Updated: Sep 13, 2019
“Once, only the rich, the Establishment, set the fashion. Now it is the inexpensive little dress seen on the girl in the High Street. These girls… don’t worry about accent or class…. they are the mods.”
A quote from the V&A Mary Quant exhibition about women’s fashion changing in the 1950s and 60s. This is how Mary Quant built her brand. She gave post war Britain an innovative future and young working women a new attitude and a new fashion.
But this quote is completely relevant today - if that quote doesn’t sound like ‘Instagram influencers’ I don’t know what does; having big fashion brands sponsoring girls on Instagram to wear their clothes. This quote perfectly demonstrates a big part of fashion - trying to appeal to the normal girl, and these ‘normal girls’ on social media setting the trend. Quant was extremely instrumental in creating that new trend.
Quant is revolutionary in women’s fashion, in fashion in general, making it all about the ‘normal’ young woman and letting that woman be her own person. The V&A has an exhibition, which is on now until 16th February 2020, that lets you see many designs and outfits that opened the door to women being able to express themselves through fashion.
Now, fashion has always been a way of expressing your personality however before the 60s fashion repressed women, although many outfits were beautiful and stylish and represented a version of women - women are complicated, and can be many things all at once. Quant’s fashion allowed women to feel young and free - it gave them clothes that were different to what the generation before were wearing; it opened a gap between them. These clothes introduced the idea of 'youth' rather than being a child to adult. And rather than having women be poised and delicate in their clothes, it let them jump, run and let out all their energy - rather than repressing it.
In a video in the exhibition a former model commented that Quant’s “fashion shows were like a party.” Quant worked with so many new creative people on the scene at that time and that poured out at her shows - she wanted to show her passion and give young women a space to be themselves. As Ernestine Carter said in 1973 "Mary Quant... Blasted a hole in the wall of tradition through which other young talents have poured."
Going round the exhibition I heard many women comment to each other about remembering buying items, or tales from when that style came into fashion. To form this exhibition the V&A sent out a social media campaign called #WeWantQuant and many women have donated their cherished items to be displayed here, this makes the exhibition more personal - for many women she is the image of their youth.
This exhibition starts at her first success in her experimental boutique Bazaar and continues through to the 70s showing how her brand found it’s staple in British fashion. She was designing clothes for the new race of women who were questioning attitudes and had opinions of their own - she was making wearable and fun clothes to feed the flames of this liberation in women.
There are so many items of clothing that we now would consider ‘the norm’ for young women to be wearing, such as the mini skirt - a defining London fashion statement - tights in all colours and patterns, waterproof mascara and a piece that was called a ‘towelling loungewear bodysuit’ but we would now call them ‘oneies.’
Other notable pieces in the exhibition are The Ginger Group, Quant's OBE dress, many Daisy Doll items and sticker books which Joan Corlass collaborated on with Quant and a dress made from natty striped twill called ‘Bank of England’ which makes a political statement about how a women could not open a bank account without written permission from a male relative. Many other clothes have similar names which point to political messages.
With many videos of Quant herself talking on making the clothes this exhibition is very rich - there are several pieces from each collection and it shows such a vast range of all her looks. With many accessories and merchandise in between.
“I didn’t want to grow up perhaps that’s something to do with it” an exhibition quote from Quant. And I think thats what her clothes reflect. Being a child allows you so much freedom, and Quant wanted that freedom to not be lost. For me, as a young woman, it is so important to look round the exhibition and see how this space was carved out for us by Quant and how fashion can play such a big role in women's history.
Gallery Images - Caroline Louise Hamar
Quotes from the Exhibiton
Written by Caroline Louise Hamar.