From Mod Miniskirts to Vinyl Go-Go Boots: Fashion Innovation from Late British Designer, Dame Mary Quant
by Adria Mirabelli
Dame Mary Quant was a British fashion designer who famously defined the mod fashion style
for women in the late 1960s.
Notable celebrities who donned Quant’s designs at the height of her influence included model muse Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Bridget Bardot and Audrey Hepburn. In the wake of the iconic designer’s passing in April, we explore four key moments in
fashion innovation from the inventive mind behind mod fashion.
1. The Miniskirt & Rise of Quant Minimalism
“Fashion is for now...to wear the clothes of today...it doesn’t have anything to do with age.” - Mary Quant was quoted as saying in a 1968 interview. Quant designed primarily for the youth of the time, and wanted to create clothing with a vibrant energy and sense of fun and exploration. Her designs were cutting edge, with her most iconic garments being the ultra-short mini-skirt and mini-dress.
Her focus wasn’t necessarily on sex appeal, but more so on women enjoying dressing themselves in a more liberating way that hadn’t yet been seen in mainstream fashion. Her designs were pivotal in the mod and youth movements of the late 1960’s, which offered a fresh approach in comparison to Dior’s “New Look” that dominated 1950’s fashion. This was truly a fashion revolution at the time!
Her design attitude was uniquely minimalistic and utilized clean lines, bold colours and a lively sense of self-expression. Her patternmaking process focused on a simplified use of seams and cuts. Quant felt that there was a disconnect between the flatness of fabrics and roundness of the human body. To combat this the designer preferred to eliminate the use of seams as much as possible to enhance the roundness and smoothness of the female body.
She was often quoted as saying that she designed for everyday women, and would listen to feedback from clients at her boutique “Bazaar” on Queens Road in London, which opened in 1955 (clients famously asked for her skirts to be made shorter!). It was important to Quant to offer a more simple and wearable approach to dressing that allowed women to move throughout their days with ease.
2. The Release of 'Quant Afoot' Shoes, 1967
Quant felt that she hadn’t worn a pair of comfortable shoes before in her life, and wanted to explore a new way of shoe-making that she felt acknowledged the complex shapes of feet more thoughtfully. Through her ‘Quant Afoot’ footwear line released in 1967, Quant developed her iconic sock, ankle and go-go boots that we often associate with the late 1960’s mod look.
The designer wanted to produce footwear styles in a process similar to how bottles and glasses were made. She had a fascination with eliminating seams in order to provide the wearer with a more comfortable shoe, with no rubbing on their heels or arches. Her most iconic footwear designs were composed of plastic uppers with synthetic linings that were fused together. In some cases the uppers were made from clear plastic with bright coloured linings underneath that would shine through.
Her tall go-go boot design was inspired by the silhouette that was created when a knee-high sock was paired on the leg with a heeled shoe. She wanted to reimagine this concept with as few pattern pieces as possible to create a streamlined look she described as a “cool line” on the
body. Another unique touch, - the shoe’s heels had Quant’s daisy motif ingrained on the bottom which when wet would imprint her signature branding on streets and sidewalks!
3. Playing with Plastics
Much like her peers at the time Paco Rabanne and André Courrèges, Quant was fascinated by the aesthetically space-age and minimal look of plastics and synthetics. In the late 1960’s glossy acrylics were bold additions to the fashion canon of the time.
Most notably, Quant used vinyl in her footwear designs and PVC in her raincoats characteristic of the mod fashion style. Quant often explored the use of see-through plastics and would pair them with bright fabrics layered underneath.
4. The Quant “Total Look”
To Quant, a full look was one that went from beyond head to toe and included garments, tights, shoes, hats, accessories, makeup and even hair.
The designer expanded her business into cosmetics in the late 1960’s, releasing makeup palettes in frosty white acrylic (which she called “paint boxes”). Some of the first Quant lipsticks were double sided, with one matte side and one pigmented side. The aim of her products were ease of application and compactness while providing a minimal modern
To further achieve a “total look” one would also style their hair in what Quant referred to as a “natural style” without elaborate up-dos or time consuming curls. Quant herself opted for a signature blunt bob (first cut by Vidal Sassoon), with became unanimous
with the designer’s style.
Colourful tights were famously part of the Quant look, - often in bright poppy colours that would complement her other ready-to-wear offerings. Tights were available in mustard, bright red, yellow, purple, white and black and would be styled tonally with “Quant Afoot” shoes.
From Mary Quant’s democratic release of ready-to-wear garments to her innovative aesthetic approach, the designer has made a huge impact on fashion history throughout her career. We continue to see her influence today in fashion, make-up and popular culture to this day.
Edited by Emily Duff