Last week fashion icon Mary Quant passed away. Quant’s contributions to the fashion industry, particularly her invention of the miniskirt and her innovative approach to mass-production fashion, have left an indelible mark on the history of fashion. Anyone who’s ever worn a miniskirt and knee high boots on a night out owe it to this woman.
Quant’s journey to fashion legend status started in her teenage years when she was captivated by a girl tap-dancing in the room next to her ballet class. Her outfit epitomised Quants aspirations. A black skinny-rib sweater, a pleated skirt, tights, and patent leather shoes. This encounter ignited Quant’s passion for fashion and prompted her to begin designing her own clothes by repurposing bedsheets.
From Teenage Inspiration to Style Icon
She was born in 1934 London, to academic parents who moved to the city to teach. Despite her parent’s initial reluctance, she pursued her dream of studying fashion at Goldsmiths, University of London. During her time at university, she met her future husband, Alexander Plunket Green. In the early years of their relationship, she went on to open her first shop, Bazaar, at age 21.
At Bazaar, Quant worked as the stores buyer but soon started selling her own designs. The most prominent of which were daring skirts cut six inches above the knee, later known as the miniskirt. While other designers toyed with the idea of raising the hemline, Quant can be credited with inventing the term “miniskirt”. As a result of making her design accessible to the mass market, she and her miniskirts became a symbol of the Swinging Sixties. This symbol embodied the spirit of youth and liberation from traditional fashion norms. Her designs were often dictated by her customers who demanded shorter and shorter hems with every piece. Quant brought a dynamic and liberating style to women that they had not seen before and no other designers could pull off.
Quant’s fashion empowered women to express their individuality, embrace their sexuality, and reject conventional expectations, making her a pioneering figure in the feminist movement of the time. She was a close friend and collaborator of Vidal Sassoon. With Quants designs and Sassoons hairstyles, the two were a dynamic duo that revolutionised the fashion industry. Inspired by Quant’s avant-garde clothing, Sassoon created the iconic “Quant bob” hairstyle. It featured a sleek, geometric cut that perfectly matched the modernist aesthetic of the era. Quant rocked this bob for over 40 years. She told The Guardian in 2012:
“We [women] found the freedom to swim in the sea, drive in an open-top car, walk in the rain, and then just shake our head to look good again. Vidal Sassoon, the pill, and the mini changed everything. For me, he produced the perfect cap on my leggy mini skirt designs.”
Beyond the Miniskirt
Mistakenly, many people believe Quants designs stopped at the miniskirt. She is also responsible for many other well-known pieces. Some of which include the “hot pants” paired with colourful tights and go-go boots. In addition, the “A-line dress” which features bold geometric patterns and bright colours. Quant experimented a lot with boxy shapes which stray from the traditional feminine silhouette and offered a more androgynous and rebellious look. She also introduced PVC and other synthetic materials which give an elevated modern look and are optimal for the London weather. Her creative use of fabrics, bold patterns, cutouts, zippers and other unconventional elements add a sense of exuberance and modernity to her designs.
Likewise, Quant’s creativity was evident through her iconic accessories and playful makeup looks. Many of her outfits were accompanied by chunky boots, colourful tights, jewellery, and bold makeup. Her colourful and expressive designs reflected in her retail approaches. Unconventional concepts flooded her stores where women and men could shop in a vibrant atmosphere.
Her designs continue to inspire contemporary fashion designers, and her iconic styles such as the miniskirt and colourful tights are still relevant in modern fashion trends. Mary Quant will forever be remembered as a pioneer of fashion and style, whose impact on the industry will be felt for generations to come.
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