The miniskirt, from Quant and Courreges to Dean and Dan

“If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.” Dorothy Parker


The miniskirt. Iconic, yet in fashion terms, not that ancient. And like other recent inventions, its genesis and history are quite interesting, this is the justification for a post on the topic.

Of course there have been forms of short skirts throughout the ages and cultures: we could cite Roman soldiers but closer to our era, the Duan Qun Miao women of China (below, circa 1900).

In the 20th century, in entertainment and in sports, both the function and the functionality of the item made some forms of shorter-than-the-norm skirts acceptable; we could name name singer/dancer Josephine Baker or figure skater Sonja Henie (below, 1939).

However, for the girl next door, the short skirt as a wardrobe staple is a product of the 1960’s. By then the baby boom generation has reached its late teenage years; young people have more money, more free time, and simply more freedom than those who came before, and they will use all this to revolutionise society though a broad range of artistic, cultural, political, philosophical experimentations, which we should not forget, are often interconnected.

It is said that when the mini-skirt appeared on the streets, men were driven crazy by the sight of bare legs right before their eyes. It seems strange for us today, well used to seeing bare flesh in traditional media, in social media even more, and more generally at your local bar.

The creation theories

Who invented it? The jury is still out. Common wisdom will say Mary Quant, while acknowledging that Courreges might also have a valid claim. However before looking at these two key figures, we should mention that there are alternative theories:

– English language literature on the topic does not seem to be aware that a French stylist called Jacques Delahaye tried to launch it in 1963, but his bold attempt resulted in a flop (Yvonne Deslandres et Florence Müller, Histoire de la mode au xxème siècle, p. 256).

– Another hypothesis is reported by Barbara Hulanicki of the London boutique Biba, hangout of musicans and artists, and known for its stylishly decadent atmosphere and lavish decor. She states that in 1966 she received a delivery of stretchy jersey skirts that had shrunk drastically (to 10 inch long) in transit. She sold them regardless…and they just flew off the shelves, thereby launching a trend. Did you know that Anna Wintour started here career there?

– For Marit Allen, editor of the “Young Ideas” pages for UK Vogue, the credit should go to John Bates. The latter had designed mini-coats and dresses for Emma Peel (played by Diana Rigg) in the TV series The Avengers. In January 1965 Bates’s “skimp dress” with its “short-short skirt” was featured in Vogue, and would later be chosen as the Dress of the year.

Various dresses from the 1969’s by Bates. The green one is from 1966
– It has also been allleged that Mary Quant had purchased a short skirt at the “Boutique des arts” in St Tropez, and only later did she launch it in the UK.

Regardless of the validity of these claims, the role played by Quant and Courreges in developing the miniskirt cannot be understated.

Andre Courrèges was a pioneer in the fashion world, designing space-age outfits using colours like silver, white, contrasting with bright reds. Some sources claim he had been designing miniskirts as early as 1961 when he launched his couture house. What is for sure is that in January 1965 his Spring/Summer collection featured short skirts, four inches above the knee. He always made it clear that he considered himself the inventor of the garment, relegating Quant’s role as merely having “commercialised” it.

The unmistakeable Courrege style
Mary Quant and two friends (one would later become her husband) opened a boutique they called Bazaar on King’s Road in Chelsea, London’s artist district. The shop sold affordable, brightly coloured clothes perfect for the youths in search of a more modern style. Examples of what they had on the shelves: skinny rib jumpers, coloured tights, hipster belts, PVC garments and sleeveless crochet tops and hats.

Mary Quant
Did she invent the miniskirt? She is humble about it and says “It wasn’t me or Courrèges who invented the miniskirt anyway, it was the girls in the street who did it.” Apparently as she herself wore very short skirts, her customers kept on requesting even shorter hemlines for themselves. She however coined the name “miniskirt” by reference to her favourite car, the Mini.

The (very) critical reception

If the street adopted it, the trend was helmed by a range of celebrities, notably Twiggy in the UK, and Sheila, France Gall and Françoise Hardy in France.

The daring fashion move did not go unchallenged, as we know from the consierable shock caused by the appearance of Jean Shrimpton wearing a Colin Rolfe short dress in October 1965 at the Melbourne Cup Carnival in Australia. This has been hailed as the pivotal moment in the history of this garment.

In a Europe divided by the iron curtain, defying all logic, the Polish communist party approved the right to use it, while the Dutch parliament banned it.

Coco Chanel, who in her days had shortened women’s skirt, found it “disgusting” (“Je la trouve sale”) as it uncovered what for her was the ugliest part of the human body, the knee.

French TV prsenter Noëlle Noblecourt was reportedly fired for exposing her knees to the viewers (decades later in will transpire that the skirt had been used as a pretext, the real reason for losing her position is that she refused…well, other types of positions, with the TV channel boss).

Staying in France, here is a clip showing the reaction of the people on the street, to the new type of skirt. Miniskirt France 1966

Here is a transcript of some of what is said at around 1.50:

Does she think she’s at the beach?” 

“Horrible, horrible…how awful is that”

“Get up up the stairs”

“You’re going to catch a cold”.

“It’s cute. Have to say that it’s nice for men to look at…it’s fashion”

“She is crazy. She’s not normal”.

The hemline has kept on fluctuating since. Some collections leave it out, others are “…all legs, legs, legs” (Giambattista Valli describing his latest couture show). In my opinion, regardless of what designers do, on the street the miniskirt never disappeared, but instead its use has evolved to be more associated with the context or the occasion: for the nightclub more than for going shopping, in August in Saint Tropez more that in February in St Germain…

The Dsquared2 woman

The miniskirt is an unavoidable piece of Dsquared2 clothing. The D2 woman being sexy, confident, daring, she can wear during the day in denim or cargo-style, and at night, in noble fabrics like silk or leather. DSQ miniskirts are amazing with flats or heels, but also with runners. See the below slideshow for some examples.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And you might even get a discount on your restaurant bill, as at this place in China. The shorter the skirt, the biggest the discount (up to 90% off!)

Note that if you’re planning a holiday in Swaziland, leave your miniskirts at home as they have been banned…in 2012.

Lastly, a photoshop photo seen on Fashion TV: Dan Caten as Twiggy, in a Quant minidress.

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