October 2011

The Day of the Peacock: Style for Men 1963-1973

V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Cromwell Road
  • London ,

44 020 7942 2696

www.vandabooks.com

In The Day of the Peacock, Geoffrey Aquilina Ross gives a first-hand account of the renaissance in British men’s fashion that happened beginning in the early 1960’s. Aquilina Ross was the first men’s fashion editor of British Vogue and has written the book as a memoir of the times with highlights on the London scene, such as men’s shops, men’s modeling agencies and personal experiences.

With the radical changes in women’s fashion in the early 1960’s, people in London started to notice heterosexual men dressing more flamboyantly than they had before. Young professional men started wearing velvet suits or jackets, and accessories of brightly colored flowing silk scarves in their daily wear. They started to wear their hair longer and to go longer between shaves.

After Mary Quant paved the way for more color and flamboyance for women’s fashion, John Stephen opened his first shop on Carnaby Street and catered to the middle-class males of the area. The more socially well-connected men of the city took it one step further and actually made it acceptable for men to express a more relaxed attitude about dressing up. In 1956, the media noticed this trend and trying to attach a label to this phenomenon coined the term ‘Peacock Revolution.’

The Day of the Peacock covers the history of the Teddy Boys or Teds (reviving Edwardian style), the rock’n’roll influence coming from America, the Mods (as in Modern) and follows the line of progression up to the rebirth of the dandy. A sense of liberation created an attitude of young men from upper-class families to express themselves through the way they dressed. They wanted to have fun, to be amused.

In 1964, couturier Hardy Amies donated funds to the Royal College of Art to establish a menswear design department within the school of fashion. One of the first students was Antony Price who went on to become a stylist for Brian Ferry and David Bowie. This began a whole new generation of cutting-edge designers entering the world of men’s fashion.

Owners of men’s fashion shops such as Granny Takes a Trip, Hung on You, Nutter’s and Vince Man’s shop promoted the fashions the Peacocks sought with a savvy and swagger that promoted sales and attracted famous clientele. Talented tailors were employed and competition was healthy.

And then in the early 1970’s the Peacock Revolution lost its momentum. The prevailing attitude became one of designer–label merchandise, mostly from Europe and the United States. The small, unique shops of Saville Row and King’s Road were pushed out by shops that focused on fashion solely as business. Michael Fish, one of the first shop owners at the time, summing up the passing of the Peacock moment stated: “Fashion doesn’t exist any more. Only clothes.”

The Day of the Peacock is a fascinating book packed full of timely and illuminating information about a unique time in history and a phenomenon to be studied and to take inspiration from.

Reviewed by Library Staff Member — Norris Hambrick