Miniskirt creator Mary Quant believed ‘femininity lies in the attitude’

Miniskirt creator Mary Quant believed ‘femininity lies in the attitude’
  • British fashion designer Mary Quant is credited with revolutionising British fashion in the 1950s and 60s.
  • One of the most endearing elements of Quant’s legacy remains the miniskirt — a design she helped popularise.
  • In 1966 Quant was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her outstanding contribution to the fashion industry.
In an edition of London’s Sunday Times, fashion author Ernestine Carter wrote, “It’s 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.”

British fashion designer Dame Barbara Mary Quant was certainly a woman born with the right talent. Quant, who died on April 13, aged 93, is regarded as a fashion revolutionary at the forefront of British fashion’s transformation from utilitarian wartime standard of the late 1940s to the bold energy of the 1950s and 1960s.

The most memorable part of her legacy though remains the miniskirt — a design whose inventor may be contested, but whose popularity and more importantly, acceptance in high-end fashion, can most certainly be credited to Quant.

After all, when Quant was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1966, she arrived at Buckingham Palace to accept the award in a cream wool jersey mini dress!

“Mary Quant was such an influence on young girls in the late 50s early 60s. She revolutionised fashion and was a brilliant female entrepreneur,” said the supermodel of the 60s, Dame Twiggy Lawson at her passing.


Miniskirt: A symbol of confidence

Born in Blackheath, London in 1930, Quant was always in love with fashion, turning bedspreads into dresses as a child. But her parents, Welsh teachers Jack and Mildred Quant, dissuaded her from studying fashion. At the age of 19, she graduated with a degree in illustration and art education from Goldsmiths College in 1953 — but in pursuit of her first love started working with a milliner.

Two years later she opened her first shop Bazaar on King's Road. Her bold designs found a young clientele, who were looking for options that were fashionable, yet comfortable. This was the idea that inspired the miniskirt and minidress.

Skirts had started getting shorter in the 1950s. By the early sixties, they were at knee length. Quant further played with the hemline, crediting the girls on the King’s Road who asked for it to be “shorter, shorter”.

Quant said of the English girl of the 60s, “They are curiously feminine, but their femininity lies in their attitude rather than in their appearance... She’s observant and she likes being observed. She enjoys being noticed, but wittily. She is lively—positive—opinionated.”

As per The Courier, Quant believed that the miniskirt was a symbol of the growing confidence of the young of that time as they broke away from the rules and inhibitions of the post-war period.

“Rejecting clothing previously worn by their mothers, they wanted freedom and fun – and the shorter skirts enabled much more movement, whether running for a bus or going straight from work to dance at a club,” Quant said.

A fashion icon and successful entrepreneur

Quant didn’t just give women freedom in clothes, but also in her boutique. Her shop was a cumulation of jazz notes, flowing champagne, and a club-like atmosphere — markedly different from the stale department stores and inaccessible high-end fashion stores.

“Passers-by stopped to stare at the eccentric window displays, where models adopted quirky poses, motorbikes serving as props. Suddenly, shopping had become as enfranchised as it was sexy,” states fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar.

She opened a second store in 1957 and entered the US after a deal with the American chain store JC Penney in 1963. Two years later, came the miniskirt.

“City gents in bowler hats beat on our shop window with their umbrellas shouting ‘immoral!’ and ‘disgusting!’ at the sight of our mini-skirts over the tights, but customers poured in to buy,” stated Quant in her 1966 book, Quant by Quant.

Quant’s designs were not just bold. They were playful, experimental and colourful, designed for women eager to take charge – of their appearance and their lives. Naturally, fame and success came knocking.

In 1966, 11 years after she opened her first store, the self-taught designer was working with 18 manufacturers. The same year she received an award from the British Empire for her contribution to the fashion industry.

An unparalleled legacy

Quant, who is also known for incorporating coloured tights in her outfits, also designed berets and short shorts in the late 1960s — a forerunner for hot pants. Today, a part of her collection is displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the world’s largest museum of applied arts and design.

In the 1970s and 80s, she branched into household goods, and later, even automobiles — designing the interior of the Mini (1000) Designer by the British Motor Corporation in 1988.

Quant’s husband and business partner, Alexander Plunket Greene, was her college batchmate and the grandson of the Irish singer Harry Plunket Greene. He died in 1990. Quant is survived by a son, Orlando.

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