Mary Quant - Fashion Revolutionary - Inventing Cool

Mary quant 1960s vintage fashion

Photo: Getty Images


I was lucky enough to finally get to Bendigo to view the Mary Quant exhibition at the Bendigo Gallery. My young friend, attending with me, had never heard of Quant, and before we went she asked me why Quant was referred to as a fashion revolutionary. 

Quant was one of the first designers to aim designs at the youth market. She designed the clothes that young women wanted to wear. Up until this time, with a few notable exceptions such as the bobby soxers, young women dressed like their mothers. Look at old photos of teens and more than likely you'll think they're in their thirties because of the way they wore their hair and dressed - just like their mothers. It was just what the acceptable thing was. Look at this photo of my father, aged 15, with his first girlfriend, taken in 1949.

My Dad and friend, both aged 15, in 1949

 The top models up until the 1960s were also mature women in their 30s. That was the market for fashion designers.

Quant said she didn't want to dress like her mother, and so began designing the clothes that women in their teens and 20s would like to wear. She also wanted to design garments that were obtainable for the average working girl. More and more young women were entering the workforce and creating a growing market. A Mary Quant dress would have been a week's wages for an office girl in the '60s, but it was doable. Until the early '60s, Paris was the headquarters of fashion, and a dress from a Paris designer was out of reach of most women, catering only to the rich and famous. Quant helped to switch fashion's headquarters to London for a while. It was Carnaby Street for men and the King's Road, home of Quant's store Bazaar, "an open air cat-walk"(1)  for women.   

The Rolling Stones, with Pattie Boyd wearing Mary Quant, 1964  (Photo: John French)

 "A creative influencer of her time, Quant popularised miniskirts, tights, waterproof mascara and other products women take for granted today". (2) Quant was an astute business woman who embraced mass production and merchandising. Her daisy logo was instantly recognisable.

Photo: Benjamin Evans

This exhibition included not only garments designed by Mary Quant, but shoes, tights, make-up, handbags, sunglasses and a whole series of fashion dolls - and of course their clothes. In the 1970s Quant also branched out into home furnishings. The cosmetics and hosiery industries were particularly lucrative. 

Mary quant 1960s vintage fashion

Quant appealed to sub-cultures such as the Beatniks and her name is synonymous with Mod style. She challenged traditional stereotypes, and her designs were always fun.

Gender Bending

Quant "borrowed from the boys" (3) , subverting menswear staples to create fun pinafore dresses and wardrobes for young women wanting a bit of edginess. 

Butcher-stripe dress 


Waistcoat & Tie Dress

Man's dress shirt re-imagined

"Rex Harrison" dress, his famous cardigan look S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-D

Lolita v. Victorian Miss

Quant incorporated ideas from children's wear such as Peter Pan collars and smocking. Antique details were given a modern twist and Liberty and William Morris prints were also given a fresh spin.

Liberty Print Smocked Dress

Mary quant 1960s vintage fashion

Pantsuit in a William Morris print 

Mary quant 1960s vintage fashion

Liberty print dress with Peter pan collar

Mini Skirts

These started off at knee level and just kept heading north!

Photo: Benjamin Evans

Photo: Benjamin Evans


In the 1960s it was common for women to wear pants for casual wear, but many restaurants and clubs banned entry to women wearing pants. Pants were an integral part of each Quant collection, pushing for acceptability in all social situations. Quant once said "I didn't have time to wait for women's lib."

mary quant 1960s vintage fashion

Circular zip pulls are a Quant trademark

And lounge wear

Wet, Wet, Wet!

In 1966, Quant launched a wet collection, featuring garments made from PVC.

Mary quant 1960s vintage fashion

Make-up, Tights, Accessories (and Dolls!)

Queen of merchandising.

Mary quant 1960s vintage fashion

Glitter tights and rubber shoes

Mary quant 1960s vintage fashion

Photo: Benjamin Evans


The curators summed it up this way: "by bending the rules and testing different gender roles and identities with affordable, well-made clothes to enjoy, empower and liberate, [Quant] predicted the opportunities and freedoms of future generations". (4)

My young friend summed it up this way: "It's SO cool!"


(1) Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary, 2021, exhibition notes.

(2) Exhibition notes.

(3) Honey, 1965

(4) Exhibition notes.


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