A brief look at the year of 1962


In 1962 the world was on the cusp of a new era, politically, socially and technologically. A photograph of the designer Irene Galitzine wearing one of her own creations from her 1962 spring collection (the Italian fashion press voted her designer of the year for 1962) suggests this new era; Galitzine looks as if she is about to step out into a brave new world.

The year was dominated by the Cuban Missile crisis as the US and the USSR played showdown over nuclear testing and the space race. John Glenn was the first American to go around the earth in space which he did in February 1962. Contributors to the ICOM Costume Committee 1962 dress memories project talked about the real sense of fear which the Cuban Missile crisis prompted; the sense of a world on the brink of disaster, and a dilemma for which there was no easy or comfortable answer. It ended in November 1962 when the USSR agreed to dismantle its missiles in Cuba and the US agreed to end its blockade of the Caribbean country.

There was to be no happy ending for one well-known figure. On 19 May 1962 Marilyn Monroe sang her sultry version of Happy Birthday for the US president John F Kennedy who turned 45 a few days later. Less than three months later the Hollywood actress, star of Some Like it Hot and Gentleman Prefer Blondes was dead; her demise producing many column inches and much speculation.

There was more hope for many new nations which emerged in 1962. Many countries in Africa and the Caribbean gained independence from their former colonial powers; Jamaica, Algeria and Rwanda were among them.


Musically 1962 covered a wide range from Elvis Presley’s ‘Rock a Hula Baby’ to Françoise Hardy’s ‘Tous Les Garcons et Les Filles’. Middle aged crooner Neil Sedaka had success with ‘Breaking Up is Hard to Do’ while hits like the Isley Brothers’ ‘Twist and Shout’ hinted at the new direction of music. By the end of 1962 the Beatles were the iconic Fab Four with the arrival of Ringo Starr.


Cinema in the 1960s continued to work hard to respond to the threat of the small screen with epic films like Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia. The seemingly more modest hero of Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, based on Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, was equally popular; the film quickly made $20 million at the box office.


The art world was equally diverse. One work to cause a stir, and an exemplar of pop art, was Andy Warhol’s soup cans, first shown by the dealer Irving Blum, shown in this photograph sitting in front of the 32 canvases. Of course the popularity of the tomato soup can image which has been relentlessly replicated, including on the famous paper dresses of the late 1960s, often obscures the fact that there were 32 different soup cans represented, one for each Campbell’s soup flavour.


In fashion well-known figures helped to set trends. One of the most widely copied was Jackie Kennedy. The cartoon from 1962 demonstrates the appeal of her style as many women sought to imitate the first lady. She was much praised for the simple yet elegant style that she exhibited on her goodwill tour of India and Pakistan that year. Another example of the clean, unfussy lines which typified her dress sense was the appropriately red wool suit, with an asymmetrical fastening and large red buttons that she wore for her televised tour of the White House, aired on Valentine’s Day 1962.

If women were impressed by Jackie Kennedy men certainly took note of Ursula Andress’s bikini clad moment as Honey Ryder, rising out of the water in the James Bond film Dr. No. My mother said that one of the elements that added to the brazen quality of this act was the fact that unlike most modest young women on the beach Ryder made no attempt to cover herself up as she exited the water; pure psychological and sartorial defiance. No wonder she became known as Ursula Undress. The bikini from this classic cinema moment was sold in 2001 for some $60,000.

You can’t have fashion without designers and just as politically and culturally a new era seemed to be round the corner so the same was true in fashion. This photograph of Coco Chanel has a sense of gently balancing on the sartorial line of old and new, as the doyenne of couture, Chanel, cigarette in mouth, puts the finishing touches to a simple black dress. In its clarity of line it’s well suited to the clean lines of the coming years.

Other designers caught this mood of simplicity and youthfulness; the Christian Dior evening gown here mirrors others designed in 1962 which tended to the long and sleek rather than the fuller dresses which had characterised the previous decade. Mary Quant continued to establish her youthful style; by 1962 she had two Bazaar shops in London (one in the King’s Road and one in Knightsbridge) as well as showing her collection for the American market.

Of course commentators often point out that Mary Quant’s style in its original form was only accessible to a relatively small number of young women because of its expense. Many had to modify and adapt the ideas they found on the catwalk. At one level this was done by high end copies of catwalk designers.

Vogue of course was packed full with fashion inspiration, though it was an expensive publication, as were its patterns and many women turned to cheaper alternatives to stay abreast of the latest trends. Even Vogue however experienced something of a shakeup as a new generation of models and photographers began to emerge. They’re perhaps best represented by Jean Shrimpton and David Bailey who in 1962 hit New York to shoot a gritty, urban and unlikely fashion sequence that sent eyes rolling at Vogue HQ, quite different from the modest and socially conservative images that might have been expected. Bailey shot Jean (and her teddy bear) on New York street corners and skyscraper roof tops. In 1962 fashion was beginning to get attitude.


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