab dinners that substituted for home-made in a culture suddenly found itself “too busy” to cook. With tastes dulled by fast food and minds inured to atrocity it looked as if America might be doomed to an existence of warmed-over mediocrity. Had it not been for the intervention of sex, drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll, the women’s movement, and the staunch efforts of crusading civil rights activists, that might well have been the case.

  The British Are Cumming! The British Are Cumming!

While the fabric of American culture was beginning to unravel, across the pond, “Youthquake” (a term coined by then Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland) a movement that embraced fashion, music and culture at large, was exploding. The most recognizable face of the youthquakers was ubiquitous Brit model, Twiggy, however, designers Mary Quant and Betsey Johnson (who was then married to the Velvet Underground’s John Cale), along with Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick were also acolytes.

London designer Quant (sometimes along with another fashion-forward designer, André Courréges) is credited with being the creator of the miniskirt. Quant’s other signature styles of the ’60s include raucously colored patterned tights, “paint-box” makeup, plastic rain gear—and hot pants. With thigh-high fashions and bra-less tops back in vogue, the leggy, coltish figure regained prominence as the body type to be most admired and desired.

In the states, Peggy Moffitt, muse and model for wonderfully offbeat fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (creator of the topless bathing suit or “monokini”), had a signature look that included obscenely thick false eyelashes and exaggerated eye makeup inspired by Japanese Kabuki theatre. Moffitt’s hairstyle, “the five point,” was a vampy revamp of legendary film star and flapper Louise Brooks’ 1920s trademark bob. Just as the Brooks bob was synonymous with the youth movement of her day, Moffitt’s ’do was immediately identifiable as part of the youth culture she embodied. It became hugely popular, and, as with Brooks, was much copied.

And then there were the Beatles. Received with near-cultish, orgiastic enthusiasm, these four lads from Liverpool were effectively a tongue to the collective clit of a legion of screaming female fans around the globe. The Beatles took the sex/rock connection unleashed by pelvic Elvis and whipped it to a frenzy. Like a recently deflowered virgin who suddenly discovers the joys of multiple orgasms, women just couldn’t get enough. Soon a proliferation of English bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Who, The Animals, The Kinks—and, God help us, Herman’s Hermits—joined the bacchanal.

Although looking through the lens of time, rock icons of the ’60s were pretty clean-cut by today’s standards, and integral part of the music scene was contempt for authority and a questioning of old values. Two of the first standard bearers to fall were monogamy and sobriety. Fueled by fan adoration and heady counter culture euphoria, sex and drugs formed a permanent polyamorous alliance with Rock ’n’ Roll. Mick Jagger may not have been getting satisfaction, but he sure was getting laid.

Although the faces change, another bedfellow that rock hooked up with for the long haul was the model, helping to forge the rock/fashion connection. Brit mannequin Patty Boyd, managed to not only notch her bedpost but actually marry (at different times, of course) Beatle George Harrison and the guitarist from a band called Cream, Eric Clapton. Rod Stewart married Rachel Hunter. Billy Joel wed Christy Brinkley. Marilyn Manson shared vows with Dita Von Teese (okay, so she’s an ecdysiast, not a model). Seal tied the knot with Heidi Klum. Hey, we didn’t start the fire.

(*From “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” Words and music by Country Joe MacDonald)

  You Say You Want a Revolution

The table of contents for Wikipedia’s entry on “Counterculture of the 1960s” reads as follows:

1) International Historical Backdrop
2) Civil Rights Movement
3) British Invasion
4) Free Speech Movement
5) New Left
6) Anti-War Movement
7) LSD and other psychedelics
8) Hippies
9) Sexual revolution
10) In Europe
11) In Mexico
12) Feminism
13) Alternative media
14) Music
15) Film
16) Environmentalism
17) Technology
18) Legacy
19) Prominent Icons of the 1960s Counterculture Era (1963-1973)
20) Bibliography
21) References
22) External links

That’s a lot of ground to cover, and well worth the read, but since space here does not permit, let’s take a gander at some of the influences that directly goosed fashion and sexual attitudes as the decade rolled on.

As feminists came to the fore, housewives, no longer content with their limited roles at home, began to bolt for broader horizons. Women were learning to see themselves as equals in the workplace and protagonists in the bedroom. As bras burned and male/female power paradigm shifted, white gloves and pillbox hats made their way to the attic, and women who were slightly more edgy, even slightly dangerous, gained sexual cachet. The heightened allure of capable women, ones who might actually not only know what they wanted from a lover, but to ask for it, was intoxicating.

As the women’s movement made mainstream inroads, so-called bad girls, and women who “did it” were no longer doomed to crawl off and die in shameful oblivion. Iconic Hollywood images that reflect the new female empowerment of the era include Bond Girl Ursula Andress rising from the surf in her much-celebrated bikini and spear-wielding Raquel Welch in her prehistoric two-piece woolly mammoth-fur costume. For a dose of “Butch goes to Tinsel Town,” check out Honor Blackman’s turn as personal pilot Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.

A new breed of ’60s big-screen sex symbols tweaked the “dumb blonde” formula of the ’50s, trading in stupidity for naiveté, to give birth to the sex kitten—a dangerous animal, indeed. Now, for the most part, these divine creatures of lust incarnate, often depicted as ripe virgins searching for the men who could open their minds—and legs—to the glories of passion, were without guile. Brigitte Bardot, a blow-up doll come to life, epitomized this archetype.

On the small screen, Americans were invited to tune in and turn on to hippie-dippie chicks such as Goldie Hawn in her body paint and bikini, shaking her groove thang while tossing wide-eyed one liners on the landmark TV show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In (Sock it to me, baby. Sock it to me!) And of course, there was Cher, as in “Sonny &...” Cashing in on the popularity of the Beatles, American bands, such as the pre-fab four, The Monkees, became staples on the both Saturday morning and prime time TV variety shows. Although Cher wouldn’t come into her own as a style icon until the ’70s (thanks in good part to the costuming genius of Bob Mackey), she already knew how to work the camera. Her metamorphosis from hippie love child to high fashion diva was a spectacle cultivated for and captured by the media.

  Getting Twisted

But when raw sensuality coupled with only seeming inexperience, what could possibly go wrong? For the answer, look no further than the 1962 film, Lolita (d. Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Vladimir Nabakov). Middle-aged Humbert Humbert (played by James Mason), is torn to shreds by the sharp claws of sex kitten Dolores Haze (a.k.a. Lolita, played by Sue Lyon). Castigated for its implicit pedophilia, Lolita, although critically acclaimed, was still too over the top, even for many who considered themselves enlightened. It was clear, however, that sexual mores were shifting. Kink was finding it’s way into mainstream entertainment.

BDSM went prime time, big time, with the introduction of Diana Rigg as amateur spy/sleuth Emma Peel on The Avengers, a third-season replacement for actress Honor Blackman who’d left to join the cast of Goldfinger. Garbed in head to-toe-leather (she even sported a spiked bondage collar in one episode), Emma—a martial arts enthusiast as well as a formidable fencer—kicked serious ass. According to Wikipedia: “The name ‘Emma Peel’ is a play on the phrase ‘Man Appeal’ or ‘M. Appeal,’ which the production team stated was one of the required elements of the character.” Requirement fulfilled.

For kink meets kitsch, one only had to turn to comics-inspired Batman. Ostensibly kiddie fare, this TV series spoke to other audiences, as well. Catwoman, as portrayed by three different actresses: earthy Eartha Kitt, giagantress Julie Newmar, and former Miss America, Lee Meriwether, not only wore a black leather cat suit and facemask, she really cracked the whip. Oh, and was she having an affair with Batman? While the flirtation never achieved climax , their sexually charged, cat-and-mouse banter was certainly intended to titillate.

Meanwhile, in the fast-rising science fiction genre, Jane Fonda defied the laws of both gravity and sexual convention as space explorer, Barbarella, while Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura locked lips with a pre-Price Line negotiator William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk for the first interracial kiss on scripted television. Ah, to boldy go where no man has gone before….

  Everything Old is New Again

The ’60s may have been the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but whether they knew it or not, the so-called revolutionaries of the day, were in reality flappers and their consorts updated. Lax morals, free love and sexual experimentation were nothing new—the difference was degree.

“If you take the game of life seriously, if you take your nervous system seriously, if you take your sense organs seriously, if you take the energy process seriously, you must turn on, tune in, and drop out,” quoth the father of LSD, Dr. Timothy Leary. But in decades past, black sheep and prodigal sons and daughters who dropped out had a habit of eventually finding their way back to the fold. In a decade that began with petticoats, Pat Boone white bucks and button-down collars and ended with naked hippies rolling in the mud at Woodstock and the Stonewall Riots, many found there was no fold to return to.

“You can’t go home again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe, but if the desire exists, what’s the option? Re-inventing home in whatever permutation or perversion suits that desire, of course. The balance of the 20th century would be spent regurgitating and reinterpreting that which had come before. There’s no place like home…time to surrender, Dorothy.



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