History of the Mini Skirt - from Sci-Fi in the Fifties to Mary Quant in the Sixties

Focus On The Mini Skirt

Say sixties fashion and what instantly springs to mind? You’re thinking bold, block colours and futuristic pixie haircuts. Sharp stand-out collars and exaggerated eye make-up. And of course, its held together with the statement piece, the miniskirt. Right?

Nothing epitomises British sixties fashion more than a risen hemline that packs a punch of progression, liberation and rebellion. And unlike a lot of other archaic attire from the past, the miniskirt is something of a leech (in a nice way) to our wardrobe. It’s never really left mainstream fashion. I guess recently we have seen the introduction of the midi again (which we also love). However, the mini has never been a fashion faux pas.

If we take a little walk down pop culture lane we can see just how much the mini is loved. Think Twiggy or Edie Sedgwick sporting the forefront of forward-thinking fashion in the ’60s. Think 70’s, Debbie Harry, keeping the look alive with rock n roll minis and knee-high boots. Think Bananarama and the synthetic sass of the 80s. In which the introduction of the rah-rah skirt added a whole new depth (literally) to the miniskirt. Step into the ’90s and you’ve got Spice Girls and B*Witched and the faux leather miniskirt sticking to their thighs. The Naughties gave us Destiny’s Child who rocked the miniest of minis. And then to the here and now, I bet there is one in your wardrobe right now. Or if not yours, your friend’s or partners. It’s a classic.

Even this season, Topshop have said they expect their best selling skirt to be a mini. Burberry’s SS19 collection sports a cow print cotton blend mini. And even we at Workshop have a mini pattern (link Hanna skirt) as a wardrobe staple. We just can’t get enough.

A mini timeline

So let’s take a quick look at how the miniskirt became such a prominent piece in our wardrobe. Archaeologists actually found figurines wearing miniskirts way back in 5400 - 4700 BC. Not the miniskirt we know today but it’s still pretty impressive. Jumping forward to times a little more recent, we saw the fun-loving flapper girls in the 1920s introduce cheeky hemlines after the war. The 1930s brought back a conservative calf-length skirt which was the forefront of fashion for the next two decades. During the second world war, rationing meant hems rose again. We began to see shorter skirts in fifties sci-fi movies such as Forbidden Planet and Fight to Mars. Yet they were deemed futuristic and absurd for everyday fashion.

In the first half of the sixties, fashion still held onto the unprogressive patterns of the elite in the fifties. Yet around the mid-sixties, with a change in politics and societal dynamics, fashion became fun. Spinning the fifties  conservative all-encompassing, child-and-parent fashion on its head. Fashion became a way to express rebellion. Rebellion against the conservativism of the fifties and early sixties. Women could access birth control pills, young people had more money to spend than ever before and they wanted to celebrate this.  And that they did. Sounds like a right old hooley.

Mary Quant

The pioneer of the miniskirt seems to be quite a controversial topic and much disputed. From French designer André Courreges to British designers John Bates (Jean Varon) and Mary Quant. However as Quant puts it best herself, the real engineers of the miniskirt were, “the girls on the street”.

In Britain, Quant is seen as the pioneer of the miniskirt and if not the pioneer, she undeniably had a huge influence on fashion in the sixties. She sacked flouncy fabrics for utilitarian textiles - tweed and flannel. Ditched traditionalism for functionalism - women could run and move freely. Conservatism was abandoned for modernism with her designs.

Quant’s inspiration for the miniskirt came from a tap dancing teacher. Mesmerised by the stark contrast between the tights on her legs and ballet shoes tied around her ankles - the concept of the miniskirt as we know it was born. Quant focused on functionality. It was for the modern woman who wanted to move and run. Liberation of the limbs!

Fun fact: Quant named the miniskirt after her favourite car- the mini cooper!

And if you’re in the UK at some point this year or early next, V&A has an exhibition of Quant’s masterpieces. Showcasing Quant’s fashion revolution in the sixties.

mary quant exhibition

More than material

The miniskirt is more than just a piece of clothing, in the western world, it signifies progression and resistance. It wasn’t just the skirt itself, it was the times it was born in that has helped make it more than just a materialistic milestone. Taking a politically rebellious stance and creating a storm in society, the miniskirt signified a drastic change in times in comparison to its preceding conservative eras. Times were good (not great) for women, and things were changing. The introduction of the birth control pill meant sexual liberation. Sexual liberation meant women felt empowered. Nothing says empowerment like breaking the rules, and sending the hemlines north did just that.

The mini was a drastic divergence in colour and style to post-war Britain of beige, brown and yellow. The mini skirt came alive made from bold block patterns, paired with daring tights. Fashion was fun and expressed youth's desires for change in the sixties.

These days the miniskirt isn’t necessarily worn as a symbol of protest. It may have rid itself of its political, rebellious undertones but we have the visionaries of the 60s to thank for the wardrobe staple we still love so much today.

Make Your Own

Let’s continue the history of the miniskirt and get creating your own. Our Hanna skirt is perfect for this - it has a simple A Line shape and you can change the length to as short as you dare! Why not join us for a SEW ALONG CLASS TO MAKE YOUR OWN, or grab yourself the HANNA PATTERN HERE!

We're also introducing HANNA KITS. Get everything you need ready in this handy set - paper pattern, fabric, thread, a zip and interfacing! BUY YOURS HERE

make a skirt kit

equipment and materials to make a skirt

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