Tag Archives: Mary Quant patterns 1960s

Skirt Lengths in the 1960s

I do intend to write about the way pantyhose changed our lives, but first I want to lead a brief tour through the 1960s’ skirt revolution that made pantyhose necessary.

Mary Quant was the quintessential “Youthquake” designer of the 1960s. You really could not wear traditional stockings with the skirt on the right.

In fashion there are very few absolutes, but I’ll share a group of images I’ve collected. Keep in mind that not all women follow fashion slavishly, and that even within one country, some areas will be more conservative than others.

Early Sixties:

Many people think that all the “short skirts” of the Sixties were mini-skirts. Not true. The skirts we wore in the early 1960s came in for some criticism because they were short in relation to the skirts of the 1950s. It was only near the end of the 1960s that skirt lengths exposed more leg (and thigh) than was ever before shown by fully dressed adult women.

Left: We sometimes forget how long skirts were in the late Fifties. Right: three years later.

It’s surprising to see how long the post-war “New Look” remained main-stream fashion. From 1947 to 1956, Dior’s influence dominated.

1956. This Butterick suit pattern is still long and tight-waisted, like Dior’s 1947 collection.

1956. These hems are several inches below the knee.

1957. Simplicity 2311 is four or five inches below the knee.

Then hems began to rise.

Left to right: 1957, 1958, 1959.

We can understand that the skirts of 1959 did look shockingly short after ten years of mid-calf fashions.

I started high school in 1958. Our school uniforms had brown wool skirts with stitched-down pleats, and came well below the knee. Skirts continued to rise in the early 60s, but in my school the line was drawn at the bottom of the kneecap. By 1961, if a teacher or hall monitor thought your skirt was too short, you would be asked to kneel on the floor. If the hem didn’t touch the floor while you were kneeling, you would be sent to the principal’s office where a seam ripper was waiting. (I mention this because it tells us that by 1961 girls were trying to wear mid-knee skirts.)

The skirts of Butterick 9082 would easily have passed the “kneeling test.”

1959. Butterick 9082.

1960. These women’s dresses (Butterick) cover the knee and then some.

However, in the same year other designs just covered the kneecap.

1960. A McCall’s dress that just covers the knee.

1958 to 1960: Skirts are getting shorter. It’s the Sixties, but they’re not mini-skirts yet.

In fact, hems that just covered the knee were the norm for a while:

1961. Vogue 5251 covers the knee — but may not when the wearer is walking….

Keep your eyes on this spot, where the curve of the calf bends in.

From now on, we’ll have to look for the spot where the curve of the calf indicates the bottom of the knee.

1963. Empire styes were an option. Kneecaps were hidden until you sat down.

1963. This Marian Martin pattern was aimed at conservative dressers. But it’s the same length as the Butterick pattern above.

Marian Martin pattern 9495 from 1963.

It’s good to look at patterns sold through newspapers, since they were aimed at rural and small town women — women who did not have access to department stores. I was surprised to see that the lengths are in step with fashion.

[My husband grew up in small-town Texas, while I grew up near fashionable San Francisco, California. We’re the same age. He and I kept disagreeing on what teenaged girls wore in the Sixties — until we realized that the girls he remembered lived in North Texas, which is still quite conservative.]

Later Sixties:

1964 was the year the Beatles came to America. British fashion, at least for young people, suddenly went from notoriously dowdy to trend-setting. Young women began to dress differently from their elders — and from sophisticated adult fashion models.

1964 fashions for women — hems rising slightly.

1964. Notice the “calf curve” point on the red one. The knee cap is appearing.

1964: Designer Mary Quant, Carnaby Street, Mods, a “Youthquake” in British-inspired fashion. This dress is girlish, not aspiring to womanly sophistication.

In 1964, teens no longer aspired to become sophisticated women. Youth was the new ideal.

1964. Coat and dress by Mary Quant for Butterick. It’s illustrated in two different lengths — one exposing the knee.

People waiting for the mini skirt to appear may feel that “now we’re getting somewhere!” However, this model’s Vogue pattern partially covers her knees even when she’s sitting. (I had a hat like that and those gloves designed for 3/4 sleeved coats, circa 1965.)

1964. Vogue pattern photographed for Elegance.

1965. Littell was another featured designer. These hems are mid-knee.

Those outfits by Deanna Littell are suitable for business or travel, but the ones below (not by Littell) are definitely for the young.

1965. These outfits are for teens and Junior sizes (“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!”)

1965. Butterick Fashion News. These are not teen dresses; they are suitable for office work or church. The one on the right would have struck my younger self as middle-aged!

By 1965, knees were bared.

1966. An entire wardrobe from Simplicity, No. 6882. Bare knees.

1966. Vogue patterns for adults. All  have bare knees.

1966. Vogue Designer patterns. Definitely not for teens, but they all show hems that bare the entire knee.

It appears that by 1966, a woman who did not bare her knees was out of fashion. (As a senior in college, I often wore these short skirts with opaque tights.)

1967. These basic Simplicity dresses were worn to school and to offices. This pattern is in teen/Junior sizes, but grown women wore the same clothes.

1967. I had a store-bought dress very like the one on the right, but not quite so short: it was light blue paisley linen blend, with a bow at the white collar. Notice the low-heeled shoes.

1967. The classic shirtdress was mini-length, too.

1967. Mary Quant continued to go shorter and shorter.

1967 was also famous for the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco. It was getting hard to find dresses the weren’t this short! These were the years when I took every new dress straight to the fabric store and bought matching 2 inch hem tape so I could let the dress down before wearing it. Sitting on a cold cable car’s wooden seat in one of these was unpleasant…. Panty-hose or tights were a blessing.

1968. Mary Quant again. I wore drop-waisted dresses like the one on the right (without that scarf) to my job in a bank.

1968. A McCall’s dress that is definitely not aimed at teens, but at women. A good look for the office or for church; it’s rather dressy.

1968. Again, dress patterns sold through newspapers echo the short hems of the major pattern companies.

1969. Very short skirts that bare the knees and several inches above the knee (mini-skirts) are mainstream fashion.

But the very shortest skirts were yet to come…

1970. Butterick dress patterns expose knees and several inches of the thigh. These are true mini-skirts.

1970. A chart of all the possible skirt lengths being worn. From Butterick Fashion News, July 1970.

Even that chart didn’t include the shortest of the short skirts:

1970. A “micro-mini” with matching bikini briefs. Butterick Fashion News, July 1970.

It makes the mini-skirts of the 1960s seem tame by comparison.

Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that in 1970 the bank I was working for announced that female employees would finally be allowed to wear pant suits (or trousers with a matching top) to work. In the fall of 1970, I returned to teaching high school. I was glad that trouser suits were soon permitted in the classroom, too. It was a conservative (“men wear the pants in this family”) Central California community, but around 1970 we had reached the point where trousers were often less shocking than dresses.

It’s often hard for young teachers to maintain discipline in high school classes. I knew some young male teachers who grew beards or wore jackets and neckties just to look older. Here’s a piece of advice about classroom discipline and those very short 1960s’ and 70s’ dresses: turning your back to a class full of adolescent boys when you reach high to write on the chalkboard while wearing a mini dress is not conducive to the ideal learning environment…. Better to be a little out of fashion!

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Vintage Couture Designs