Unbuttoning Fashion: The Miniskirt

Today it’s easy to take for granted the short hemlines that we wear. As merely a style choice, rather than a political statement. But this wasn’t always the case – the miniskirt had pretty contentious origins.

If you had to credit a single person on launching the mini, it should be the British-designer Mary Quant, who told the New York Daily News in 2014, ‘’A miniskirt was a way of rebelling.’’ But if you think that miniskirts were born amidst Britain’s rebellious youth of the ‘60s then think again.

In fact, archaeologists have discovered figures in Europe from around 5400-4700 B.C. dressed in miniskirts. This isn’t the only ancient example of the miniskirt, either, with Ancient Egyptian frescos illustrating acrobats wearing miniskirts.

Fast forward a few thousand years, and hemlines first started seriously rising in the 1920s with the arrival of the flapper. But it was Josephine Baker, an entertainer, who first rocked the boat with a miniskirt made of bananas, during her performances of the “Folies Bergère” in Paris.

Cut forward to the 1960s, and the first direct reference was made to the miniskirt in 1962 from a Wyoming newspaper, The Billings Gazette which described the miniskirt as a disputed item that was in production in Mexico City. In the article, it was stated that the miniskirt stopped eight inches above the knee.

In 1964, within her iconic boutique, Bazaar, British designer Mary Quant raised the hemlines of her skirts to several inches above the knee, and the miniskirt that we know today was born. She named the style after her favourite car – the Mini. Of course, Quant wasn’t the only designer pioneering miniskirts at the time.

The French designer André Courrèges had also started experimenting with hemlines in the early 1960s, as well as displaying ‘space-age dresses’ that hit well above the knee in 1964. Since both designers began experimenting at similar times there has been a debate lasting decades over who actually invented the miniskirt. But Quant remains adamant that ‘’It wasn’t me or Courrèges who invented the miniskirt anyway – it was the girls in the street who did it.”

Regardless of who actually invented it, it can certainly be agreed that the unofficial poster girl for the miniskirt at the time was supermodel Twiggy.

The miniskirt continued to make waves in 1965 with model Jean Shrimpton causing a stir by wearing a miniskirt with no stockings, hat, or gloves when she attended the Melbourne Cup Carnival in Australia. In the same year, Yves Saint Laurent also debuted his famous and extremely short “Mondrian” dresses.

By 1966, Paco Rabanne launched his plastic chain-mail miniskirts, followed by minidresses. The mini officially became a high fashion statement. In 1968, Jackie Kennedy cemented the trend, by wearing a short white pleated Valentino dress when she married Aristotle Onassis.

The 1970s weren’t kind to the miniskirt, but Debbie Harry who fronted Blondie in 1974, helped revive it by regularly wearing it on stage. The 1980s saw the rah-rah skirt having a major moment. This moment was noted in the Oxford Dictionary as the first successful miniskirt revival, and the rah-rah skirt even appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1982.

In the 1990s, Julia Roberts set the trend of short skirts and thigh high boots in “Pretty Woman,” and throughout the decade miniskirts were seen in the wardrobes of all kinds of working women due to the influence of TV shows such as “Melrose Place” and “Ally McBeal”. By the 2000s miniskirts were still thriving thanks to the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears who wore theirs with midriff-baring tops.

In 2009, Quant’s impact of pioneering the miniskirt was recognised with the Royal Mail releasing a stamp to pay tribute to her iconic design. Of course, today, fashion’s most daring hemline may not be so daring after all, but it remains an iconic piece of clothing that pushed the boundaries for women to wear and do as they pleased. The miniskirt really made waves in the ‘20s and the ‘60s – two decades that sparked change for women’s rights.

The miniskirt in my eyes represents liberation for women. And I think it’s important that the skirt is remembered not only for its daring length, but for its fearless cause too.

Image: bayan portali via Flickr

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