The history of the mini-skirt: How Mary Quant made it a must-have staple

From popularising the bob hairstyle with the help of her pal Vidal Sassoon to creating waterproof mascara and hot pants, Dame Mary Quant’s enduring mark on the beauty and fashion world can be felt on virtually every street in this nation and beyond.

And that’s not even taking into consideration the thing that many feel most strongly catapulted the fashion icon, who passed away on April 13, into lasting super-stardom – the mini-skirt.

Credited with creating the very first ones in the world, Dame Mary once said: ‘It was the girls on the King’s Road who invented the mini.

‘I was making easy, youthful, simple clothes, in which you could move, in which you could run and jump, and we would make them the length the customer wanted.

‘I wore them very short and the customers would say, “Shorter, shorter”.’

Her short hemlines, A-line dresses, Peter Pan collars, and vibrant-coloured tights alongside knee-high boots with sensible heels became not just synonymous with the supermodels like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, but the whole mod style movement of the swinging 60s.

Born in 1934, Dame Mary got her diploma at 19 during 1953 in illustration and art education at Goldsmiths College. Her plan had been to study fashion, but her parents, both teachers, nudged her away from that career path.

It was at Goldsmiths that she met the man who would become her husband, Alexander Plunket Greene. He would also become her business partner.

Undeterred from her fashion dreams, Dame Mary was taken on as an apprentice with Erik of Brook Street, a Mayfair milliner, after she left college.

She then opened Bazaar, a boutique on the King’s Road in Chelsea, in 1955. Soon, she was designing and making her own bold garments after the more unique items she stocked started getting media attention and another manufacturer paid for some of her designs.

Bazaar also had its own unique vibe, with vibrant displays in the windows, drinks flowing, and music all serving to drive home the point of it all – to have fun.

Downstairs, shoppers could rest their feet in Alexander’s restaurant, where the likes of Royalty of the traditional (think Princess Margaret) and rock and roll variety (think The Rolling Stones) spent time.

Dame Mary’s mini-skirt hit mannequins in 1965.

Whether she was truly the one to invent it has been debated for some time, but the fact that her work popularised these rising hemlines is undeniable.

Her clothing was sold to the first generation to be able to take the revolutionary contraceptive pill, which helped finally put women’s futures in their own hands.

As Dame Mary, who was awarded an OBE in 1966 and a DBE in 2015 for outstanding services to the British fashion industry, said: ‘Clothes are a statement about what one wants to be.’

Her contributions happened to fit right in with the women’s movement, as the comfortable, fashion-forward, and functional clothes she made were perfect for working, busy, sexually liberated, modern young women with places to be and dancing to do.

As Dame Mary wrote her 1966 autobiography, Quant by Quant, clothing for women needs to be ‘a tool to compete in life outside the home.’

With futures and goals outside of the home en masse for the very first time, women wanted clothing they could really move in, and it’s little wonder her chic, flirty, leg-freeing mini-skirts appealed.

Journalist and fashion writer Ernestine Carter once wrote: ‘It is given to a fortunate few to be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents.

‘In recent fashion there are three: Chanel, Dior, and Mary Quant.’

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