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It’s Quant we still want

Jessica Dunn explores fashion designer Mary Quant's inventions and discusses her lasting influence in today's fashion society.

The miniskirt. The staple in every girl’s wardrobe. And easily one of the most defining garments of the Sixties. Whilst several fashion trailblazers have been credited with its invention, none are more significant than London-based designer Mary Quant. Not only did she favour shorter hemlines (apparently it made it easier to run for the bus), but she offered young girls the chance to finally stop dressing like their mothers.

So it’s fitting that actress, producer, and fashion designer Sadie Frost has chosen to celebrate all that is great and good about the fashion rebel who dictated that “the bottom edge of the skirt must hit roughly halfway up the thigh and fall no more than four inches below the butt”. With her debut movie, Quant, now on general release, here’s an insight into the icon who raised hemlines to shocking new heights.

Quant on screen

Frost ventures through the ages of Mary Quant’s life and work, opening with her childhood and college life and continuing to her retirement in the 1980s. Born in London’s Blackheath, Quant studied illustration and always had a strong love of the arts whilst living in the fashion capital. However, Frost focuses mostly on Quant’s influential period. Fashion trends were fluctuating, and women were encouraged to express themselves through clothes and sexuality. Teenagers wanted a change in society - and movers and shakers like Quant saw that vision realised.

Hemlines rising

Miniskirts weren’t recognised as a fashion trend until the 1960s. In 1961, hemlines were just above the knee (making progress) but by 1966, some designs had the hem at the upper thigh (hurrah). The trend peaked in Swinging London and it wasn’t long until high street stores such as Biba were supplying Quant’s invention in vibrant hues (prior to this, short skirts were only seen on sport and dance figures).

The black daisy

The black daisy logo soon become symbolic of Quant’s brand. Initially a quick sketch included in her design process, the flower became a representation of freedom and breaking social norms. Quant believed in the liberty of fashion, especially with younger customers looking to define themselves through their purchases. Ironically, the Flower Power Era was occurring at the same time as Quant’s brand took off. The movement was a place of harmony and non-violence that peacefully protested the Vietnam war. Quant interpreted this through the world of fashion as girls harmlessly rebelled against their parents through new, trendy clothes.

More than just the miniskirt

Quant offered the fashion world so much more than simply adjusting the length of a skirt. In 1966, she introduced her ‘paint box’, which included three eyeshadows, a mascara, two lipsticks, and a mirror on the inside. She would imprint the box with her trademark flower logo and sell the products to women who needed a trouble free makeup kit on the go. Quant was also involved in her own homeware collections, consisting of glazed mugs for Staffordshire Pottery. She also designed wallpapers, bedding and curtains that conveyed her aesthetic and promoted her brand.

Quant's influence today

The release Quant not only educates us about sixties fashion, but also serves as a reminder that what we consider casual wardrobe pieces were once not allowed to be worn by women in public at all. In 2021, breaking social norms are the new norms. The pandemic has allowed teens with a bunch of free time to search for new styles as well as browse vintage stores that stocked up over lockdown. On Monday I could dress head-to-toe in florals, a denim jacket and a mini backpack, whilst on Tuesday I could rock the skater girl look with baggy jeans and a graphic tee I found in the local charity shop. Sixties teens, however, couldn’t mix-match styles whenever they pleased. It took a sharp, forward-thinking, intelligent, and creative mind like Mary Quant to transform womenswear and form trends that would last generations.


Words by Jessica Dunn

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