Mini Skirt - 60s - Models.

© Roger Harvey

It was a great British innovation. It should be in our hall of fame alongside railways, light bulbs, and parliamentary democracy. It gave us the shortest clothes and the longest leg-show in history — and the mini just won’t go away. The short skirt may be 50 years old, but it’s never going to look old-fashioned.
Hemlines were rising through 1963 and 1964, unimpeded by the plain skirts, pinafores, and shift-style dresses of the time. Then couturier André Courreges offered geometric designs with coats and dresses shorter than ever. Jean Shrimpton appeared at a race meeting in a skirt well above her knees, and David Bailey’s photographs displayed the style around the world. The mini-skirt had arrived and for the next few years you couldn’t keep a fashionable hemline down, despite traditional British objections to such things. The predictable condemnations from pulpit and headmistress’s lectern sounded ludicrous at the time and seem even sillier now the ultra-short skirt has, ironically, become a standard of school uniform.
charlotte rampling - miniskirt - 60sMini-skirts were instantly popular and the style dominated High Street fashion as millions aspired to the leggy look. Any girl without her knees on show was instantly outdated, and most were willing to reveal them to shocked parents and ogling boyfriends. The history of fashion illustrates the curious fact that while men have remained quick to cover themselves up in everything from armour and cloaks to three-piece suits and trench coats, women have always been eager to display as much of their bodies as current decorum has allowed. After the bare shoulders, backs, arms, and enticingly displayed cleavages of Fifties glamour, it was the turn of legs to go on parade.
The irony was that in normal wear, the mini-skirt revealed no flesh. It was traditionally worn over a barrage of knickers and tights, the latter rapidly replacing stockings as basic leg wear for millions of women. The new focus on legs also brought new creativity to shoe design, and boots in all varieties were worn as never before. While the fantasy was of a girl flaunting her legs and an overt sexuality, in reality her modesty was usually well protected. Only on summer days, when her tights mightbe discarded and trendy boots replaced by sandals, did she go public with more bare skin than had been seen for centuries.
Yet the mini-skirt was coy, even chaste. Unjustly denounced by the fuddy-duddies as the costume of revolution and debauchery (or at least hypothermia), it was actually a “girl-next-door” fashion. True social and sexual rebels of the Sixties wore jeans or long dresses, frequently with nothing underneath. The mini-skirt might be cheeky and sexy, but remained wholesome and fun.
What it could never project was sophistication, an image rarely sought by its wearers anyway. A woman seeking to achieve a sinuous line found her traditionally mysterious allure was lost in a mini-skirt. It represented an exact opposite to the curvaceous elegance of previous decades which had reached a high point during the 1950s in the swirling wake of Dior’s New Look. This new look was dauntingly simple, angular, light-hearted, and above all young. It did no favours to a woman without youth and a sense of fun. The only mystery was in guessing how many inches the hem was riding above the knee.
Of course what goes up usually comes down, and as early as 1968 there were reactions to the mini-skirt, culminating in maxi lengths at the end of the decade and a proclamation in 1970 that the mini was dead. Of course it wasn’t. If hot pants took over the task of showing off legs for a couple of summers, they were shortly replaced by a returning mini-skirt which has been revived ever since with happy regularity. Its perennial joy from a man’s point of view is obvious; to women it has given much more than freedom from flapping skirts. Once established as something beyond a fashion fad, its acceptance alongside other styles brought to an end decades of tiresome adherence to changing hemline lengths. By the end of the 20th century, a woman could have long, short, and medium skirts in her wardrobe and feel fashionable in all of them. Thanks to this sensible attitude, the mini-skirt is with us still, albeit looking considerably raunchier than in the days of its innocence when modelled by Twiggy and featured on postcards of Swinging London.
So, at 50 years old, the mini-skirt is both Sixties icon and enduring fashion favourite bestriding two centuries. But is its greatest glory the fact that it liberated women from the tyranny of hemline fashion, or just that it shows off a girl’s legs? In search of the answer, I promise to keep looking.

Mini Skirt - 60s - Air Hostess

Used Kind permission of "This England" magazine

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