I remember it well, the “burned orange” wool suit with the snazzy fitted jacket over a mini skirt, sent all the way to me in Jamaica by a friend in the UK for my arrival in London in 1967. But the suit needed the right shoes, so the second I landed in the most happening city of the sixties, I rushed off to buy the most impractical pair of boots I could lay my hands on. They were black patent leather knee-highs and served at least one purpose – to draw the attention of every man I passed as I strode along the sidewalk to school. The first day I wore them, I hadn’t gone a yard before I heard a voice from somewhere above my head call out, “Nice boots, luv.” Blushing, I looked up to see that work on the roof of the building next door had completely ground to a halt. My boots were off to a good start.
What a decade the sixties was. It began with skirts climbing to well above the knees and ended with them falling almost to the ankles in flowing “Granny” prints.” It was a heady decade that, as it began, dragged along leftovers from the fifties such as prim Jacky Kennedy-style Pill Box hats and little white gloves only to eventually dump them as all fashion discretion was thrown to the wind.
Everything about the 60s was exciting, and often downright sensational, but the defining style of the decade was the miniskirt. Designed by British fashion icon Mary Quant in 1964, the mini revolutionized fashion in a way no other design had since the "Roaring Twenties" when fashions exposed the legs for the first time.
With Quant in the lead of the 60s fashion revolution, hemlines rose to previously unimagined heights. Soon, rugby shirts and other upper garments were being worn as mini dresses. In her book, From A to Biba, former Biba owner Barbara Hulanicki claims it was not Quant who first designed the miniskirt. According to Hulanicki, the mini came about quite by accident. Not long after Biba opened, Hulanicki received a delivery of stretchy jersey skirts that had shrunk dramatically between leaving the manufacturer and arriving at her shop. “I nearly had a heart attack. The skirts were only 10 inches long.” “That little fluted skirt walked out on customers as fast as we could get it onto the hatstands.”
Whatever the real story, the mini (said to be named after Quant’s favorite car) spread like wild fire from “Swinging London” to Paris where André Courrèges ran with it all the way to the runway with his Mod look for spring/summer 1965. His less clinging version of the mini was worn with his trademark white Courrèges boots. Yves St. Laurent also jumped on the mini bandwagon in his fall/winter collection that year.
|Courrèges (image from The Red List)|
The mini had now gained full fashion respectability in its evolution from youth street fashion to haute couture. In no time, it made its way across the Atlantic where Rudi Gernreich was among the first American designers to include it in a collection.
|Fashions of the 1920s|
I confess I’m a pack rat and today I’m glad I am. Look what I found – part of a letter I wrote to my best friend in 1961, complete with sketches! Think the writing was on the wall?