8 Groovy Fads of the 1960s

By: the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.  | 
The lava lamp is one of several groovy fads born in the 1960s.
©2007 Melanie Tsoi/Stock.xchng

Key Takeaways

  • Hippies were a prominent counterculture movement in the 1960s, advocating for peace, love, and antiestablishment ideals.
  • Fashion trends of the era included minidresses and go-go boots, with skirts getting significantly shorter.
  • The 1960s saw the rise of iconic fads like surfing, the peace symbol and the twist dance craze.

With so many straight-laced teens in the 1950s, it was only natural that there would be a backlash. Welcome to the 1960s! Free love, flower power, hippies, psychedelic drugs, and political mayhem -- these were the trends of a decade that saw upheaval of social mores and cultural behaviors. As The Beatles rocked and Bob Dylan rolled, the world saw changes in the political climate (Vietnam War protests, the sexual revolution, civil rights), the fashion world ("It's called a 'mini-skirt,' Mom"), and even in the realm of food (the mighty processed cheese slice).

Read on to learn about some of the most iconic fads of the decade that just wanted everyone to get along.


1. Hippies

U.S. troops were sent to Vietnam in 1954 and, by the 1960s, thousands of soldiers had died fighting a war that was growing more and more unpopular by the day. The cry "Make Love, Not War" was a mantra among the hippies -- the antiestablishment, counterculture of America. Hippies were easily spotted: both men and women grew their hair long, wore ethnic-inspired clothes accessorized with puka shells, dabbled in Eastern religions, used words like groovy, and referred to "the Man" when talking about the flawed government. They were known to experiment with mind-altering drugs (marijuana, mushrooms, LSD) and hang out in places such as Greenwich Village in New York City and the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. The hippie movement sparked music, art, and cultural dialogue that continues well into the 21st century.


2. Go-go Boots and Minidresses

The postwar baby boom had produced 70 million teenagers by the time the 1960s came along. All of those hormones dictated some changes in the world of fashion. Long gone was the poodle skirt. Skirts in the '60s got shorter -- much, much shorter. Skirts and minidresses often came up four to five inches above the knee in the United States and an eye-popping seven to eight inches above the knee in the UK. While skirts got shorter, boots got taller. The most popular boot was the go-go boot, which was often white patent leather and went almost to the knee. Singer Nancy Sinatra and TV's The Avengers helped popularize the look.


3. Fallout Shelters

With the Cold War in full force, the Cuban Missile Crisis exposed, and the constant threat of nuclear attack, many people in the early 1960s decided that building a fallout shelter wasn't such a paranoid notion. Kits began at around $100 (flashlight, shortwave radio, can opener), but a family could spend thousands on special basements equipped with board games, gas masks, and escape hatches.

Peace and love reigned in the 60s along with tie-dye and the twist, all of which you'll find on the next few pages.


4. Surfing

What better place than a sunny beach to spread peace, goodwill, and free love? Polynesians had been surfing for centuries, but when lightweight surfboards became affordable in the late 1950s, everyone could grab a board and hang ten. By the early 1960s, the fad had really caught a wave, and movies like Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo helped popularize surfing and beach culture.


5. Peace Symbol

Thanks to British graphic designer Gerald Holtom, no hippie had to go without a peace symbol talisman. Holtom, who was hired to create an image for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, claimed his inspiration for the symbol came from the shape of the letters N and D in the semaphore alphabet. The icon was adopted by the hippies and remains as popular today as it was when protests and antiwar marches were daily events.


6. The Twist

This dance craze of the early 1960s came as the result of Chubby Checker's number one song of the same name. The Twist was the first modern dance style that did not require a partner, and couples did not have to touch each other while dancing. Checker said, "It's like putting out a cigarette with both feet, [or] coming out of a shower and wiping your bottom with a towel to the beat of the music." It seemed like everyone was jumping on the bandwagon with a Twist record. Checker also recorded "Let's Twist Again," and Joey Dee and The Starliters reached number one with "The Peppermint Twist," while Sam Cooke was "Twistin' the Night Away."


7. Tie-Dye

The ancient fabric dyeing method of shibori began in Japan centuries ago, but it became a fashion trend symbolic of the 1960s. By wrapping fabric around sticks or gathering and securing it with rubber bands, then submerging it in a bucket of dye, a funky, almost hallucinogenic pattern emerges when the sticks or rubber bands are removed. This homemade method became popular with hippies, providing living color to the ethnic look that so many embraced during the era of free love and liberation. Tie-dyed clothing is still pretty much the standard uniform for peaceniks today.


8. Lava Lamp

Invented by Edward Craven Walker, this novelty lighting instrument featured a glass bottle full of wax and oil with a coil in the metal base. When the lamp was turned on, the coil would heat up and globs of wax would bubble around in the oil, producing a "lava" effect. Some claimed the lava lamp was meant to simulate the hallucinogenic visuals from the drugs that were becoming so popular.

Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen


Frequently Asked Questions

How did the fashion trends of the 1960s influence modern style?
Many 1960s fashion trends like miniskirts and go-go boots have experienced revivals and continue to inspire contemporary fashion.
What role did music play in popularizing 1960s fads?
Music from artists like The Beatles and Chubby Checker helped spread and popularize many 1960s fads through their widespread cultural influence.