Shortening Hemlines: the miniskirt and 1960s feminism

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The miniskirt is a skirt with a hemline several inches aboe the knee. There remains debate on who 'invented' the miniskirt - either the London designer, Mary Quant, or the French designer, Andre Courreges. Courreges was inspired by "space-age" clothing and is said to have produced a short skirt to go with his Go-Go Boots, the original name for thigh-length boots. Mary Quant is, however, widely credited for popularising the mini, producing and selling them through her hugely popular Chelsea store, Bazaar.

Predecessors

The history of 20th century women's fashion can be defined as the rising hemline. The 1920s 'flapper' style skirts showed a bit of ankle, and was seen as a daring and provocative act, compared to the full-length Victorian dresses. During the 1930s and 1940s, the pencil skirt saw hemlines stop just below the knee. As fashion historians have argued, "the knees are the crucial borderline in 20th-century women's dress. Because they are the central feature of the leg, and a more obviously prominent part of its anatomy than the ankles or calves, it was seen as particularly revealing – immodest even – to display them." During the aftermath of WWII, skirt lengths dropped back to mid-calf.

This radically changed by the early 1960s, when young fashion designers shook up the established fashion world and, by so doing, challenging notions of 'appropriate' hemlines. The miniskirt became a symbol of revolt against the old order and rebellion.

Instant Popularity

Mary Quant's hemlines had been steadily rising, but in the early 1960s, when she produced a skirt that was several inches above the knee, she caused a great stir in the fashion world - as well as in the popular media, changing fashion styles indelibly.  The miniskirt - said to have been named by Quant after the Mini car - was an instant hit on the streets of London and rapidly spread across the globe. Hemlines shot up everywhere but nowhere more so than in London, where skirts were finishing 7-8 inches above the knee. According to fashion historians, this even affected the Queen of England's hemlines.

Famed for popularising, if not inventing, the mini skirt, in 1966 Quant was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

The Miniskirt and 1960s Feminism

The miniskirt was worn by some of the leading feminists of the 'second wave', Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem. Greer herself wrote in 1969 that:

"The women kept on dancing while their long skirts crept up, and their girdles dissolved, and their nipples burst through like hyacinth tips and their clothes withered away to the mere wisps and ghosts of draperies to adorn and glorify ..."

In 1966, the British Society for the Preservation of the Miniskirt was established to protest against the return of longer hemlines at the Christian Dior fashion show. The band of demonstrators carried banners proclaiming “Miniskirts Forever” and “Support the Mini”.

See Also

Sources



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