Breaking the rules: Film and fashion in "Swinging Britain"

Emma Pett

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When TIME magazine baptized London "the Swinging City" in April 1966, it placed the British capital at the centre of the "Swinging Sixties" discourse. While there exists a significant body of research exploring British cinema of the decade in general (Hill; Murphy), and examining fashion in films of the decade in particular (Church Gibson; Landy), there remains little work to date on film audiences from this period. This article considers some of the findings from the AHRC-funded project "Cultural Memory and British Cinema-going of the 1960s," the first major project which has set out to gather and explore the memories of film-goers from 1960s Britain. Its methodology is based on that of earlier ethnographic studies of audiences, including those by Helen Taylor, Jackie Stacey, and Annette Kuhn. Drawing on a wide range of materials, including over 800 questionnaire responses and 40 interviews, the project seeks to shed new light on the social and cultural history of cinema in the 1960s, and to contribute to a broader reappraisal of British social and cultural history during the decade.

This article focuses specifically on a small selection of these findings, and considers the memories of twelve of the project's respondents. These memories are discussed as a means to re-evaluate recollections of, and responses to, representations of fashion in 1960s cinema. While the project participants were not questioned about memories of fashion in 1960s films directly, a small number raised the issue themselves, and their responses are considered below. Building on existing work that has primarily examined the relationship between female spectators and female stars (Stacey; Moseley), this article considers the pleasures and meanings derived by both female and male British film-goers who have shared their memories of enjoying and emulating fashion in the films of the 1960s. It argues that, while the lives of many people living in 1960s Britain did not change dramatically throughout the decade, screen representations of fashion and "Swinging London" had a significant ideological impact on many cinemagoers, both within and beyond the capital. Notably, that fashion and consumer culture, as seen in the films of the decade. were strongly linked to notions of generational identity, and invoked memories of a desire for social and cultural change. These memories are considered as reconstructions of the past, which while they may not always be entirely accurate or reliable, contribute to a better understanding of the culture of cinema-going in the 1960s and how it related to people's lived experiences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-28
Number of pages6
JournalCinephile: The University of British Columbia's Film Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015

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