Mary Quant ran a popular clothes shop in the Kings Road, Chelsea, London called Bazaar, from which she sold her own designs. In the late 1950s she began experimenting with shorter skirts, which resulted in the miniskirt in 1965-one of the defining fashions of the decade.
Owing to Quant’s position in the heart of fashionable “Swinging London”, the miniskirt was able to spread beyond a simple street fashion into a major international trend. Its acceptance was greatly boosted by Jean Shrimpton’s wearing a short white shift dress, made by Colin Rolfe, on 30th October 1965 at Derby Day, first day of the annual Melbourne Cup Carnival in Australia, where it caused a sensation. According to Shrimpton, who claimed that the brevity of the skirt was due mainly to Rolfe’s having insufficient material, the ensuring controversy was as much as anything to do with her having dispensed with a hat and gloves, seen as the essential accessories in such conservative society.
The miniskirt was further popularized by Andr Courrges, who developed it separately and incorporated it into his Mod look, for spring/summer 1965. His miniskirts were less body-hugging, and worn with the white “Courrges boots” that became a trademark. By introducing the miniskirt into the haute couture of the fashion industry, Courrges gave it a greater degree of respectability than might otherwise have been expected of a street fashion.
The miniskirt was followed up in the late 1960s by the even shorter micro skirt, which has been referred to derogatorily as a belt or pelmet. Upper garments, such as rugby shirts, were sometimes adapted as mini-dresses. Tights or panty-hose became highly fashionable, in place of stockings, specifically because the rise in hemlines meant that stocking tops would be visible. Mary Quant cited this development in defense of the miniskirt: “In European countries where they ban mini-skirts in the streets and say they’re an invitation to rape, they don’t understand about stocking tights underneath”.
If one fashion item could sum up the 60s it would be the mini-skirt. Opinion is split on who came up with the idea-the wise money would probably go on a Frenchman, Jean Courreges, but our own Mary Quant is widely accepted as having dreamt up the ever more daring hemline.
Within a year anybody who had the body to pull it off was wearing a mini. In New York the norm was 4-5 inches above the knee but over in Swinging London anything other than 7-8 inches above the knee was considered positively decent!
The usual look was to pair what little was left of the skirt with matching sweater and tights for a uniform look. When, in 1968, Jackie Kennedy wore a white Valentino miniskirt for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis its place at the pinnacle of fashion was confirmed.
During the mid-1970s, the fashion industry largely returned to longer skirts such as the midi and the maxi. Journalist Christopher Booker gave two reasons for this reaction: firstly, that “there was almost nowhere else to go…the mini-skirts could go no higher”; and secondly, in his view, “dressed up in mini-skirts and shiny PVC macs, given such impersonal names as ‘dolly birds’, girls had been transformed into throwaway plastic objects”. Certainly this lengthening of hemlines coincided with the growth of the feminist movement. However, in the 1960s the mini had been regarded as a symbol of liberation, and it was worn by some, such as Germaine Greer and, in the following decade, Gloria Steinem, who became known for their promotion of women’s issues.
1980s and 90s
In the 1980s, short skirts began to re-emerge, notably in the form of “rah-rahs”, which were modeled on those worn by female cheerleaders at sporting and other events. In the mid-80s the “puffball” skirt enjoyed short term popularity, being worn by, among others, the Princess of Wales and singers Pepsi and Shirlie. Many women began to incorporate the miniskirt into their business attire, a trend which grew during the remainder of the century. Films and television series made in the mid-1990s (Friends , Sex and the City, Ally McBeal, for example) show how ubiquitous the mini had become again. In the BBC TV series keeping up Appearances (1990-5) the snobbish Hyacinth Bucket was frequently outraged by the brevity of her sister Rose’s skirts.
Around the turn of the 21st century, hipster trousers became highly fashionable for women. The micro has been reworked as an even less substantial belt-skirt, which is more an evocation of the idea of a skirt than something that covers anything substantial. It may perhaps also provide rhythm for the hipline. Due to its revealing nature, the belt-skirt is rarely worn in public. Miniskirts are also seen worn over trousers or jeans, or with leggings that provide coverage of each leg from above the knee. Although “floaty” skirts were most closely associated with the boho look of the mid noughties, short skirts also featured in some outfits and in London, for example, minis were more widespread during the hot summer of 2006 than for several years, a trend that continued through the mild autumn and winter and into the following summer. Mini skirts are now becoming more common for younger generations.