Mary Quant: Freedom In A Dress.

On Tamara’s recommendation we went to the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A in London. Your intrepid reporter reports…

Because of Mary Quant and her Bazaar shop in the King’s Road, Chelsea ceased to be a small part of London; it became international. Its name said there was a new way of living and a new way of dressing. It was a break: It wasn’t what your mum wore, any more.

In 1960, Quant and her partner flew to New York, just two years after the first commercial transatlantic flight. British newspapers publicised Quant’s exciting venture, epitomised in a terrific photograph of Quant and her partner Plunket Greene. They are hand in hand but separated; each is a complete person – woman as well as man. With them on a lead is a very English sheepdog, and they are all running down Fifth Avenue in New York, running towards us into a bright, free, go-getting future.

American journalists pushed her ‘kooky’ look, which increased her celebrity status. Quant pitched her clothes and ideas to US buyers in upmarket department stores. She met fashion editors and she got down to business – touring the garment district, she was at home in that world, impressed and eager to make the most of the scale, pace and organisation of American ready-to-wear. Her ground-breaking designs were displayed in New York store windows.

Manufacturers spotted Quant’s unique ‘Chelsea’ style and its appeal to the youth market and youth culture, and recruited her for their designer collections. Quant learned about efficiency, scaling, pricing and sizing from American manufacturers, and in exchange she gave them British ‘cool’ that American consumers adored. By 1965, she was regularly commuting between New York and London. She was international.

Mary Quant’s designs are sexy, but only when they are worn. On their own they are boyish, echoes of schoolgirl uniforms, designed for a small bust, a small frame. The colours say freedom and ownership, owned by those who wore them.

The exhibition is on at the V&A in London until the 16th Feb, 2020. It’s on two floors, with videos of Mary Quant talking about how she started, what she did and why she did it. And of course, there are the clothes.


  1. writemeow says:

    I remember the Mary Quant brand so well from my youth! Not so much the clothes as the make-up! I can see the Mary Quant flower-logo for my inner vision …


    1. The exhibition had a lot about her makeup. How she invented the big mirror in the make-up box, and the little squares of colour you could mix to make a new shade each day. And that she spent years researching the materials before marketing the make-up. And the daisy! She used to doodle them and they became the logo for the brand.


      1. writemeow says:

        Fascinating … and how little we knew about it back then. I used to doodle that daisy too 😊.

        I remember Twiggy from the same era, and some street in London where we all wanted to go — could it have been Carnaby Street?!


        1. Yes, it was Carnaby Street. It is still there – Ray Ban and Muji shops now…


        2. I felt self-conscious when I went to Carnaby Street in my late teens. Freedom to ‘be’ was dependent on how free you felt… I had white bell-bottom sailor trousers with double rows of buttons to gain access. And a bag I liked very much – a horse feed bag or something in khaki canvas, and little bells on threads on my belt. I liked the sound of them – comforting in some way. It took a long time to find me and what I wanted in all of that.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. writemeow says:

          I don’t know that I felt all that free … but I remember a bag I had, it was white and furry (!) with a very long shoulder strap. Not sure I’ve found me yet and I better hurry up LOL

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Joan Miller says:

    I never had Mary Quant makeup (Yardley was big in the states!), but ooh that green zipper dress! Brings me instantly back to my limey-olive green dress, made of something smooth and wrinkle-free like polyester, and had a long zipper down the front with a big circle as a zipper pull. I loved that dress and still miss it!! Wish I had it today. I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I remember my 60s Mod clothes. I can’t explain it. It’s like opium for my brain. Makes me feel good. I’ve been re-living the 60s, my “happy place” for the past couple years. It’s a happy escape, warm and comforting as a security blanket. Clothes, music, flower power. I guess I’m a forever flower child. Beats reality.


    1. Nice. Whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright – as the song goes. And yes, it was a good time – positive ideas, new ways of doing things rather than just knocking and complaining about everything.


      1. Instantly have a play-loop running David; thanks for that. While I certainly remember the Name, the Style, the makeup; no Twiggy I (and have always HATED polyester… ; )


        1. – a generation adopting the uniform, but how many were stick-like Twiggies?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Lol, luckily, never felt the need to ‘follow the crowd’ either; )


  3. Tamara says:

    Glad you enjoyed the exhibition, David — and hurrah for Mary Quant who was THE clothing and fashion super trailblazer!

    I just read in the V&A members’ magazine (from this past spring) that she fought hard to get the brilliantly vibrant hues for fabric which she used.

    Kudos, Mary!! 👏🏻


    1. When I think of the colours, I think of the clever shades rather than standard primary colours – Habitat rather than Woolworths.


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