Liberation was a top priority for her 1960s clients, and the British fashion designer helped them to achieve it. Here’s how she has influenced the world today, from athleisure to dress code to gender fluidity to workwear.
Mary Quant was the first woman to wear mascara while running upstairs in a short skirt. A feature-length documentary about the 60s fashion designer is opening in cinemas this week. She was responsible for introducing miniskirts that skim the thighs and clothing for working women. Sadie Frost directs Quant. It follows the designer’s journey from opening her Chelsea boutique to managing the first global superbrand. Quant is a revolution in the way we dress. Modern designers are constantly bringing us new trends. Quant’s influence helped women to reject their parents’ ideas of beauty and embrace their own. Here are nine ways that she changed the way women dress today.
It’s a coincidence that the retrospective of Quant’s lasting influence as a designer coincides perfectly with a major moment in the history of the miniskirt. Perhaps it is a sign of things to come. Quant is often credited for inventing the miniskirt. She is believed to have named it after her Mini Cooper car. Quant felt that high-heeled hemlines were a sign of “life and great opportunity”. Jenny Lister, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Textiles and Fashion, notes that she brought with her “a party atmosphere”. It was a time when young people could interact with other people and listen to different music. This idea of the thigh-skimming dress as a symbol for optimism and youthful rebellion inspired designers from Alaia’s Pieter Mulier to Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior. Chiuri said that she likes the ideas of the younger generation, before her recent show. “The miniskirt is a symbol of that spirit.”
Quant said, “Clothes can be a statement about who one wants to become.” Quant was the first generation to have the contraceptive pill, and to be able to plan a career as well as a family. For her customers, freedom was top of the list. Jasper Conran, her godson, points out that “the young working girl set a pace.” This is where contemporary workwear, which is the flexible, dynamic approach to dressing, was born. Jane Shepherdson, a retail expert, says that “She was the first person to make clothes that you could walk in.” “Quant gave fashion flexibility. Her clothes were meant to allow women to move wherever they want.”
Say no to stockings
Quant was the first to discover hosiery and tights became popular. Lister says that while tights weren’t invented by Quant, she did make everyone aware of them. They were Quant’s secret weapon and are still the most highly valued of her ideas. Quant teamed up with the Nylon Holstery Company to create tights that would complement her jewel-coloured designs. Quant created tights to complement her jewel-coloured collections this season. McQueen’s tights are covered in diamante, while Falke from Germany is showing tights in primary colors.
Pockets for everything
Quant will be grateful if you ever slip your phone in your dress pocket, or reach into the sides of your jumpsuit to feel less awkward at parties. Quant was a pioneer in understanding the importance of hidden details. She once stated that “the pockets make the dress” and this is a statement she will never forget. The pocket became an emblem of modernity and a perfect place to store lipstick or the return bus fare.
The “boyfriend” fit
Quant is a pioneer in gender-fluid clothing, which is often referred to as the future fashion. Quant found the men’s cut of knitwear more in line with her relaxed, casual aesthetic and purchased men’s suits from Harrods to repurpose for women. To create the casual, loose cricket sweaters that are her trademark, she also collaborated with Scottish knitwear suppliers. Today, the look is still popular with its sloppy, masculine looks that are emblematic of cool for modern knitwear designers. The look is also popular on the resale marketplace, where Gen Z customers on Depop are buying repurposed cricket knits as sweater dresses. Quant would be proud.
During the pandemic, our obsession with clothing that can be worn on the couch as well as at the gym exploded. Athleisure, the fashion trend known as it, might not have happened without Quant. Jersey was her Lycra and was the first to approve a fabric for comfort and crease resistance. After discovering the concept of “housewear” on a trip to the US, she decided to take the idea of clothes that could be both stylish and comfortable one step further by creating a line for adult-sized babygrows in the late 60s. This was the first adult onesie. It’s somewhere between a tracksuit or a dress gown.
The sweater with a skinny-rib design
This autumn, the rollneck sweater is being championed by everyone from Adele to Prince William. Quant was the first to make the skinny-rib a fashion staple. She recounts how she was eight years old when she tried on a boy’s top. Quant wore the fine-knit, ribbed sweater with her signature pinafore, which became her foundation for a look that was copied around the world.
Flat shoes were the perfect accessory for Quant’s women who danced all night and worked long hours. Flats were previously considered a boring, utilitarian option. But under Quant, they have become synonymous with glamour. Lister says, “Everyone now wears trainers is the same line in progress.” “Quant was looking for practical, comfortable shoes that looked good to enhance her appearance. She opened up a new avenue for women by doing this.”
Quant, who realized that makeup was essential for women’s looks, stated that “now that the clothes have changed, the face is wrong.” Quant soon launched her pioneering cosmetics line, which included a waterproof mascara that was unheard of in 1968. Women could run to the bus in one her skirts, do a whole day on their feet in her shoes and still look great. Quant got rid the notion that women should act in certain ways with everything she did. Lister says that she allowed people to be themselves.