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Eurovision Fashions: The early years

Words by Ann Coe

Audiences have had the opportunity to cast their eyes on the fabulous fashions of Eurovision since the inaugural contest held in Lugano (Switzerland) on 24 May 1956.

One has only to look at the dress worn by Lys Assia, the eventual winner representing Switzerland, to see the style of the day reflected in her beautiful flared evening frock with 3/4 sleeves, a tiny waist and a rounded neckline. Similar fit and flare dresses remain a timeless classic to this day. Early Eurovision broadcasts had limitations and, if televised, were screened only in black and white, preventing the depth of colour worn by the artists from being fully showcased or appreciated by audiences. Fast forward to the year 1968 and everything changed, with the year marking a major turning point for broadcasting countries: the contest's very first colour transmission.  The Royal Albert Hall in London became the focus of the swinging 60s, Carnaby Street style, with turtle neck sweaters under formal pastel coloured suits representing a popular choice for the men. Claes-Göran Hederström from Sweden is also worthy of note: his "groovy" coat complete with huge collar, lilac shirt and orange tie would not look that out of place on a cold winter's day here in Melbourne in 2020 (accompanied by a mask, of course!).

Cliff Richard also lent the event a certain swagger with his lace jabot, a style enjoying a resurgence during the period. His powder blue suit coupled with the pink baby doll dresses of his backing singers must also have been a sight to behold for older generations, who were witnessing the cultural revolution spearheaded by their children. Eurovision has clearly kept pace with contemporary trends over the years, but when did the wild, wacky fashions start to emerge in performances? Was there one defining moment where it all began? Was it perhaps when Sven-Olof Walldoff, the conductor for ABBA’s 1974 winning entry 'Waterloo', took to the stage dressed as Napoleon?

In the next article of our fashion series we'll look over the next few decades as well as a certain annual Eurovision fashion 'contest'.


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