^Gaucho pants are wide-legged trousers for women with a cuff that ends around mid calf. Taking their name from pants once worn by South American cowboys, they were in style for a brief period in the early to mid-1970s. They were similar to the culotte short or skort, but gauchos were longer and meant to serve as a more formal, workplace-friendly alternative to skirts and slacks.


French designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936—) was born in Oran, Algeria, and, at age seventeen, settled in Paris, France. There he attempted to secure work as a fashion and costume designer. Two years later, after the publication of several of his sketches, he was invited to meet the celebrated designer Christian Dior (1905-1957). Dior immediately hired the young designer and became his mentor. Then Dior suddenly died. At the age of twenty-one Saint Laurent was designated Dior's successor, becoming chief designer at the House of Dior.

Saint Laurent scored a major success with his first show, in which he presented what was dubbed the "trapeze" look. Trapeze skirts were flat-fronted and flared out from the waist in an almost triangular fashion. In 1960 he launched the elegant "Beat Look," spotlighting knit sleeves, turtlenecks, and black leather jackets bordered in fur. Two years later Saint Laurent left the House of Dior and opened his own fashion house. He soon be came an expert at adapting his haute couture (high fashion) designs for average, middle-class, style-conscious women.

The 1960s found Saint Laurent offering additional innovative designs: the Mondrian dress (1965), which borrowed the geometrical shapes found in the paintings of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944); "le smoking," an androgynous, or gender-neutral, women's tuxedo/smoking jacket (1966); and the jumpsuit, a one-piece suit consisting of shirt and pants or shorts (1968). He designed pea coats, safari jackets, peasant blouses and dresses, and see-through blouses. He incorporated pop art into his designs, which during the 1960s was a trendy art style that included such familiar images as product packaging and newspaper comic strips. In 1966 he started a line of Rive Gauche ready-to-wear (off-the-rack versus custom-made) clothing, and he began designing menswear in 1974. Over the decades, the Yves Saint Laurent (or "YSL") name has been licensed to a range of products, including eyeglasses, bath and bed linens, furs, and perfume. He also was

French designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936—) was the first to popularize a more masculine look for women's wear. His trouser suits and le smoking tuxedo jacket quickly caught on with fashion-conscious women after 1968. Over the next few years sales of trousers skyrocketed over dresses and skirts. The boom was helped by the women's liberation movement, with its acceptance of unconventional roles for women. Bans against wearing pants to formal events and in the workplace declined considerably, making room for gaucho pants. The pants were borrowed from the costume of the pampas cowboy in Argentina and Uruguay. These cowboys, called gauchos, achieved mythic status for their riding skills and fierce independence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though somewhat unusual in cut, gaucho pants reflected the growing interest in ethnic looks and world cultures in the late 1960s and 1970s. Fashion writers praised them as one of the new, modern alternatives to skirts.

the first major designer to employ models of varied ethnic backgrounds.

From the late 1960s on, more and more women entered the workplace. To accommodate their needs, Saint Laurent designed work attire that included pants and blazers rather than skirts and dresses. These innovations were not immediately accepted. At first, the classic Saint Laurent pantsuit was not considered appropriate workplace apparel for women. Occasionally, women wearing them were turned away from fancier restaurants.

In 1983 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented an exhibit spotlighting a quarter-century of Saint Laurent's creations. It was the first time a still-active designer was so honored. In October 1998 Saint Laurent introduced his final ready-to-wear collection, and the following year he sold his business to Gucci. Saint Laurent announced his retirement in 2002. Yves Saint Laurent's life and career may be summed up by what is perhaps his most celebrated declaration: "Fashions fade, style is eternal."

Yves Saint Laurent, left, designed clothes that made women look and feel fashionable and stunning. Reproduced by permission of © Reuters NewMedia Inc./CORBIS.

Gauchos first made an impact in the fall of 1970. American designer Anne Klein (1923—1974) offered gray flannel gauchos that appeared in an August 30, 1970, issue of the New York Times Magazine's twice-yearly fashion supplement. They soon caught on with the mass-market apparel sellers. Often they were shown with boots, another new trend in women's wear of the era. Within a few years, however, gauchos had declined in popularity. The mid-calf length broke the line of the leg, and they seemed to give the wearer a wider silhouette, or shape, than desired. Unflattering to most, they eventually became synonymous with some of the decade's more ill-advised fashion fads.


"Fashions of the Times." New York Times Magazine (August 30, 1970): 62.

Herald, Jacqueline. Fashions of a Decade: The 1970s. New York: Facts on File, 1992.

Morris, Bernadine. "You Don't Like Midiskirts? There Are Always Gaucho Pants." New York Times (April 29, 1970): 36.

Rawsthorn, Alice. Yves Saint Laurent: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Saint Laurent, Yves. Yves Saint Laurent: Images of Design 1958—1988. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Saint Laurent, Yves, Diana Vreeland, et al. Yves Saint Laurent. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1983.

Halter Tops

The halter top, on the model at right, was based on the neckline of some Asian clothing.

Reproduced by permission of © Genevieve Naylor/CORBIS.

The halter top, on the model at right, was based on the neckline of some Asian clothing.

Reproduced by permission of © Genevieve Naylor/CORBIS.

sleeveless triangular top that ties around the back and at the back of the neck, the halter top loosely covers the breasts and chest, while leaving bare the shoulders, upper back, and sometimes the midriff, the area below the breasts and above the waist. The halter top was at the peak of its popularity during the late 1960s and 1970s.

First seen as a dramatic neckline on formal gowns in the 1930s, the halter top was based on the sleeveless, high-necked design of some Asian clothing. The halter top appeared again during the 1940s, this time on the beach as part of a two-piece bathing suit popularized by movie stars such as Betty Grable (1916-1973). The simplicity of design made the halter top easy to make at home, and the small amount of fabric required made it a good choice during World War II (1939-45), when the demands of war limited the supply of cloth.

By the late 1960s the rise of youth culture and movements for women's rights and civil rights impacted fashion. A new informality and naturalness was in style, and women began to shed the tight, cumbersome undergarments that they had long been expected to wear. The rise of feminism, an or-

ganized movement advocating for female equality, also contributed to women's desire for freedom from constricting clothing. The first garment to go was the girdle, and the brassiere soon followed. The new braless look was perfect for a revival of the halter top.

Halter tops were casual, comfortable, and playfully sexy and soon became a staple of many young women's wardrobe. Like the women of the 1940s, women of the 1960s appreciated how easy it was to make one's own halter tops. Some even tied scarves or bandannas together for an inexpensive and simple, but exotic, look. Manufacturers, of course, picked up the trend and stores began selling halter tops in a wide variety of colors, fabrics, and styles. Some halter tops came almost to the waist, covering most of the midriff, while others stopped just under the breasts for maximum skin exposure. The halter top design was also used to make an elegant top for dresses and jumpsuits, which were one-piece outfits that combined pants and top. Sexy female celebrities like Cher (1946—) and actress Goldie Hawn (1945—) were pictured in halter tops, which made even more women want to buy them.

Halter tops did go out of fashion after the 1970s, though many women continued to wear them for beachwear and other informal summer occasions. They were revived as high fashion in the mid-1990s, when popular singers like Britney Spears (1981—) and Mariah Carey (1969—) tied on the revealing halters.


Powe-Temperley, Kitty. 20th Century Fashion: The 1960s, Mods and Hippies. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2000.

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