Pop Fashion and Kingston 1960s-1990s

With bands like The Kinks, The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds emerging from the London scene, and Carnaby fashion taking the world by storm, London was the centre of the style universe in the 1960s. Only a hop, skip and a jump from the capital, Kingston became a playground for many of these bands, who would come to play at The Fighting Cocks or the Poly, and expand their sartorial influence into the suburbs. 

Bentalls – established in the 1920s – was one of the few major department stores outside of Oxford Street, allowing Kingston to provide a stylish enclave for the flourishing creative community. Through its innovative marketing, extensive fashion lines and creative shop displays, it played a crucial role in rebuilding London’s post-war fashion industry, expanding suburban fashion consumption and servicing the newly emerging teenage consumer. 

In 1968, the world’s most famous model -North London native, Twiggy – caused a stir when visiting Bentalls to launch her new British fashion line, and had to escape a ‘near riot of teenagers’, keen to get a glimpse of her.

The ubiquitous ‘Mod’ look of the early 1960s, with its modernist use of straight lines and bursts of vibrant colour, spoke to the future-focussed and optimistic voice of a new generation, out to build a new world far from the one their parents had known. Breaking away from convention, it was the sartorial representation of the messages of jazz and of rock ‘n’ roll. Music and fashion combined as a dual mode of communicating that this generation was doing things differently. 

Kingston University, once Fashion had been added to the curriculum in the 1930’s, went from strength to strength under the new leadership of Daphne Booker. In 1965, the University’s Fashion students won first-prize at the St. Gall Fashion Awards in Switzerland – a first for the UK against the established European winners – signalling the emergence of the ‘London Look’ as the signature style of the decade.  The following year, businessman Stanley Picker – a major benefactor to Kingston University – struck a lucrative deal with trailblazing fashion designer Mary Quant, to manufacture, licence and sell her thriving makeup line from his Gala Cosmetics Factory in Chessington. These two locally grown fashion innovations would go on to have huge, global impact, and Kingston’s Fashion students would go on to win twice more in 1966 and 1970.

As the decade came to a close, psychedelia took over, with style icons of the time, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors touring to London, and Eric Clapton’s Cream and Pink Floyd performing in Kingston at the Jazz Cellar and the  ‘Poly’. The psychedelic influence on fashion saw increasingly vibrant use of colour, ‘trippy’ swirling patterns and bold floral motifs, seen on bell-bottoms, maxi dresses and long coats, as the use of hallucinogenic drugs became more mainstream within the young generation. Kaleidoscope, the first charity set up to provide a safe space for those affected by drugs, at the height of the craze in 1968, was established at the John Bunyan Baptist Church on Cromwell Road. 

Bentalls window display, Kingston, 1959
Mary Quant designs worn by models in 1967. Photo: Alamy

In the 1970s, the ‘Second Wave’ feminist movement held great sway on student populations worldwide, leading to an anti-fashion sentiment that rallied against traditional beauty conventions of women. Many began wearing loose trousers and shirts with no bras, and an increased adoption of separates, in order to self-style as they saw fit. For those who still enjoyed a bit of glitz, the glam and disco trends allowed for more bold forms of self-styling, linking music and fashion once again in the quest for self-expression and liberation.

The rise of the Punk movement was particularly prominent throughout Kingston in the later ‘70s and ‘80s, with bands such as Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees and The Vibrators performing in the borough, and their iconic, rebellious fashion significantly influencing the street styles of the local art school population. 

In the 1990s, band worship increased, as the commercialisation of media and high production music videos cast ever more influence on the fashion styles of young fans. The birth of the internet mid-way through the decade would change the face of music and retail consumption completely, seeing a stratospheric rise in the scope and pace of teenage consumer trends.

Kingston remains one of the primary fashion retail outlets in Greater London, with an impressive range of high-street and independent labels. The University’s Fashion course has continued to produce an impressive roster of alumni who have gone on to work for some of the best design houses and boutiques, including Issye Miyake and Paul Smith, as well as high street stores including M&S, Hobbs and Wallis. Learn more through our Fashion display that was at FUSEBOX in March 2024.

Hear more about the relationship between music and pop fashion in episode 5 of the AMPlify podcast:

Punk helping passer by on Kings Road, Chelsea, London, 1979 Photo: Homer Sykes

AMP Kingston:
Art, Music, Pop Fashion

The AMP Kingston Heritage Trail explores and celebrates Kingston’s rich music heritage from the 1960’s to the present day at key sites across the town.

Find out more and explore the map of venues.