Myth Information – The First Miniskirt — ‘Ya-ya’

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. The two images below dating from 1962, both from Women’s Wear Daily, refer to 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”.” 

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.

Myth Information – Quant and the Miniskirt

An oft-told tale is that Mary Quant ‘invented’ the miniskirt – a myth she didn’t readily deny, but when pressed she admitted she did not invent it anymore than Courreges or anyone else, and I agree with her. The mini was an ‘air du temp’ development that was already around in little girl’s dresses, performance and sportswear. Many designers picked up on the knee-baring hemline for town wear around the same time in 1964 – but it was really the teenaged girls, especially in Britain who also bought a lot of Quant clothing, that hiked the hemlines up higher, exposing the inner thigh.

14657311_10154032252626270_7300984314602835059_nRegardless of the facts, the myth continues, but thanks to Daniel Milford-Cottam, a friend of mine who works at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the myth can now be unravelled from the facts. I think one of the biggest culprits for the miniskirt myth is the illustration to the left that first appeared in a 1973 retrospective exhibition catalogue at the Museum of London entitled ‘Mary Quant’s London’ but has also appeared in several other fashion histories. The three dresses pictured are of popular early Mary Quant designs dating from (left to right) 1958, 1960, and 1963.  The image was supplied by Mary Quant for the exhibition catalogue, who, I have been told, also supplied some of the dresses in the 1973 exhibition – many recreated by Quant specifically for the exhibition in shorter lengths than originally designed,  emphasizing the mini myth. These dresses are now residing in the Museum of London or the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The original designs can be seen in these three images, showing their more modest, and accurate ‘just below the knee’ hemlines. The first dress shows the knees, but that’s because Mary Quant, who is wearing the dress, is sitting down:

Who wears short shorts – in 1937?

I would love to know the back story on this photo! It was taken in front of the Simpsons department store in Toronto in 1937. I am assuming the two women in the short shorts are chorus girls on a quick break from their work in a theatre across the street (there were several opposite Simpsons in the 1930s, although most had been converted to cinemas by the late 1930s.) Otherwise, I can not think who would wear these outfits on the street in 1937 without worry of being arrested. The next time any hem that short appeared on the street in Toronto was thirty years later!