When people think of America in the 1960s, they often have a romanticized idea of a decade of great music, liberal idealism, and Flower Power. It was the time when the post war baby boomers were in their adolescence, embracing counter culture ideals, expanding their minds through all kinds of drugs, and truly, living life to the fullest. The Flower Power movement reached its climax at the Woodstock Festival held in upstate New York in 1969 when an estimated 500,000 people lived in peace and harmony for three unforgettable days. Let’s look at some of the unique characteristics of the times.
Art and Architecture
The artists developed on the styles of the fifties but there was a more contemporary feel to their work. Pop art, minimalism, abstract art, assemblage art, and environmental art gained popularity during this period. The art displays the positive attitude of the artists, reflecting the affluence and technology of the period. A lot of futuristic design was introduced in architecture. With the modernist trend, tall buildings dotted the skyline and designs tended towards streamlined contemporary. There was a predominant use of light and space.
Initially, fashion was conservative, following along the lines of the fifties. Soon, the huge number of teenagers dominated and created their own fashion. Men had crew cuts and women sported bouffant hair styles. Women wore knee length dresses though by the mid sixties, hot pants and miniskirts had become the rage. Women had short hair and men started growing their hair and mustaches. From casual plaid shirts, men started wearing bright colors, turtlenecks, wide ties, double breasted jackets, and pants suits in polyester. The Beatles popularized the Nehru Jacket among men. Bell bottoms, batik prints, fancy t-shirts, and love beads were worn by both sexes. The sixties saw the launch of Barbie dolls by Mattel and GI Joe by Hasbro. Skateboarding had become very popular, thanks to the Californians.
Civil rights was one of the major issues being championed in the sixties. The feminist movement gathered momentum, fighting for equal rights. An eco drive was started to reduce pollution and preserve nature. The Peace Corps were formed to improve living standards in third world countries, promoting peace and anti-war messages to all countries. Social movements were on an increase during the sixties. There was constant competition between the Russians and the Americans with regard to outer space research throughout the decade. Automobiles made the transition to a cleaner and simpler style. The computer was also invented in the sixties.
The start of the sixties saw the return of Elvis Presley along with a few other popular singers. The Motown record company was set up, promoting blues and rhythm. The Beatles from England also become very popular in the United States. It was really the golden age of rock music as artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, the Who, the Beach Boys, and many others produced music which defined the era. There was a change towards psychedelic rock in the mid sixties largely due to the influence of drugs. Pop, Reggae, blues and soul were a hit with the youngsters. The mood synthesizer was developed, creating a change in the music scene with a lot of experimentation.
The sixties were the era of musicals with many hit musicals like Hello Dolly, Hair, Funny Girl, Camelot, and others. The more popular of the musicals were made into movies like My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. Movies moved towards the unconventional and James Bond movies were in great demand. Radio was the main source of music and there was an introduction of the FM frequency in addition to AM. Television series were becoming popular with I Dream of Jeannie, The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched and The Lucy Show.