Cathy McGowan – Fashion Icon

Cathy McGowan – Fashion Icon

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Fashion Scene 5

Nicknamed ‘Queen of the Mods’, but what was it about Cathy McGowan that made her so effortlessly hip and cool?

Twiggy said she regarded Cathy McGowan as an icon. “I’d sit and drool over her clothes. She was a heroine to us because she was one of us,” she said. Perhaps that was it – McGowan wasn’t too glamorous and she certainly wasn’t just eye candy. She knew and loved the music she presented on the TV show, Ready Steady Go and responded to it with the same youthful enthusiasm at the show’s television audience.

A year into co-presenting the Ready Steady Go with Keith Fordyce, McGowan, in 1965 was given the job of fronting the show all by herself. Her love of fashion was evident from the start. She had, after all, applied for the job while working on Woman’s Own magazine. She was the epitome of what being a young women in the mid 60s was all about. She was obsessed with anything new and was always looking for the next ‘in’ thing, be it in clothes, music or clubs.

As a presenter on the show, she had to make sure she wore a new outfit every Friday. Her fans would promptly rush out and buy what she was wearing or the next best thing the following Saturday. McGowan wrote articles on music and fashion for the magazine’s Rave and Mods Monthly. Her Mod Snips column in Mods Monthly (which read as breathlessly as she talked) was basically a list of what to wear, listen to, who to see and where to be seen. In one column she writes: “Fred Perry shirts worn by a few girls these days… could catch on!” In another: “ What do you think of red mohair suits… I prefer the tonic ones!” There’s a great blog where you can read a selection of Cathy’s articles for Mod’s Monthly called Tintrunk here.

McGowan was said to have been given a weekly clothing allowance so she could make sure she had something new to wear each week. As the show began to revolve even more around its presenter it began to run a fashion segment too. She was a fan of all the top labels and regularly wore the likes of Biba – where were was a regular shopper and Foale and Tuffin.

In a 1964 edition of Rave magazine, the same year Biba was opening its first shop, she tells the story of how she goes to visit Biba’s Barbara Hulanicki at her flat and Barbara presents her with a dress custom made for her. “It had what in my opinion any outstanding dress should have: simplicity and a design and cut of sheer brilliance.”

Like Barbara Hulanicki, Cathy liked a trouser suit which at that time were considered very high fashion. Shoes-wise she loved the Mary Jane style but, she was also a big fan of boots – the flat heeled, knee-length kind. She remarked in one article that had these in almost every colour. She was also a fan of accessories – large bags and berets and square buckle belts on hipster jeans. On dresses, she would often wear the length just above the knee. The designs again would be simple with minimal detailing – a patch pocket or scalloped collar. Her trademark look though was her hair. Backcombed slightly on the crown and worn either straight and slightly turned up at the ends.

It wasn’t long before she launched her own line of clothing: Cathy McGowan’s Boutique was born in 1965. She sold simple A-line shift dress, tops and trouser suits. They were unfussy designs that any girl could carry off. Any girl that is with an eye-skimming fringe, a love of black kohl liner, and a penchant for the words – ‘smashing’, ‘super’ and ‘fab’!


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Claire Mahoney

At the age of 13 mod made perfect sense to me. I liked the look and the attitude - but most of all I liked the music. Secret Affair was my entry point, but they were soon playing second fiddle in my affections to The Jam. Paul Weller, of course, proceeded to break mine and many others hearts in 1982, when he put an end to that particular musical roller coaster – but what it meant was that, uninterested in anything else that was happening in music at the time, I had to look back. I was lucky enough to be given two plastic bags full of 60s 45s by my uncle who used to stock the jukeboxes back in the day. Their contents included a number of Stax originals, plus the Who and the Small Faces, as well as Motown classics from The Four Tops and the Supremes. So, when Phil Collins charted in the mid 80s with 'You Can't Hurry Love' it was nice to be able to say: “I've got the original of that!” It became quite an irritating habit of mine over the years. These days I still enjoy discovering new, old music, be it soul, rnb or jazz, as well as witnessing mod taken another turn among today's youth with bands like The Strypes. My day job as a journalist means I am lucky enough to be able to write about music and modernism now and again. Other than that you'll find me mostly on the dance floor or on eBay still looking for that perfect A line dress.

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May 22, 2017 By : Category : Articles,Fashion,Front Page,UK Tags:, , , , ,
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