I didn’t have time to wait for Women’s Lib – Mary Quant, 2021
While in lockdown WBT has been looking at street art, now we venture into fashion. British fashion took off in the 1960s during the sexual revolution. One of its exponents was Mary Quant, a designer with a talent for self promotion. Quant studied illustration at Goldsmiths College and opened her first boutique in Chelsea. Her art has now come to Bendigo in Victoria in the form of a striking exhibition.
“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” – Jenny Joseph, Warning.
We went along to see what the fuss was all about. The exhibition of women’s clothing was held in the Bendigo Art Gallery right next door to the Trades and Labour Council building. It was particularly well attended, possibly because of the breakout from Melbourne’s covid restrictions relaxed just that morning. Many of the women attending were in their 60s and 70s. In the gallery cafe before the exhibition started, sat a group of women wearing red hats, a society of friends.
In the 1960s, at a time when women were earning better wages and could afford a more independent lifestyle Quant designed simple more affordable garments that could be mass produced and sent world-wide.
“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” ― Doris Lessing
According to the curator(s) of the exhibition:
In this time of growing activism and struggle for equal rights, Quant has a visionary take on the role of women leading by speaking out, working hard and taking risks. Her assertive liberating mini-dresses express the changes of post-war Britain, giving women a strong, independent style of their own,
Her designs in the later 1960s and early ’70s continue her favourite theme of challenging traditional stereotypes, while Quant herself wears increasingly androgynous, gently feminised and casual versions of masculine tailoring, as if to prove the point.
However, she credits her King’s Road customers as her inspiration and the ones leading the feminist rebellion. In 1967, she describes the young as, prototypes of a whole new race of women … It’s their questioning attitude that makes them important and different’.
Quant designs fun, wearable clothes for this new race, with fashion that enables free movement and self-expression.
Many of the clothes exhibited, shown in the images below, could be worn today.
While the New Left was challenging US imperialism in Indo-China and French colonialism in Algeria, Mary Quant was at the forefront of globalisation of women’s fashion. So it is not surprising that Quant did not identify with women’s liberation or political women like Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, or Doris Lessing.
After all, her brand relied upon women remaining as principal consumers in the capitalist system, worldwide. The exploitation in the dark satanic mills continued apace while trendy fashion became the rage.
18 June 2021