how a trickle up became a waterfall

Prior to the 1960s, it seemed the average person was pumped out of the status quo factory, hastily clad in whatever high-end designers instructed us plebeians to wear, therefore not leaving much wiggle room for personal preference. Thanks to Christian Dior’s New Look in 1947, everyone and their mother had nipped waists and skirts so billowing they could lose sight of their children beneath them, poor Johnny potentially suffocating under layers of petticoats. So elegant, grand, ravishing. And restrictive, literally and figuratively. The corsets tightened around your waist and creative freedom alike, denying even the slightest breath of refreshing air. However, this didn’t last long with the British youth culture fast approaching to deprive the New Lookers of their final gasp for sameness. Nothing could’ve prepared the New Lookers for the NEW New Look: anything you fucking wanted.

Snatched waists slackened, skirts slimmed, shortened (and later lengthened), colors and patterns popped out at you like a good acid trip, mirrored dresses stared back, men and women became almost indistinguishable: everyone’s hair past their shoulders, wearing pants and stinking of nag champa (not quite succeeding at masking other scents). While credit is due to designers such as London’s own Miss Mod Mary Quant, the recently-passed yet forever-loved metalworker Paco Rabanne, Androgyny-instigator and apprentice to Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Space-Age adventurers Andre Courrèges and Pierre Cardin, it was really the youth that changed everything, grabbing the industry by the arms and shaking it awake: “WE EXIST AND WE KNOW WHAT WE WANT.” And they wanted everything at once.

For the first time in fashion history, luxury designers listened and looked to young people for inspiration. This concept, coined the trickle-up theory, was essentially the birth of street style, where trends didn’t begin on the runway but instead on our bodies. In our minds. All of a sudden, we ran the runway show. And when we started calling the shots, things got really fun. I’m talking miniskirts and go-go boots, Native Western inspired fringe jackets and folk prairie dresses, alienesque sunglasses and metallic materials, bell bottoms, disco collars and platforms, options galore! ‘Twas a glorious time for personal style.

Still, some crown the 1950s as the golden age of fashion, considering the impact haute couture had during that time. But here’s the thing about haute couture: it’s exquisite, yes. And expensive. Exclusive. Elitist. An “in-crowd” only some have the privilege of understanding. And don’t get me wrong, I adore haute couture and 1950s fashion. Christian Dior’s New Look is iconique. But fashion does not inherently equal haute couture. It doesn’t have to be perfectly tailored or constructed with the finest of textiles. Fashion can be whatever you want it to be. And that was the power of the 1960s-70s Youthquake: it gave people the freedom to express themselves via wardrobe. It was a fashion revolution and the industry was never the same again. We all bear this freedom to fashion, now more than ever, and I personally enjoy indulging in the possibilities. You probably do, too. So, everyone say thank you to the bored teenagers in 1960s UK. Because who runs the world? British kids, apparently.

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