Jayne Dawson: The mini skirt – fifty, fun and a whole load of trouble

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Some people live through turbulent times. Imagine being diarist Samuel Pepys. He was in the crowd when King Charles I has his head chopped off, not pleasant but undeniably a big day.

Then he lived through the Puritan days of Oliver Cromwell, who did a lot of good things but also cancelled Christmas, which is where I would have fallen out with him.

And he was still around when Charles II made England a fun place again – at least if you were rich, and had not been mates with the crowd who had chopped his father’s head off.

And Winston Churchill. He’s another. A major in the First World War, the country’s charismatic leader in the Second World War. In between fighting depression and slugging whisky, he inspired a nation with his iconic speeches. Now that’s what I call a life.

But, not to be left out, I too have lived through turbulent times. They have not involved the execution of kings, or the fighting and winning of world wars, but in their way they have seen massive changes – in skirt lengths.

Do not mock too much, for it is certainly true that our clothes tell a vivid story of the world we live in.

My fate was to grow up in the age of the mini but then, in the middle of my teenage years when I was most likely to be scarred by any difficult experience, legs went out of fashion. But then they came back in again, and then they went back out again. I’m simplifying it to make the reading easier. The truth is hemlines went up and down faster than ... well, use whatever image you like but I’m saying Victoria Beckham’s hair extensions.

It meant that hemlines preyed on our minds a lot, which is probably why I failed my maths. Basically, fashion was completely dictatorial. There was no self-expression because we were still a country only decades away from a world war. You were either in fashion or you were not.

Life was one long grind of trying to find the money to buy whatever skirt fashion dictated you should wear that week. Sometimes they were on the knee, sometimes on the knicker line, sometimes on the ankle. It was a lot to cope with.

So. Mary Quant. She who is synonymous with the mini skirt is in the news this week because her invention is 50 years old, and I am in two minds about whether her big idea should be celebrated.

On the one hand, I’m thinking it should be, but that is because many years ago I met Mary in a waiting room and she was kind. She admired my baby and squashed a 50p piece in its little hand, a curiously old-fashioned gesture for the queen of modern, but one that left me thinking she was a nice person.

Then again Mary was responsible for some of my most angst-ridden moments: my legs were too thin! I needed to wear three pairs of tights with two pairs of socks of top; then in the blink of an eye my legs were too fat! I needed to wear only black tights for life.

Then skirts became midi and suddenly my ankles were too thin and I needed to wear only white tights for life! Then they turned mini again and ... 
it was as exhausting as it sounds.

It wasn’t all Mary’s fault, but because of her I spent too much time and money buying tights in different colours, and standing at the end of our street rolling over the waistband of my skirt, until I revealed a great deal of leg and an apple-shaped middle.

And too much time being told off by a certain teacher, who had me down as the wrong sort of girl based on my skirt length, and said things to me of which I am convinced more enlightened teachers would disapprove.

So Mary, you are a good person and I salute your 
work, but I wish you had invented a nice bit of furniture instead.

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