Meet Sharon Tate: The 1960s Dream Girl

Sharon Tate was the personification of fashion-forward. She had all the elements of 1960s style, but somehow seemed to elevate it to the next decade, creating a look that’s timeless. For that reason, her fashion still resonates today, making her a true style icon.

By Nicole Andre4 min read
Sharon Tate Valley of the Dolls 1967 public domain via Wikimedia Commons
20th Century-Fox/Public Domain

Many may know that Sharon Tate was an American actress and model who unfortunately came to an untimely and infamous death at a young age. And while many are fascinated by the case, I want to instead focus on the vibrancy of her life and her extraordinary fashion sense.

Tate actually spent her adolescence in Italy as her father was stationed there with the army. A friend from high school spoke of her memories of Tate: how effortlessly pretty she always was, her kindness, and that she never had an unkind word to say about anybody. She was truly a lovely young woman, even in her teenage years when many fall victim to gossip.

Following her time in Italy, she lived in California, in London in the heyday of Carnaby Street (which was famous for its shopping), and in Paris. 

Her career in Hollywood began with smaller roles in films like The Americanization of Emily or The Sandpiper. The movie that she would ultimately become known for is The Valley of the Dolls, a hit romantic drama. It, and her other later films, created a lot of promise for her career, launching her into stardom.

Tate would go on to marry Polish-French film director Roman Polanski (now infamous himself for other reasons). However, it has been reported that their marriage was on the rocks in its last days, as a pregnant Tate was angry with Polanski’s behavior and gave him an ultimatum of change or divorce.

Her beauty meant that she did a lot of modeling. Vogue photographer Jean-Jaques Bugat to this day remembers her not just for her beauty, as he has had the opportunity to photograph many very beautiful women, but for her charisma, saying, “She is always on my mind.” 

Her style has endured through the decades of changing fashion trends. For someone who is known for being a young and beautiful fashion icon, there are actually very few pictures of Tate wearing her own clothes that are representative of her personal style (not from a film or modeling). Julien’s Auctions is a great resource for learning about her style by seeing all the pieces that made up her wardrobe, as is the book her sister wrote in her honor, Sharon Tate: The Recollection.

Incorporating Elements of ‘60s Mod

For Tate to be a true representative of ‘60s fashion, it’s important that there is the element of the mod trend in her style. The bright blue color, the shortness, and the shift shape of the dress are perfect representations of mod and the way that it took over the ‘60s. Tate’s dress by Genie is a depiction of the influence that her time in London near the shopping capital of the city had on her style, as London was the origin of mod.

This is a look that could still easily work today, while still clearly inspired by the ‘60s. Try looking for bright, solid-colored dresses in a shift shape. The collar isn’t as important as there were many mod dresses that didn’t have one. The key to finding a dress that fits this trend is that it needs to strike a balance between actually being quite simple while having the very distinctive theatricality unique to this ‘60s style, as seen on Tate and other ‘60s icons like Twiggy.

Another example of the way to wear the mod fashion is with a polka dot print like Tate wore here. Mod can have print, but they’re often larger prints, so a dainty floral print wouldn’t work as well. If you like this sort of look, Modcloth has a lot of dresses that fall into this category, and they’re more modern so they won’t stick out like a sore thumb the way that a really theatrical mod dress form the ‘60s might. (Tate’s were usually less so though, as you can see in the photos).

The Boho California-Girl Element

Tate was the original California girl. She created the look that has become the well-known stereotype: the beautiful, blonde, thin girl with free-flowing hair. This more boho (sometimes even hippie) element of Tate’s style was a part of the counter culture of the ‘60s that led to fashion changing rapidly (and perhaps also acting as a catalyst for change itself).

The look involved loose-fitting clothing with bohemian prints. Picture anything you might see Vanessa Hudgens wearing at Coachella today. Tate did it long before anyone else, yet her look wouldn’t be out of place in today’s world.

If you keep your eye out, it shouldn’t be hard to find styles like this today as they are very popular. Depending on how you choose to accessorize you can tone down the boho element or play it way, way up. That’s the element that allows it to be personal to you and the message you’re trying to send about yourself through what you’re wearing.

The Iconic Fur Coat

Tate’s fox coat is one of her iconic looks made by JAX of Beverly Hills, who many Old Hollywood stars, both men and women, turned to. The look is a classic and has been worn by men and women alike throughout history. A more casual way to wear the trend is to only have the fur on the hood. That’s usually the cheaper option too, which is a bonus. 

Another development is that today there are so many very realistic faux fur options to choose from that it’s not necessary to use real fur to achieve a similar look to Tate’s. Hey, maybe the faux fur collar could be the extra bit of pizzaz you need this winter!

Parisian Flair

Tate’s style was very versatile and incorporated a lot of looks likely from the different regional influences of the places she lived around the world. This very effortless, chic look strikes me as being very French and is a stark contrast from her California cool-girl look.

The knit skirt set is beautiful. With a piece like this, it’s often worth it to invest in something high quality that will last you season after season, rather than start to pill after a couple wears. It doesn’t have to be designer, just made well. A knit skirt set is surprisingly versatile in the sense that you can get away with wearing it for a lot of different occasions, and it can be styled to be more formal or casual depending on what you need it to be. Darker neutrals, for example, would work well for the office with a pair of kitten heels or flats, while a grey set and a pair of booties might be nice for a casual dinner with some girlfriends in fall or winter.

Knit pieces were actually a big part of Tate’s style, and her outfit above blends some of the elements of her ‘60s style together. The knit texture has the effortlessly chic element of Tate’s style while the subtle color blocking brings in a more theatrical mod element to her look. This is what makes a fashion icon: blending the styles of the day together to create something that’s unique to them.

Her Choice in Colors

Something that’s not really apparent until you look at the pieces on Julien’s Auction is that in her personal life Tate often chose colors that were more muted earth tones like brown, taupe, beige, or, like she chose here, burgundy. This choice contrasted the bright colors of mod fashion and made her style more natural because, even when her clothing items were similar in structure, the color palette made it less theatrical.

The color choice is super significant because it meant that a lot of her outfits looked more like the 1970s than they did the ‘60s. Throughout her life, Tate continually dressed just a step ahead of fashion, seeming to know where it would go before it got there.

Considering the effect that the colors of your clothing has is important. It’s also important, however, to consider your own coloring and what colors will flatter you, rather than fighting it.

‘60s Makeup, but Her Own Way

In keeping with the more natural color palette of her clothing, Tate’s approach to her makeup was much of the same. While she applied her makeup in the same way many women in the ‘60s did, using the iconic crease line to accentuate her eyes, she chose to use dark browns instead of blacks, which made the eye makeup less harsh. She also used bronzer, as opposed to a pale foundation for the more doll-like appearance very popular in the time period. This, set against her loose, flowing locks, makes her makeup almost like a ‘60s version of Farah Fawcett. It would seem Tate paved the way for models who would have a California girl image not too far from the one she created.

Closing Thoughts

Sharon Tate was a beloved fashion icon remembered for her influence and work in the industry as well as for her lovely character. She managed to blend different regional styles of the ‘60s and make them her own. Her sense of style was so good that she at times almost seemed to be dressing for the decade to come rather than the one she was in. The lesson: don’t be afraid to do things a little differently. Personal style is about learning what works for you and letting yourself have the courage to be creative even if it’s only in small ways.