While it would have happened eventually, a slow burn rather than an explosion, on this day in 1965 the mini skirt had its official debut as worn by model Jean Shrimpton at the Derby Day races in Melbourne, Australia.
The invention of the modern day mini is attributed to British designer Mary Quant (there is some historical reference to a garment similar to a miniskirt being worn in Egyptian times), but Shrimpton’s appearance in a short dress that would seem demure by today’s standards caused a fashion revolution to go mainstream.
Shrimpton was the world’s first supermodel, paid to appear at events in garments by certain designers or manufacturers; in this case textile manufacturer DuPont de Nemours International had engaged her to promote their new fabric, Orlon. The whole wardrobe was custom-made by designer Colin Rolfe, and kept secret, with no media previews.
So when Shrimpton appeared at the derby revealing her knees – and a few teeny inches of her thighs – the official excuse was that Dupont had not sent enough fabric to make the dress the intended length. That the model also appeared without gloves or stockings at a very stuffy and conservative event probably didn’t help.
However, changing morals, youthful rebellion and that crazy rock and roll music meant that the mini skirt was quickly embraced by British – and then world – youth culture and has never really gone away. The hemline has moved up and down, as hemlines do, but it’s no longer considered risque, even when it reveals underwear.
Alternative sub-cultures also embraced the mini skirt and encompassed the garment into part of the uniform for punks, goths and mods. Here’s a look at the progress that little bit of fabric has made…
The hippie movement of the 60s moved into some crazy crafty stuff in the 70s, where young women were encouraged to, yes, knit their own minis.
Debbie Harry of Blondie helped take the mini into other realms, from the mainstream garment of schoolgirls and secretaries to something far edgier.
Punk and goth women incorporated the mini into the wardrobe, paired with studded belts and torn tights. Who among us didn’t own a leather (or faux leather) mini in the 80s?
Early 80s mods and skinhead girls, who mostly dressed in the same masculine style as their male counterparts, added the mini in the same fabrics they’d wear in trousers – denim or twill.
And then came Madge… and stretchy cotton lycra, and our worlds were changed forever.
In the late 80s and 90s, we continued with the slinky cotton lycra trend, a style that exists to this day in the form of “body con” dressing.
Alright, for the life of me I can’t track down the name of the designer for these totally cool 1960s-era Pan Am air hostess uniforms (a competing airline at the time had uniforms designed by Pucci), but they came with stylin’ red go-go boots. Back then, this look was considered perfectly acceptable, although recently a Japanese airline caused a fuss (and garnered accusations of sexism) by dressing hostesses in skirts of a similar length. I’d kill for one of the red and pink numbers, though… but I’d likely wear it with leggings.
The mini has proven itself as a must-have essential in every woman’s wardrobe. And I know plenty of friends who are still weird and wouldn’t give theirs up for anything. Happy 50th anniversary to the mini skirt! Let’s see where you go in the next half century.
This article originally appeared on Still Weird Zine.