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Fashion through the ages

5 April 2019

Over the decades, fashion trends come and go, some repeat themselves whilst others become timeless staples that we couldn’t imagine our lives and wardrobes without.

Words: Ella James

THE SIXTIES MEAN MARY QUANT

The 1960s were arguably the birth of the modern age and the fashion that came with it. People were thinking differently and dressing differently.

At the beginning of the sixties, young shoppers were experiencing their highest incomes since World War Two and they were evidently eager to splash the cash on fashion that would allow them to make a very loud and personal statement. Mods, hippies and beatnik styles spoke volumes about the new, free-spirited attitudes of the younger generations. Attitudes were bold and so were the prints.

It’s partially thanks to fashion designer Dame Mary Quant and her now iconic styles, that fashion in the sixties got a little brighter, a little more fun and, of course, a little bit shorter. Even if you’re not familiar with Quant herself, you’ll most definitely recognise her era-defining designs that include the miniskirt.

In 1934, Mary Quant was born in London, the city that she would one day inspire with her cutting-edge – yet totally wearable and accessible – designs. The self-taught designer showed a flare from a young age, and is said to have cut up her own bedding from the age of six in order to create new outfits for herself. Her parents, two Welsh teachers wouldn’t allow their daughter to attend fashion school, but a compromise was met and Quant was granted permission to study art.

Quant achieved a diploma in art from Goldsmiths, University of London, where she met her future husband and business partner, Alexander Plunket-Greene. Despite her parent’s initial resistance over their daughter’s voyage into the fashion industry, she was quick to demonstrate a young, contemporary and knowledgeable persistence that would prove to be a huge advantage over older, existing designers who were unable to relate with the younger generation just begging to spend their money on statement-making garments.

Hugely aware that there was a gap in the market for affordable clothing, in 1955 Quant and Plunket-Greene opened a fashion boutique named Bazaar, on the now iconic Kings Road, London. The budding designer produced striped sweaters, patterned dresses and knee-high boots, all of which remain on the fashion scene today. Mary Quant oozed the London look.

Just as the offering of online shopping has done today, Quant appeased her youthful market. The retail experience she provided as a result of creating wonderful window displays and putting on sociable fashion shows spearheading the retail experience for the doting customers. Of course, these tactics still work wonders for retail in 2019.

As the sixties hit, the demand for any item touched by Mary Quant exceeded all expectations. A second store opening and her era-defining fashions were exported to USA in huge volumes. All of this fame and success before Quant’s most superlative creation; the miniskirt. Females all over the globe went wild for the miniskirt. After all, it was so much more than an item of clothing; it was an attitude and an expression that even now, resonates with females.

In 1966, following roaring success in her own fashion and cosmetic ranges, Mary Quant accepted her Order of the British Empire for her contribution to the fashion industry. Quant picked up her award at Buckingham Palace, wearing a miniskirt, of course. This year, an exhibition on Mary Quant will open in London’s Victoria and Albert museum on April, showcasing the sheer extent of Quant’s incredible reign on the fashion industry and beyond. After all, miniskirts are amongst a long list of Quant’s designs that are just as popular today as they were in the sixties.

THE SEVENTIES MEAN BIANCA JAGGER

Despite having being married to Mick Jagger, Bianca was one stylish rolling stone on her own accord.

Bianca Jagger, the muse to Yves Saint Laurent, close friend of Andy Warhol and first wife of Mick Jagger, was often in the limelight and not solely due to her famous ring of family and friends. Often, it was her daring and spectacular sense of style, paired with unwavering confidence. The seventies fashion icon knew exactly how to command attention. Now, we couldn’t possibly list every style triumph of this bona-fide style icon, but we can certainly pick a few of our favourite looks that have defined the way we dress today.

Jagger always made an entrance, and we must begin by mentioning arguably the most ntoeable of them all. In 1977, on her own birthday, the young starlet arrived at the famous New York nightclub, Studio 54, atop a white horse. Usually, she left the livestock at home and let her outfits make the statements instead with a number of her Studio 54 looks, including chokers, over-sized headwear and heavily sequined garments and animal print, continuing to inspire the fashion pack today.

The former actress was always among the first to embrace the trends of the seventies, including satin slips (yes, the ones that are trending massively again), pearls and bell sleeves to name but a few. If Jagger was seen wearing it, its success and longevity was near guaranteed. However, it’s the two-piece suit that she really catalysed to the top of the list when it comes to the best fashion trends of the decade.

Until Jagger’s wedding day in 1971, suits were donned primarily by males. They signified status and responsibility. It was Bianca Jagger who defied these gender expectations on numerous occasions, including her special day, and made them the ultimate statement in power dressing for females. When the Nicaraguan-born activist married her Rolling Stone in St Tropez, she shunned the ever-traditional, frilly white dress and opted instead for a white suit that had been designed and made for her by a Saville Row tailor Tommy Nutter. This iconic look is still replicated today. In fact, model Emily Ratajkowski donned a similar suit on her own wedding day in 2018, and continues to favour two pieces over dresses for many social events, as do many present day celebrities and influencers.

As with all fashion icons, some fashion faux pas occur; a walking stick being one of them. Jagger was often seen holding a walking stick at parties and fashion shows for purely aesthetic purposes. That was until she fell during a roller-skating accident and actually required the aid.

The seventies have passed, Bianca and Mick’s marriage has ended and the injury hurts no more, but Jagger’s stance in the fashion industry is still as strong and sturdy as ever. Today, Bianca Jagger is making waves with her work as the founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, a trustee if the Amazon Charitable Trust and member of the Executive Director’s Leadership Council for Amnesty International USA. But rest assured, her timeless style is still totally flawless.

THE EIGHTIES MEANS MADONNA

The eighties were arguably the riskiest years when it came to envelope-pushing style; not just for pop icon Madonna, but for anyone looking to make a personal or even political statement through dress. Madonna’s music was wild, statement-making and rebellious, and so was her wardrobe.

It was Madonna, with the help of a number or additional fashion icons, who spearheaded these trends into the spotlight, thus inspiring the general public to follow suit. At a time when Madonna was omnipresent on every stage, television and in every publication, it’s little mystery the clothing choices she made somewhat inspired and encouraged observers.

While we’ve toned things down a notch, there’s no denying the styles that came to life in the eighties are still present in our wardrobes today. Let’s take high-waisted jeans for example; we all own a pair, don’t we? Statement jewellery, sheer hosiery, leather jackets, bustiers, leopard print and leggings are amongst a long list of recognisably eighties-born trends that have proven their longevity. Even a few of the more questionable trends of the era have made numerous reappearances on the fashion scene in the years since. Neon garments, oversized logos, scrunchies and even bike shorts (much to our dismay) have re-emerged; regularly being sported by celebrities the globe over.

The eighties were truly the era of the extremes. Shoulder designs were hugely padded or entirely non-existent. Whilst off-the-shoulder styles allowed for a rebellious amount of skin to be on show, it’s a style that still proves hugely popular (and more widely accepted) today. Structured shoulders are still in play and just as popular in 2019, albeit downsized and more subtle.

The Queen of Pop has had enough iconic style moments for an entire book, if not an exhibition. With each of her iconic albums came an equally iconic reinvention of her personal style. The most famous designers in the world revelled in the opportunity to dress Madonna, but when she was looking to make headlines, Madonna always turned to Jean Paul Gaultier. The French haute couture designer was the man behind some of her career-defining looks, including the conical bra (oh you know the one) that sold for $30,945 at an auction in 2001. The structured corset and bra has been recreated time and time again, with many a celebrity eager to cause the same stir that Madonna did. I’m looking at you, Kim Kardashian.

Madonna’s influence on society was evident to see. Granted, not all people opted for the tulle dress, fingerless lace gloves and ribbed corset combination from the Like A Virgin days. But, in most youngsters, you could spot where Madonna had been an influence. Bleached hair, ribbons, and perms were never commonplace before Madonna, ever present in the media, favoured them.

Fashion and beauty were translated into attitudes, and Madonna’s attitude was rebellious, determined and exciting. And whilst her garish eighties looks are recreated for dress-up parties time and time again, subtle style aspects have almost certainly made their way into your modern wardrobe. So, next time you’re rocking a leather jacket or animal print accessories, you can surely give a nod to Madonna and the eighties trends that helped define her – and, in turn, us.

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