Boutique: A 60s Cultural Phenomenon

As much a history lesson as it is a chronological account of fashion happenings in 1960s London, Boutique is an attractive, easy-to-read, and overall pleasant approach to explaining the impact of the boutique. Author Marnie Fogg hopes to demonstrate just how the rise of boutiques in the sixties “gave voice, form, and location to the youthful desire for independence and personal freedom, and in turn led to an unprecedented awareness of fashion as a vibrant medium of self-expression.” By talking about the clothes themselves, as well as the individual retailers and designers who provided new styles to shoppers, and, most importantly, the meanings these clothes expressed in the context in which they were worn, Fogg takes an intelligent and informative stance on a topic that could otherwise be light and fluffy.

The word “boutique” originally defined a shop within a shop, or a section of a department store that offered entirely different merchandise than what was available throughout the rest of the store. In the ’60s, boutiques began to separate from department stores, opening their own doors on obscure back-streets and alleyways, and they initially required shoppers to search for them. With the rise of innovative boutiques such as Biba, Mary Quant, and Granny Takes a Trip, which were set up to feel more like a closet or bedroom than a market, shopping became an exciting activity for those with money.

Boutiques gave more credit to designers and quality than department stores ever did, and they allowed shoppers new means of self-expression and creativity with their wardrobes. Because independent boutiques didn’t offer mass-produced merchandise, they had very limited numbers of garments that sold out quickly, causing a fast turnover of styles. There was always something new to buy, and if you were young, wealthy, and cool, you’d be in line to buy it.

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