The Style Legacy of Sharon Tate

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Sharon Tate, Valley of the Dolls, 1967
Sharon Tate, Valley of the Dolls, 1967

We explore the actress's enduring influence on fashion

When referencing iconographic 60s style, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Jane Birkin are arguably the most name-checked people, but there is one often-missed celebutante whose characteristic style typifies not just the mood of the decade but the unique psychedelic microcosm of California where she lived. Actress Sharon Tate is rarely mentioned in style retrospectives, press romanticism of the swinging era perhaps not sitting so comfortably with the horrific murder of the starlet at the hands of the Manson “family” in 1969.

Whilst in Britain the 60s aesthetic came to be typified by the bird-like Twiggy in jarring monochrome geometric prints, Hollywood’s poster 60s chick was actress Sharon Tate, made famous by her role in cult 1967 film The Valley of The Dolls. Instead of an elfin frame and sleek boyish hair, Tate’s look was notably more feminine and whimsical with bell sleeve, chemise-inspired mini dresses and heavily printed fabrics, which provided an altogether more ethereal feel than the London-centric cool Brit girl look of the day. Speaking to American news program Inside Edition, Deborah Tate described her sister’s style as, “very eclectic, very free-spirited, and a combination of sexy and child-like innocence.” The archetypal Californian hippy-boheme, Sharon routinely weaved leather strings around her feet mimicking sandals so that she could go barefoot into restaurants and shops in Beverly Hills.

The allure of Tate’s beauty was hypnotic. The New York Sunday News described her poetically in a 1966 article: “Wearing an abbreviated miniskirt, she seems to enjoy the commotion she causes wherever she goes. Sharon also affects thick, black, false eyelashes, brown eye shadow around her lips, and long ash-blonde hair that falls freely about her shoulders. Her presence in a crowd is as insignificant as a floodlight in a blackout.” (New York Sunday News December 18, 1966)

The distinctive style of the 1960s bombshell has lingered around the catwalks for several seasons. Miu Miu’s A/W10 collection boasted a pretty take on retro 60s trends melding mod-like shift dresses with girly moulded fills, and metallic floral adornments nodding towards the free-loving flower-children of the era. Next season, Sharon Tate’s spectre is a tangible presence in fashion with Julien Macdonald citing her as the influence for the beauty looks in his S/S11 presentation. The revival of trends trailblazed by Tate, such as the heavy taupe eyes under sky-high hair, bohemian prints on feather-light fabrics, and the fact her name, not just her style, is being referenced by designers, is the biggest indicator that fashion at least has come to view Roman Polanski’s late wife as a reference point for inspiration, and no longer as just a tragic heroine.