Superstar, ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ & Girl of the Year 1965; Edie Sedgwick is synonymous with wealth and glamour. Her distinctive style and charming personality made her one of the most famous socialites of her generation, whilst her beauty took her to the cover of Vogue and made her an icon of the 1960s. But behind the glamour and charm was a troubled young girl, addicted to drugs and struggling to find her way in the world. She symbolises the chaos and upheaval of the 1960s in America, but also the style and youth.
Born in 1943 to wealthy parents, Edie’s upbringing was anything short of normal. With two of her brothers committing suicide and her father supposedly abusing Edie and her siblings, Edie inherited a long history of mental illness and eating disorders. From the age of 16 until her death, Edie was in and out of psychiatric wards and rehabilitation centres, never of her own decision. Upon moving to New York in the early sixties she inherited a trust fund of $80,000 and made a name for herself as one of the leading socialites in the fast-paced New York social scene.
Coined by former editor of Vogue Diana Vreeland in 1965, the term Youthquake refers to the dramatic impact of youth culture on fashion in the early 1960s. Diana says of Edie: “she was a Youthquaker wasn’t she? – one of the true personalities of the Sixties. Only twice in this century has the youth been dominant, the Twenties and the Sixties” (Stein, 1982: 301). Following the second world war, the baby boom led to an unusually high number of teenagers and young people in the sixties, and the youths voice influenced everything from fashion to music. Fashion designers increasingly produced risqué and daring pieces to appeal to the younger generation, such as Mary Quant’s revolutionary mini skirt. Edie’s daring style is symbolic of the time. She is famous for her silhouette of leotard and tights, or micro-mini skirts, as well as giant chandelier earrings and loads of makeup. “The leotard and the shirt. I mean that’s what every girl wants. That’s all you need in the world. It was like the underground version of the little black dress with the pearls” says Billy Name (Bendall, 2007). Her more is more approach to fashion is typical of the excess and glamour of the sixties in America. We see her style influences appear on the catwalk every few years from Burberry, Dior (John Galliano named her as his muse for his 2005 collection) and Sofia Coppola’s capsule collection in 1994. Even in 2013, Marc Jacobs’ Spring Summer collection was based on Sedgwick’s iconic style, her sixties silhouette and identifiable makeup.
Much like another popular icon of the time, Twiggy, Edie was never seen without her dark black eye makeup and extreme false lashes. In fact, her look is so iconic that beauty influencers are still recreating it on YouTube to this day.
Huge technological advances in the 60s influenced style. The USA and Russia were racing to put the first man on the moon and everyone was talking about it. “It was all very spaceship.” says Betsey Johnson, designer for Paraphernalia, “’What would you wear on the moon?’ that was the big question of the sixties.” (Stein, 1982: 296)
Edie epitomised the chaos and excitement of the 60s; “She was the total essence of the fragmentation, the explosion, the uncertainty, the madness that we all lived through in the Sixties” says film director Joel Schumacher (Stein, 1982: 295).
In America, the country was rocked by the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963. JFK stood for racial equality, and his death acted as a catalyst for change in America. “It might be said that the most important thing John F Kennedy did for civil rights was to die for them.” (Allen, 2013). With 250,000 people meeting on Washington Mall the same year to fight for equality and Martin Luther King delivering his famous “I have a dream” speech, it was a time of optimism and hope for Americans. Ultimately, in 1964 the Civil Rights Act is signed and bans all discrimination in terms of race and ethnicity.
War played a big part in influencing attitudes of the sixties. The Cold War continued throughout the decade and into the seventies, and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had the world on tenterhooks as the US and USSR come close to starting nuclear war (Pearson, 2020). The escalation of the Vietnam war causes riots and protests throughout America. By the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, three million people had been killed, with more than half of the dead being Vietnam civilians. This conflict created riots and protests throughout America, with young people calling for the war to be ended, but these protests only added to the division and confusion of the times.
The invention of the pill in 1960 also led to the start of a women’s liberation movement. “Don’t forget the pill changed the world” says Diana Vreeland (Stein, 1982: 301). The pill meant young women were less constricted with their sexuality and had the right to make decisions for themselves. This led to sexual liberation and a decade of sexual freedom. Edie embodied this freedom whole-heartedly. Throughout the sixties she appeared in films such as Ciao, Manhattan! and Andy Warhol’s short films Chelsea Girl, Kitchen and Poor Little Rich girl. In many of these she is seen without clothes, or performing in sexual acts and also portray violence. Hollywood films in general became more violent, cynical and sexually explicit throughout the sixties, reflecting the social upheaval and changing times. Overall, Edie appeared in ten of Warhol’s films, shot at his New York Apartment, nicknamed The Factory. The Factory became an iconic venue with parties full of sex and drugs and was even used as a performance venue for The Velvet Underground.
Music also started to reflect the changes in society throughout the decade and rock & roll bands were the voice of the cultural revolution. Some of the most famous bands at the time included the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground. Although it has never been confirmed, it is strongly rumoured that Dylan and Edie had a relationship, and she was heartbroken when he married Sara Lownds in 1965. Songs such as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” are two Dylan songs reportedly about Sedgwick, and the Velvet Underground’s hit “Femme Fatale” too (Burke, 2020).
Pop Art gained popularity during the sixties thanks to its post-war optimism. It was vibrant and youthful much like the times and Edie Sedgwick was at the forefront of this thanks to her relationship with Andy Warhol, one of the key figures in the pop art movement. “Edie and Andy were just the ultimate, you know. Edie and the rock ‘n’ roll groups were it.” says designer Betsey Johnson (Stein, 1982: 296)
As the two got closer, Edie’s style started to mimic Warhol’s; she chopped off her hair, dyed it platinum blonde and started wearing nautical style tops. They developed a short but intense relationship. Edie introduced Warhol to the money and glamour of her upbringing and in turn Warhol made her a superstar. “The superstar was a kind of early form of women’s liberation. They were so smart, beautiful, aristocratic, and independent. Edie, Nico, Viva and the others.” (Stein, 1982: 225)
As the youth started rebelling and questioning the system, they turned to drugs to help them get perspective of this new world, particularly psychedelics. LSD became widely available and was legal until as late as 1966. As Edie’s drug use became increasingly frequent, she had to take more and more of it to feel the high. The situation got so bad that her family insisted she visit rehab, where she met her husband, Michael Post. Her early relationship with Post is reportedly one of the few times in her life that Edie stopped using drugs, however this did not last long, and she started using again a few months later (Bendall, 2007).
Edie’s addiction to drugs ultimately got the best of her, and at age 28, she dies, and the coroner rules cause of death as barbiturates. Edie was no stranger to drugs and was known to take everything from weed, to acid to heroin. “Edie bloody Sedgwick… How many drugs can one girl do? A lot is the answer.” says Alexa Chung in her book It (Chung, 2013: 35).
Edie’s life was short, but her style and influence has not been forgotten. In 2007 Sienna Miller appeared in the biopic of Edie’s life, Factory Girl. This catapulted Miller into the spotlight and was the turning point for her from socialite to bona fide actress.
Some have claimed that Edie Sedgwick was the first person to be famous for doing nothing, but I think this undervalues her stunning impact. She epitomised everything about the 1960s in America, from her iconic style to her free-spirit attitude and she impacted the world so dramatically that we’re still talking about her over 50 years later. “Sedgwick at her finest, in black tights, cropped hair (an ode to Warhol) and swinging leopard jacket. The earrings, the mini mini mini dresses…” says Alexa Chung of Edie’s style, “[her] wardrobe never gets old even when it gets older.” (Chung, 2013: 35)
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