By Giulia Cassano
Diary of a small recycling 11: the 1960s and the empowerment of women
It’s Sunday afternoon and I am strolling over the second-hand market of the Sisters of the Precious Blood of Christ of Monza (near Milan) in a riot of objects: pots, cups, fabric rolls, old clothes and antique laces. I rummage in a large box and cherry-pick an old sparkling dress with soft colors in flawless condition, softly colored and well-made. The ladies of the lace department put the dress in a bag with great joy.
It’s a 60s dress, custom-made by a tailor’s shop for who knows which Miss or occasion… in any case I immediately notice that it fits a tiny bit strangely, hence I think of a way to modernize it and make it more regular.
The idea I’ve formed in my mind is that it belonged to a girl who wore it to a party, together with some huge custome jewelry earrings.
Its bon-ton style is too much, so in order to make it look less formal I will cut off one shoulder and alter its pattern and length.
It’s a hybrid dress… and I want to make it more alluring for a night out, in tribute to those years of revolutions and rebellions.
The miniskirt becomes a symbol of the protest against the widespread conformist attitudes and behavior of those years as well as a symbol of sexual revolution and the empowerment of women expresses itself in a new way of showing off and breaking away. Humans started to wear clothing to cover up their private parts, but in the 1960s clothing is used as a vehicle of protest and social change as women demand their rights and affirm their freedom of self-determination over their own body. In Western countries and particularly in Italy the 60s represents a crucial turning point for women, as they gain the power over their sexuality without shame and without the limits imposed by society. Thanks to the diffusion of the birth control pill women can now express their sexual desires independently of any reproductive issues, they can relate to their partners and their own body in a new, different way. I find this parallelism between the key moments of women’s empowerment and the corresponding shortening of dresses really fascinating(1).
The 60s is also a decade with multifaceted and also contradictory aspects in every sphere of life: the high ideals, pacifism, music and freedom on the one hand, and on the other hand the rampant conformism of the bourgeoisie, that sees a threat to the traditionally accepted moral values – family, marriage and sex between a married couple to produce children – in such libertarian attitudes and behaviors.
But young people want to break free from those chains represented by the rules handed down and imposed over time, and the spreading libertinism of thought begins to shape society, the way people perceive life, relationships and family: divorce is introduced and it is now possible to end and unhappy marriage.
Take, for example, 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock, the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the cult movie The Graduate, who is seduced by an older bourgeois woman and then proceeds to fall in love with her daughter. Right from the beginning their families oppose their relationship, but love always wins in the end and we are left with a sense of freedom. The beautiful soundtrack of the film by Simon & Garfunkel still echoes in our ears as one of the melancholic melodies symbol of those nostalgic years.
For the photo shoot I have thought of a beautiful country girl spruced up for a party, pervaded by melancholy and overwhelmed by thoughts. She would like to be where she is not, at an elegant and fashionable party.
Various steps to alter the dress:
– I shape the skirt by cutting off the exceeding fabric
– I turn the dress into an off-one-shoulder dress by cutting one shoulder and adorning the inner part with some lilac grosgrain
– I add some pink rose decorations to the waistband.
– Vintage gold costume jewelry with beads and decorative elements sewn up to create some eye-catching pendants, whose pale green and gold colors match the colors of the dress.
– Calanca Daniela, Storia sociale della Moda (Social history of contemporary fashion – book not available in English) – LaFeltrinelli
– The Boston Women’s Healt Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves — Touchstone Books
– Harrison Lieta, La donna sposata (The married woman — book not available in English) LaFeltrinelli
Model: Letizia Giltri
(1) Calanca Daniela, Storia sociale della Moda, 2002