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Half of a century doesn’t seem a very long time in the grand scheme of things, but things can change drastically in 50 years, from technology to lifestyle. Beauty standards can also be amazingly different, reflecting the turbulence of the era. What features did people consider attractive 50 years ago? Let's check it out.
The rise of unisex clothing and androgynous styles was coinciding with the preference for more boyish figures. Androgyny began to be associated with the search for greater independence for women. It helped to denote freedoms gained and the rejection of traditional claustrophobic ideas of femininity, as stated by Rebecca Arnold Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the 20th Century. And it was interesting that men also adopted this inclination towards androgyny.
A woman with an athletic physique was considered attractive, but not for the reasons we might think. While female athletes today are considered capable and powerful role models, in the 1960s sport was simply viewed as a way for women to help maintain a slim and attractive figure. Women became more active in sport at that time, especially in high schools and colleges, although women's sports was still not on par with men's.
"The young found that displaying their physique was the most effective means of setting themselves apart from the older generation," wrote Akiko Fukai in Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century. Therefore, the miniskirt came into vogue as "bare legs... developed through various conceptual stages in the 1960s." The emphasis fashion placed on women's legs also influenced shoe styles. Tall, pointed boots came into vogue, off-setting the short skirts of the era.
The fear of cellulite in the late 1960s made women do anything they could to eliminate "what they identified as water, wastes, and fat trapped inside a woman's hips and thighs," according to Linda Przybyszewski. And the desire for more boyish figures was not entirely to conform to fashion or to please men. The changing shape of women's bodies has, in many ways, served to reflect larger cultural shifts throughout history, for example a thin and straight figure was prized at times when women were striving to demonstrate their equality.
Although voluptuous women like Marilyn Monroe were still cultural icons in the 1950s and early 1960s, "there was also a significant move toward slimness," wrote Sarah Grogan. As the decade progressed, the trend of thinness became more pronounced and "particularly acute… when the fashion Model Twiggy became the role model for a generation of young women."
As models became thinner and slimmer, curves became less desirable. "Curvaceous women were passed over in favor of underweight teenagers," wrote Przybyszewski. The desire to be slim led to a preoccupation with weight, especially among younger girls. By the 1960s, weight loss became their primary obsession.
The rise of the miniskirt and exposed legs also meant that women felt the pressure to put their best leg forward. Therefore, a new trend began to emerge by the mid-60s - leg makeup. Women would carefully cover up bruises, scars, and other imperfections with cosmetics and then further conceal them with stockings, which showed how conflicted women in this era were. The women's liberation movement was empowering females to embrace their bodies, but many of them still felt the pressure to conform to society's beauty standards.
There was a "preference for long, straight hair" in the late 1960s, wrote Linda M. Scott in Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism. Many men wore their hair long as well as women at that time. The transformation of hairstyles wasn't just about fashion, but also "act of rebellion against the highly constructed female hairdos and terse male haircuts of the previous generation."
While a link between smoking and lung cancer had been established years before, smoking was still considered to be glamorous and sophisticated for women. The tobacco industry targeted women in the 1960s, taking advantage of the growing feminist movement by portraying smoking as the pinnacle of gender equality.
The 1960s was regarded as a decade long booze-fest, for day drinking, especially at work, was quite reasonable. However, it was far more acceptable for men to indulge in alcohol each day than women. Although more and more women were moving away from conventional gender stereotypes, those who drank frequently were seen as decidedly unfeminine. Like the Saturday Evening Post once warned in 1962, "people think of the woman drunk as an old hag."
Despite the great strides made towards gender and racial equality in the 60s, women still did not have the same rights as men. Ads from the era show that women were only expected to be homemakers and sex objects, and "a woman today has been made to feel freakish and alone and guilty if, simply, she wants to be more than her husband's wife," wrote Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique in 1963.
The suppression of women's curves also led to the popularity of a "prepubescent look," as claimed by Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. Lithe, young-looking Lolita types like Twiggy dominated the fashion world. The lolita look embodied the spirit of the era, representing youth and vigor. At the same time, maturity in dress or behavior was considered as a sign of premature death and something to be warded off as long as possible.
More women were working than ever by the late 1960s, but they faced a certain stigma when making great economic strides. As a woman's primary duty was still expected to be to her family, working wives and mothers were thought to destabilize home life and their families. History professor Stephanie Coontz told the Harvard Business Review that middle-class women were the most stigmatized, and "it is hard for modern people to understand just how insecure, how depressed, how a low the self-esteem was of these stay-at-home moms in those days."
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