The term Swinging London refers to a youth-driven cultural revolution that took place in London during the mid-to-late 1960s. It saw a flourishing in art, music and fashion, and was symbolized by the city's "pop and fashion exports," like the British Invasion, Mary Quant's miniskirt, popular fashion models such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, the mod subculture, the iconic status of popular shopping areas (such as King's Road, Kensington and Carnaby Street), the political activism of the anti-nuclear movement; and sexual liberation. Music was a big part of the scene, with "the London sound" including the Who, the Kinks, the Small Faces and the Rolling Stones; bands which were the mainstay of pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline and Swinging Radio England. The Swinging London also reached British cinema, which "saw a surge in formal experimentation, freedom of expression, colour, and comedy." During this period, "creative types of all kinds gravitated to the capital, from artists and writers to magazine publishers, photographers, advertisers, film-makers and product designers."
During this era, London "[metamorphosed] from a gloomy, grimy post-War capital into a bright, shining epicentre of style." The phenomenon was caused by the large number of young people in the city (due to the baby boom of the 1950s) and the postwar economic boom. Following the abolition of the national service for men in 1960, these young people enjoyed greater freedom and fewer responsibilities than their parents' generation, and "[fanned] changes to social and sexual politics." However—and despite shaping the popular consciousness of Britain in the 1960s—Swinging London was a West End-centered phenomenon that only happened among young, middle class people, and was considered "simply a diversion" by some of them. The swinging scene also served as a consumerist counterpart to the countercultural British underground of the same period. Simon Rycroft writes: "Whilst it is important to acknowledge the exclusivity and the dissenting voices, it does not lessen the importance of Swinging London as a powerful moment of image making with very real material effect."
Swinging London was a youth-oriented phenomenon that emphasized the new and modern. It was a period of optimism and hedonism, and a cultural revolution. One catalyst was the recovery of the British economy after post-World War II austerity which lasted through much of the 1950s. "The Swinging City" was defined by Time magazine on the cover of its issue of 15 April 1966, with the magazine pronouncing London the global hub of youthful creativity, hedonism and excitement: “In a decade dominated by youth, London has burst into bloom. It swings; it is the scene", and celebrated in the name of the pirate radio station, Swinging Radio England, that began shortly afterward. However, "swinging" in the sense of hip or fashionable had been used since the early 1960s, including by Norman Vaughan in his "swinging/dodgy" patter on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. In 1965, Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue magazine, said "London is the most swinging city in the world at the moment." Later that year, the American singer Roger Miller had a hit record with "England Swings", which steps around the progressive youth culture (both musically and lyrically). 1967 saw the release of Peter Whitehead's cult documentary film Tonite Lets All Make Love in London which accurately summed up both the culture of Swinging London through celebrity interviews, and the music with its accompanying soundtrack release featuring Pink Floyd.
Already heralded by Colin MacInnes' 1959 novel Absolute Beginners, Swinging London was underway by the mid-1960s and included music by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who, the Small Faces, the Animals and other artists from what was known in the US as the "British Invasion". Psychedelic rock from artists such as Pink Floyd, Cream, Procol Harum, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Traffic grew significantly in popularity. This sort of music was heard in the United Kingdom on TV shows such as Six-Five Special and Ready Steady Go!, on commercial radio stations such as Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline and Radio London, and from 1967 on BBC Radio One.
During the time of Swinging London, fashion and photography were featured in Queen magazine, which drew attention to fashion designer Mary Quant. Mod-related fashions such as the miniskirt stimulated fashionable shopping areas such as Carnaby Street and King's Road, Chelsea.
The model Jean Shrimpton was another icon and one of the world's first supermodels. She was the world's highest paid and most photographed model during this time. Shrimpton was called "The Face of the '60s", in which she has been considered by many as "the symbol of Swinging London" and the "embodiment of the 1960s". Other popular models of the era included Veruschka, Peggy Moffitt, and Penelope Tree. The model Twiggy has been called "the face of 1966" and "the Queen of Mod," a label she shared with others, such as Cathy McGowan, host of the television rock show, Ready Steady Go! from 1964 to 1966.
The British flag, the Union Jack, became a symbol, assisted by events such as England's home victory in the 1966 World Cup. The Mini-Cooper car (launched in 1959) was used by a fleet of mini-cab taxis highlighted by advertising that covered their paintwork. The Jaguar E-Type sports car was another British icon of the 1960s.
The phenomenon was featured in many films of the time, including Darling (1965), The Knack ...and How to Get It (1965), the Michelangelo Antonioni film Blowup (1966), Alfie (1966), Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966), Georgy Girl (1966), The Jokers (1967), Casino Royale (1967), Smashing Time (1967), To Sir, with Love (1967), Bedazzled (1967), Poor Cow (1967), I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967), Up the Junction (1968), Joanna (1968), Otley (1968), The Magic Christian (1969), The Brain (1969), If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969), and Performance (1970).