Fadshions – ‘Ya-ya’ The First Miniskirt

This should forever end the debate over who ‘invented’ the first miniskirt. It turns out it wasn’t Mary Quant, or Andres Courreges, or John Bates, or Rudi Gernreich, or Marimekko… Although not yet called ‘miniskirts’, the earliest above-the knee dresses date from the spring of 1960. The photograph at left dated June 3, 1960 pictures Annalisa Posen (then known as Alice Honzal) wearing the girlishly short hemmed skirt with fellow model Cynthia Doucette. Annalisa recalled in an email conversation that it was her first modelling job in Canada, and that later that day they appeared on a Toronto television show, modelling the above-the-knee styles.

A quote about the history of miniskirts on wikipedia references a May 28, 1960 article from the Montreal Gazette that cites the origin of the short style coming from the manager of an unnamed shop in London’s Oxford Street who was experimenting with short skirt hemlines on window mannequins, and noted how positively his customers responded. Despite this, the style didn’t catch on, but two years later another attempt to bring in shorter skirts occurred, but this time they were called ‘Ya-ya’ skirts.

Thanks to James Fowler for unearthing this following snippet from the Canadian fashion industry news magazine Style, that reported on July 9, 1962:

“The Ya-Ya skirt, recently launched in England, was introduced recently to the west coast by Marjorie Hamilton with traffic-stopping impact…The controversial… skirts… on a girl of average height, a Ya-Ya reaches about eight inches above the knee if worn with a crinoline. There is a six-inch hem for any length alteration required… Commenting on the Ya-Ya the other day, the curator-historian of the costume department in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum said: “This is more than a concession to the sun. This fashion emphasizes that women are seeking a matriarchal state, that they desire to grip and hold men’s attention and gain their subjection. Not since the days of bare bosoms have women been so studiedly carefree in their clothing”.” 

Ya Yas with more modest just above the knee hems

Speculating on the possible origin of the name ‘Ya-Ya’, there were two popular songs at the time. Lee Dorsey’s 1961 hit Ya Ya “Sittin here la la, waitin’ for my ya ya – a-hum, a-hum….”, and the Ya-Ya Twist first recorded by Richard Anthony in 1961 and then Petula Clark in 1962. Although English, Clark often sang in French and was considered one of what the French called the ‘Yé-yé girls’ for their choruses that had a lot of ya/yeah refrains.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.

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3 Responses to Fadshions – ‘Ya-ya’ The First Miniskirt

  1. How long would they be without the crinolines under, though? And it strikes me that THIS is obviously the unidentified article referenced in the beginning of the 60s Wikipedia article on miniskirts, all the references fit in with what was posted on there.

    • Jonathan says:

      I didn’t check wikipedia on this but you are right, there are references to a Montreal Gazette article from 1960, and the Mexican article that I found when I was researching miniskirts for my book several years ago but couldn’t find yesterday when I was writing this blog – good to have those! I have also been in conversation with one of the models in the top picture, who had the caption and date – pushing the style back to 1960! This is substantiated by the Montreal Gazette article from May 28, 1960!

      By the way, do you know who the Victoria and Albert costume curator would be they are referring to in 1962?

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