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Fashion flashback: A look back at trends in Dundee through the ages

A group of women sporting mini dresses in Dundee in 1971.
A group of women sporting mini dresses in Dundee in 1971.

In the second part of our feature looking back at fashion, Gayle Ritchie explores how trends have changed in Dundee through the decades

Whether it’s a shift in social norms, politics, culture, or technology, fashion movements can define a moment in time.

Over the course of the last century, fashion has shifted from prim-and-proper dresses to mini-skirts, hot pants, underwear being worn as outerwear and everything in between.

Here we take a look back at the changing face of fashion in and around Dundee…

The 1950s

The 1950s saw a surge in individuality and freedom. It was a decade when a nation worked together to put the country back on its feet.

With the arrival of disposable income came the rise of “ready to wear” fashion, including the decade’s design focal point – the waist line.

While some women enjoyed the snug fit of skirts and dresses, others preferred Givenchy’s “sack dress”, precursor of the 60s style we think of today. The phrase “the wandering waistline” was coined at the 1952 Paris spring collection because of this wide variety of tastes.

Twinsets dominated many women’s wardrobes during the 1950s, but teenagers soon began to break away from their mother’s stiff styling and develop their own rockabilly or beatnik styles.

Fashion in Dundee in the late 1950s and early 1960s reflected the nation’s new post war optimism and the start of a greater prosperity, especially with the rise of women going back to work.

“The ready-to-wear phenomenon in the city’s Draffens department store (which became Debenhams) was where local fashionistas could source the ‘sweater girl’ looks of the day while for men, Caird and Sons carried the sharp tailoring that would define the Mod movement,” says Mary McGowne, founder of the Scottish Style Awards.

Denim was also considered de rigueur for teenagers of the 50s in Dundee, as everywhere else.

The 1960s

With Mary Quant at the helm, the swinging sixties were famed for super-high hemlines, short bobbed haircuts, coloured tights, hot pants and skinny-ribbed sweaters. Psychedelic prints and platform boots were popular too.

The 60s and early 70s heralded a fashion revolution with two east coast of Scotland designers, Bill Gibb and Bernat Klein, dominating the world of fashion internationally.

“Greatly diffused versions of their designs could be found on the high street, particularly in Chelsea Girl, the UK’s first fashion boutique chain (now River Island),” says Mary.

“It was the place to buy the ubiquitous styles worn by the likes of Twiggy and the glamorous stars of the era. Through the 1960s, Cairds hairdressers on Reform Street promised to ‘make you stand out from the crowd’.”

The 1970s

Tastes in Dundee evolved through the 70s with the arrival of flower power, and later the punk and new romantic movements.

Mary says: “In Overgate, Boy Meets Girl was Dundee’s first unisex boutique with go-go dancers as an added ‘attraction’, and it was complemented by Great American Panthouse which offered ‘a galaxy of jeans for guys and gals’, Samuel Pepys whose slogan was ‘the height of fashion is no longer the height of extravagance’, and Van Allan whose slick glass-fronted store stocked ranges straight from the Bon Scott school of rock.”

As well as flares, thighs were back on display with hotpants hugely popular across Tayside and Fife.

For men, bold shirts, flared trousers and heeled boots could be found in many wardrobes.

The Mod movement of the mid-60s and early-70s brought an abundance of knitwear, shirts and ties, fitted polo shirts and slim, straight-leg jeans.

Designer Dame Vivienne Westwood was iconic in the era, shaping the punk rock style of safety pins on clothing and spiked dog collars/chokers, as well as outrageous makeup and hair.

Dame Vivienne was given an honorary degree by the University of Dundee in 2008 for her work.

The 1980s

Eye-catching prints, jumpsuits, tracksuits and bold, bright colours were in.

The release of the 1987 film Dirty Dancing inspired girls to dress like Baby – in crop tops, white trainers, floaty gypsy skirts, smocked peasant blouses, white jeans and pink bodysuits!

The 80s also brought puffball and rara skirts, batwing jumpers, big hair, and for the men (and some women), mullets.

And who could forget Nevica jackets, which popped into fashion in the late 80s and early 90s? Designed for the ski slopes, many folk wore these round town and considered themselves the epitome of cool.

Shell suits really hit it off in the mid-80s and it was around that time that fluorescent materials were at the very peak of their popularity.

This meant all manner of different garish colours and fluorescent strips were thrown together and it didn’t matter if they clashed.

“Stone-Dri and K.O. Fashions, both of which were also in the Overgate were the style hotspots for Staypress, Y Cardigans, Doc Martens, Harrington and Crombie, while Beaujangles reflected more new wave and disco-influenced fashion, hints of which were worn by some of Dundee’s finest exports including The Average White Band and The Associates,” says Mary.

“Slickers bar near the Westport was a favourite haunt for Dundee’s new wave crowd.”

The 1990s

“The nineties saw a step change in fashion with the arrival of rave culture and also what became known as ‘terrace’ fashion; casual designerwear that bridged match day and the dancefloor,” says Mary.

“Popular brands of the time included Chipie, Chevignon, Kappa, Verte Valle, Farah, John Richmond, Adidas, Pringle and Lyle & Scott, many of which could be found at Manifesto in Dundee.”

And who could forget heat-sensitive Global Hypercolor T-shirts? Wearing them for long periods of time or in hot environments brought about all sorts of interesting effects. You’d see the colour change around the neck and in various creases and folds around the back and the chest. Weird!

Grunge and minimalism were the other trends of the decade – bands like Nirvana were a major source of inspiration –  with hip-hop and “sexy schoolgirl” styles also trending.

Supermodels were traded in for a new breed of waif models with Kate Moss and her “heroin-chic” look, leading the pack.

The Noughties

“The arrival of the noughties saw boho-chic as the new trend; essentially print, colour, texture (all at once),” says Mary.

“It was hippy-lite dressing for those who missed the 70s the first time around.”

The new decade was also defined by the democratisation of fashion.

Parallel to the rise of luxury brands was the explosion of high street/designer collaborations.

“In Dundee’s Overgate, H&M generated mass hysteria with superstar lines from Karl Lagerfeld, Viktor & Rolf, Matthew Williamson and Stella McCartney, the latter of whom received an honorary degree from University of Dundee in 2003,” says Mary.

“Topshop enlisted the kudos-heavy talent of Christopher Kane and Debenhams partnered with Ben de Lisi, Philip Treacy, Jasper Conran, Henry Holland and Jonathan Saunders.”

The noughties also witnessed a seismic digital turn in fashion and the rise of “celebrity” associations.

Dundonian designer Brian Rennie whose A-list clientele includes stars such as Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez and Catherine Zeta-Jones excelled at both, influencing many aspiring young Scottish designers along the way.

Dundee’s three-time winner of Scottish Hairdresser of the Year, Kay McIntyre, was the go-to stylist for cutting edge hair design, and the Rhumba club night played out the soundtrack of the decade at Dundee’s Fat Sams.

And beyond

The future looks bright for Dundee-based designer Hayley Scanlan as she prepares to open a sewing school following her stint on Netflix’s first ever fashion-focused competition earlier this year.

The award-winning designer owns a store on Perth Road and learned the art of dressmaking from her “supergran” Ella Bonar.

The Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design graduate burst onto the scene in 2009 when her Textile Design degree show ‘New Frontiers’ caught the eye of supermodel Erin O’Connor, who commissioned a leather jacket.

She’s been named as Young Scottish Designer of the Year twice and named by Vogue UK as “Scotland’s coolest young designer”.

Scanlan’s opened her first store in the city selling clothes from her H.S diffusion line and displays latest designs in her showroom.

Her debut H.S collection Velvet Venom was launched in association with V&A Dundee in 2012.

*Do you have any photos of yourself dressed in the fashions of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s? Maybe you had a mullet back in the day? Or perhaps you rocked the rockabilly fashion? We would love to see your photos (and possibly use them in a future feature) so feel free to email any images, plus a wee description of who’s in the photo, when it was taken, and what they’re wearing, to