How To Collect 60s Vintage Biba

April 10, 2019
Collecting Vintage BIBA

You may have heard of Biba. Maybe from where Mary Austin works in the new Bohemian Rhapsody Movie or from some stylish, bob-haired lady reminiscing in the odd fashion documentary. In the ’60s, Biba was the place to shop in London and had the price tag of Primark. But unlike Primark, the clothes looked designer and nobody shopped in their pyjamas.

The clientele was trendy. Biba designer Barbara Hulanicki once said that her ideal customers were “postwar babies who had been deprived of nourishing protein in childhood and grew up into beautiful skinny people: a designers dream. I didn’t take much of them to look outstanding.”

She opened her first little shop in Abingdon Road, Kensington in 1964 after running a successful mail-order boutique. Biba then began to sell head to toe looks including make-up and accessories- which was revolutionary for its time. You could also buy food and home products too. Plus, 70% of the store’s products were in-house designed, including baked beans and dog food.

At the time, Biba was throwaway fashion. Something that you could wear today, and buy a new one tomorrow. Now, they’ve become vintage collector’s pieces… even the baked beans.

How To Spot Authentic Vintage Biba

Vintage Shopping Guide

Label – Of course, if it has the above label on it, then it’s likely you’re probably holding a Biba item. But sometimes, the labels fall off or are cut off (as I’ve seen in some vintage shops??) so we have to know our shit.

The Biba look – soft and feminine. Designer and founder Barbara Hulanicki took a lot of influence from the 1920s Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, and it reflected in her designs- especially the eveningwear.

Biba's cladestine influences were included in all marketing materials.

Fabrics – Biba often had a soft, wool jersey or crepe material for daywear clothes. Her fabrics often had all over small print like the mini florals you see on 1940s tea dresses. Or she’d use the zig-zag geometrics which was very trendy at the time thanks to the world of op art and Emilio Pucci.

Colours – Hulanicki, in keeping with her Flapper girl style and taking inspiration from her Aunti, was always drawn to black, gold, brown, grape and petrol blue colours for her eveningwear which incorporated shiny satin, panne velvet and feather boas.

An example of a the popular maxi coats.

Shapes – Key staples of Biba’s look included droopy low cut necklines with ties, head-to-toe prints, bias-cut maxi dresses, midi length double-breasted trench coats and long rows of buttons. Biba also used gathered in sleeves with long cuffs, flared skirts and long-line waistcoats that cut off at the same length as a mini skirt. Biba popularised the maxi coat which is one of my favourite pieces. And by the 1970s, Leopard print was a heavy feature along with fake fur collars and shrugs.

An example of the geometric patterns Hulanicki used.

Sizes – Biba usually made everything in a size eight. Hulanicki said, “Sometimes we made a size 12 but no one bought them”. But remember, the UK ’60s 12 is a modern day size eight.

If you find a size 14 Biba dress, you can be sure that it’s not a Hulanicki original. Biba has tried to revive several times, most recently by House Of Fraser. They may have bought the name, but they certainly can’t buy style (although they’ve greatly improved by buying Hulanicki as a consultant in 2016).

So you don’t get lost, the best way to familiarise yourself with the original Biba clothing is to look at pictures of the clothing. To help you with this, I have created a BIBA Pinterest board. If you haven’t started already, I’ve wrote a beginner’s guide to collecting vintage clothes. And because I’m so helpful, please don’t outbid me on eBay.

A Biba girl was the ultimate cool girl of the ’60s, but because of the low price tag, the clothes weren’t made to last forever. If you manage to get hold of a 60s/70s Biba, look after it with extreme care and try to live the kind of life the Biba girl had in that dress, maybe without so much acid.

P.S. If you love 60s vintage like I do, check out my vintage boutique for more fabulous looks.

    Leave a comment