Women’s (Style) History Month: Mary Quant

We all know the name Coco Chanel and have probably seen at least one of the films about her life, even if it’s the awful/awesome Lifetime movie starring Shirley MacLaine. And while we drool over Chanel handbags as much as the next girl, there are other women who have influenced fashion perhaps just as much as Coco. Mary Quant — who may or may not have invented the miniskirt, hello!–is one such lady.

Born in England, Mary began her fashion career with a job at a couture milliner. Then, in 1955, she opened Bazaar, a store in London that catered to a younger set, a demographic she felt was underserved. Shortly after, Mary began designing her own line of clothes to sell there, and her empire took off. After success with her original line, she launched the Ginger Group, an even lower-priced collection. (Wasn’t she ahead of her time? Today, designers like Alexander Wang, Richard Chai, Rodarte, and more either have their own diffusion lines or partner with a mass retailer for the same effect.)

And people of various income levels shopped at her store, much like how celebs rock fast-fashion clothes from H&M and Zara today. “Snobbery has gone out of fashion, and in our shops you will find duchesses jostling with typists to buy the same dresses,” she said.

There’s some disagreement as to whether Mary invented or merely popularized the miniskirt. Either way, she had a hand in putting women in short skirts during the ’60s and coined the term, naming them after the cute little car — the Mini — she loved. “I designed it for myself, for art students and all the girls in the Chelsea Set,” she told The Telegraph. “They loved it. But city chaps used to knock on the windows of my shop with their umbrellas and think it was outrageous.”

After making her mark on ’60s fashion (patterned tights, hot pants, and white go-go boots were all her influence), Mary moved into housewares and makeup in the 1970s. She resigned as director of her cosmetics company in 2000 after a Japanese buyout, but there are still more than 200 Mary Quant Colour stores in Japan. And clothes featuring her signature daisy continue to pop up on street style blogs.

[Victoria & Albert Museum, The Telegraph, Britannica, The Guardian, The Independent, Time, Style.com]

Celebrate National Women’s History Month on The Frisky this month! We’ll be highlighting cool, inspiring ladies and talking about the ways women have gotten ahead over the years.