‘Odd gear at the Palace’ declared The Daily Mail in 1966, describing the outfit Mary Quant wore to her O.B.E. ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Breaking with convention, even by today’s standards, Quant went to receive her award from Queen Elizabeth, wearing a cream-coloured, wool jersey mini-dress. It stopped seven inches above the knee and was accessorised with cut-out gloves and a matching beret.
The iconoclastic spirit of the sixties and Mary Quant’s pivotal role in the stylistic experimentation of the period, are often connected with the mini-skirt. But they are less often connected with the commonplace, and seemingly mundane fabric, jersey. Jersey is a stretchy, weft-knitted fabric, which we have grown so accustomed to wearing, that we rarely notice it. But it was not always so. As The Daily Mail headline shows, the use of jersey in womenswear was, at one point, highly conspicuous.
The jersey dress in question, was an adaptation of a dress from Lord and Taylor’s ‘Intimate Apparel’ range, which Quant had bought in New York. She can be seen wearing it – provocatively eyeing up the camera – on the paperback cover of her 1966 autobiography, Quant by Quant. The fact that Quant marketed her adaptations of this jersey dress as ‘underwear as outerwear’, highlights key elements of jersey’s movement into womenswear and the cultural connotations that it brought with it.
Extract from the Renaissance issue. Words by Dani Trew Mary.
Mary Quant is the subject of a fascinating exhibition on at the V&A Museum. With over 200 garments and accessories, including unseen pieces from the designer's personal archive, discover how Mary Quant launched a fashion revolution on the British high street. Until 16 February 2020.
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