March 14, 2009


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As President Kennedy announced the Space Race in 1961, an emerging generation of kids in Europe and the US were looking to the stars and beyond for ideas about what life had to offer. There was freedom in the air. And while NASA launched rockets, young adults fueled a youth movement that ignited the planet. (below: David Hemmings as a photographer in Antonioni's Blow Up).

In England, government policy changes in 1960 had direct social repercussions- young men found themselves suddenly free from national service. Beatles drummer Ringo Starr said in a May 2008 interview that the end of mandatory national service in Britain made it possible for The Beatles to exist. “We were the first generation that didn’t go into the army. I missed the call up by, like, 10 months, and so we were allowed, as these teenagers, not to be regimented and turn into these musicians."

Economies were stronger and teenagers found they didn't have to contribute as much to household incomes with money earned from after-school and summer jobs. They had time and, more importantly, they had spending money. It was a new era that offered young adults the freedom to invest in clothes and hobbies like never before as they explored self-expression and identity. The power of these dollars and pounds was critiqued alongside the Fashion world in the excellent film, Who Are You, Polly Magoo?, where TV interviewers producing a feature on a young model discussed how the ideal of sexuality and beauty had suddenly grown younger due to the youth market. I wonder what they would say about contemporary advertising and ageism? A short piece covering 60s trends at Sixties City.
One group of British kids with a taste for Jazz and American R&B began dressing in tailored Italian suits and pointed shoes. Distancing themselves from the biker-greaser look of the "Rockers", the "Mods" were a sub-culture that prized a minimal, modern aesthetic. In TV documentaries of the time, much attention was given to young men who spent large sums on their outfits and to the particulars of cuts and fabrics. Some Mod history Here and Here.
Mod movies Here.

Where Mod style had originally defined a smaller sub-culture (and one with incarnations through to the present), the word Mod has became a bit of a generalization to describe fashion that reflects minimal, trim, monochromatic, two-tone, Pop Art, and Op Art sensibilities. The Who, a band with Mod roots, became well-known for using Pop Art-influenced symbols in their wardrobe. Along with bold stripes, images that had iconic British-ness, like the Union Jack and RAF target, took hold in the mainstream and remain identified with Mod revival. Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner followed a similar line of fashion with characters in bold stripes and accents. A more-to-Mod roots band meets Eero Aarnio below in a rare shot of The Small Faces. Readers interested in a historical view on stripes can check out the book, The Devil's Cloth.

"Are You a Mod or a Rocker?"
"I'm a Mocker."
-Ringo Starr/A Hard Days Night

With the pop explosion of The Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones, a variety of fashion styles and sub-cultures entered the mainstream and became world-wide expressions of the generation. Boutiques sprouted up to meet the demand. Carnaby Street was an epicenter, mythicized further in pop films like Smashing Time. According to Sixties City, the Treasury in the UK reported that fashion reached a 1.7 billion pound industry in 1965. That's a figure worth tracking down! I'm curious to learn if those numbers are accurate.

Designer Pierre Cardin defined some of the suited look of the period, dressing Patrick MacNee's John Steed in The Avengers and inspiring the collarless suits for The Beatles. A British Invasion look was in! And for men looking for a dressy alternative to wearing ties, U.N.C.L.E.'s David MacCallum and The Beatles inspired a re-popularization of the turtleneck.

Fashion for women embraced the anything-goes attitude of the times. Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian dress and the mini skirt popularized by Andre Courreges and Mary Quant were stand-out creations. In 1964, the year Beatlemania really hit on the global level, Andre Courreges' fascination with the Space Age resulted in a fabulous line of clothes inspired by NASA white and silver. He launched his Moon Girl Collection, which included high skirts and dresses with geometric patterns and cut-outs, space-like helmets, and mid-shin PVC boots.

Paco Rabanne, Pierre Cardin, Rudi Gernreich, and others followed with their own Futuristic lines. The movement had a great effect on costume design in a number of iconic 1960s films, including The 10th Victim (Elio Petri/1965) and Barbarella (Vadim/1968). Agent David Foster (Permission To Kill) found the portraits of Patty Boyd below reminiscent of the graphics for the Eurospy classic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

What I will generalize as "Mods and Moongirls" are some aesthetic anchors to the Spy Vibe of 1960s Film and Pop Culture. The styles define the era and continue to resonate in contemporary culture. It seems, however, that where a 60s trim style for men has returned in a Metro look, the experimental, Space Age look of Women's fashions has remained 60s iconic. Gone are the bold stripes, cut-out dresses, Go-Go boots, and other PVC gear. Many echoes of 60s fashion crop up around me. I haven't spotted a Moongirl yet, but I'm still looking :)

Check out Atom Retro for Mod clothing sales and info!

With this general overview of a cultural context, we'll explore specific Spy Vibe film costumes in... THE FUTURE!
See the website for related videos and discussions about costume design in 60s cinema.


  1. I'm afraid that despite all our freedoms, we've taken two steps back into a sort of voluntary regimentation and so many people wear a bland uniform of T-shirts and jeans...

    As for me, I've always had a weakness for the "Neo-Edwardian" look of Jason King and "The Persuaders!" Though to be honest, I'll take the Playboy magazine Ivy League look, circa 1961; it's look "suits" me and enhances my appearance.

    I'm not sure that the U.S. embraced Mod culture as Europe did. The hippie look was dominant here in the States, which is unfortunate because the Mod and "Swinging London" aesthetic we both admire has nearly been forgotten by the short-term memory of the general public. You'd be hardpressed to find any Americans who were old enough back then who dressed Mod, or even liked jazz in an age of Rock music.

  2. Thank you David Foster (Permission To Kill) for spying the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang connection :)

  3. I've always wanted to be a mod, but found I couldn't afford it. Also, I'm scared of motorbikes, so a Vespa is out of the question.

    If I had my druthers, I'd wear Ben Sherman and listen to the Faces all the time (though actually, my faves are the Kinks...not totally mod, that lot).

    While the color/patterns and materials of the mod years may be out of fashion for women, I see the dress shapes revived all the time...for awhile, there was an Isaac Mizrahi line at Target that was tre 60s London.

  4. Speaking of Moongirls, I found this on youtube: A short clip about the gorgeous futuristic fashion of the 1960's from designers like Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne etc. Most of the scenes are from the German TV-Show "Paris Aktuell". The music is "DEJA VU" from Mort Garson's Ataraxia The Unexplained (1975).


  5. this one too, with clips from the movies cited in your post:

  6. such an fantastic post! LOVE LOVE LOVE the awesome styles! I want a moongirl outfit complete with the hat of course. ;)

  7. Thanks!! I also saw those great youtube clips- the one that includes The 10th Victim is part of this article on the Spy Vibe website- so spy minds think alike :) I'd seen the fashion one, too- so fun! See the website for others like it.

    babyphat523- yes, you have to have the hat :)

  8. I can appreciate this article very much. I have a number of the late 50's and early 60's shark skin (tonic) suits that I love to wear. I love the music from the same time and think these photos above are awesome. I actually helped my friend restore a couple vespas like the ones above.

    Sabain, by the way, don't let anybody tell you that the Kinks aren't completely mod. They just changed with time and, Ray Davis wrote some of the most famous mod songs for other groups of the 60's as well as the 80's Mod Revival.

    If anyone like's current bands with a Mod sound, check out "The Booze" from Atlanta, GA. on Itunes. They are REALLY GOOD!

  9. After restoring the Vespas, did you get to ride them? That's something I've always wanted to do.

    Thanks for the band recommendation! Another fun thing to check out are some of the Mod compilations. The Mod Scene is one that comes to mind.

    Did any of you hear Ray Davies on Fesh Air last year? Really interested interview!

  10. I actually did get to ride some to the restored Vespas. They're really fun. They can be a bit sketchy though.

    There are actually a number of good bands out there right now. It seems that there is a large Mod revival in clothing going on right now but, in the true mod sound the revival is small. One good place for new and even old mod bands is Mr Suaves MOD MOD World. He has a lot of music that some call mod and some not. I think you will like it.

  11. Thanks for the tip on this website:

    Very cool stuff! I look forward to catching up with that site and checking out bands.

  12. Beautiful, gorgeous dressy costumes with character specific glitter detailing and matching glamour style. A perfect dressy costumes for your next elegant costume party affair.