Knee-highs are hosiery that covers the leg up to the knee. Typically worn by
women in western society, these garments have become a global staple of modern
semi-formal dress. They are generally made of nylon or other pantyhose material.
Demand for such articles exploded during the 1960s and 1970s with the increase
in popularity of the miniskirt.
The miniskirt (often hyphenated as mini-skirt) is a skirt with a hemline well
above the knees (generally 20 cm—about 8 inches—or more above knee level). The
mini was the defining fashion symbol of "Swinging London" in the 1960s.
After World War I, hemlines had risen rapidly. By the mid-1920s, dresses worn by
young "flappers" were often above the knee which was only allowed by the
abandonment of the constraining corsetry of Victorian and Edwardian times. The
miniskirt's existence in the 1960s was generally credited to the fashion
designer Mary Quant, who was inspired by the Mini automobile, although the
French designer André Courrèges is also often cited as its inventor (the French
referred to it as la mini-jupe), and there is disagreement as to who invented it
first. Some give the credit to Helen Rose, who made some miniskirts for actress
Anne Francis in the 1956 science fiction movie, Forbidden Planet.
Recently, Marit Allen, a Vogue "Young Ideas" editor at the time, has stated that
"John Bates, in particular, has always been completely unappreciated for his
contribution to the innovation and creativity he brought to the London design
scene." He bared the midriff, used transparent vinyl and, Marit Allen asserts,
was responsible for "the raising of the hemline. It was John Bates, rather than
Mary Quant or Courrèges, who was responsible for the miniskirt." Bates' costumes
and accessories for Diana Rigg, as Emma Peel in the ABC-TV series, The Avengers,
from 1965–7, helped to define "Mod style". . As The Avengers' filmed episodes
were made several months before screening, Avengers producer Brian Clemens
confirmed in interviews that the miniskirt designed by Bates was a "gamble",
since they did not know if it would catch on in public or be seen as a fashion
failure by the time the episodes aired. However, Emma Peel's fashions were
accepted by the public and even spawned a line of replicas of her clothes for
public sale. Another more "immediate" proponent of the miniskirt on television
was Cathy McGowan, who introduced the weekly British rock music show, Ready
Steady Go! (1964-6).
Mary Quant and Jean Shrimpton
Mary Quant ran a popular clothes shop in the Kings Road, Chelsea, London called
Bazaar, from which she sold her own designs. In the late 1950s she began
experimenting with shorter skirts, which resulted in the miniskirt in 1965—one
of the defining fashions of the decade.
Owing to Quant's position in the heart of fashionable "Swinging London", the
miniskirt was able to spread beyond a simple street fashion into a major
international trend. Its acceptance was greatly boosted by Jean Shrimpton's
wearing a short white shift dress, made by Colin Rolfe, on 30 October 1965 at
Derby Day, first day of the annual Melbourne Cup Carnival in Australia, where it
caused a sensation. According to Shrimpton, who claimed that the brevity of the
skirt was due mainly to Rolfe's having insufficient material, the ensuring
controversy was as much as anything to do with her having dispensed with a hat
and gloves, seen as the essential accessories in such conservative society.
Minidresses worn at wedding in South East England, c.1972
The miniskirt was further popularised by André Courrèges, who developed it
separately and incorporated it into his Mod look, for spring/summer 1965. His
miniskirts were less body-hugging, and worn with the white "Courrèges boots"
that became a trademark. By introducing the miniskirt into the haute couture of
the fashion industry, Courrèges gave it a greater degree of respectability than
might otherwise have been expected of a street fashion.
The miniskirt was followed up in the late 1960s by the even shorter micro skirt,
which has been referred to derogatorily as a belt or pelmet. Upper garments,
such as rugby shirts, were sometimes adapted as mini-dresses. Tights or
panty-hose became highly fashionable, in place of stockings, specifically
because the rise in hemlines meant that stocking tops would be visible. Mary
Quant cited this development in defence of the miniskirt: "In European countries
where they ban mini-skirts in the streets and say they're an invitation to rape,
they don't understand about stocking tights underneath".
During the mid-1970s, the fashion industry largely returned to longer skirts
such as the midi and the maxi. Journalist Christopher Booker gave two reasons
for this reaction: firstly, that "there was almost nowhere else to go ... the
mini-skirts could go no higher"; and secondly, in his view, "dressed up in
mini-skirts and shiny PVC macs, given such impersonal names as 'dolly birds',
girls had been transformed into throwaway plastic objects". Certainly this
lengthening of hemlines coincided with the growth of the feminist movement.
However, in the 1960s the mini had been regarded as a symbol of liberation, and
it was worn by some, such as Germaine Greer and, in the following decade, Gloria
Steinem , who became known for their promotion of women's issues. Greer
herself wrote in 1969 that:
The women kept on dancing while their long skirts crept up, and their girdles
dissolved, and their nipples burst through like hyacinth tips and their clothes
withered away to the mere wisps and ghosts of draperies to adorn and glorify .
Indeed, miniskirts never entirely went away and, for example, were often worn by
Deborah Harry, of the group Blondie, during the "new wave" of the late 70s. The
song (I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea (1978) by new wave artist, Elvis Costello,
contained the line, "There's no place here for the mini-skirt waddle".
1980s and 90s
In the 1980s, short skirts began to re-emerge, notably in the form of "rah-rahs",
which were modelled on those worn by female cheerleaders at sporting and other
events. In the mid-80s the "puffball" skirt enjoyed short term popularity, being
worn by, among others, the Princess of Wales and singers Pepsi and Shirlie. Many
women began to incorporate the miniskirt into their business attire, a trend
which grew during the remainder of the century. Films and television series made
in the mid-1990s (Friends, Sex and the City, Ally McBeal, for example) show how
ubiquitous the mini had become again. In the BBC TV series Keeping Up
Appearances (1990-5) the snobbish Hyacinth Bucket was frequently outraged by the
brevity of her sister Rose's skirts.
Around the turn of the 21st century, hipster trousers became highly fashionable
for women. The micro has been reworked as an even less substantial beltskirt,
which is more an evocation of the idea of a skirt than something that covers
anything substantial. It may perhaps also provide rhythm for the hipline. Due to
its revealing nature, the beltskirt is rarely worn in public. Miniskirts are
also seen worn over trousers or jeans, or with leggings that provide coverage of
each leg from above the knee. Although "floaty" skirts were most closely
associated with the boho look of the mid noughties, short skirts also featured
in some outfits and in London, for example, minis were more widespread during
the hot summer of 2006 than for several years, a trend that continued through
the mild autumn and winter and into the following summer. Mini skirts are now
becoming more common for younger generations.
Sometimes miniskirts can lead to Upskirts depending on the way the person is
sitting or the shortness of the skirt, such as if wearing a pleated miniskirt
and walking up the stairs, the underwear or buttock can easily be seen. However
if wearing a tighter skirt or denim skirt, it is a bit harder to notice.