Mary Quant launches her footwear collection in 1967instagram/dresshistorians

Twiggy, posing in a jersey dress, coloured tights and brogues, has come to be the face of women’s fashion in the 1960s. And not without good reason: if there was a womenswear trend, Twiggy was probably photographed wearing it. But the shortening of hemlines, the cropping of bobs and the advent of The Mini Skirt are constituent parts of a much bigger movement: mod.

"Club culture, music, fashion and art came together to birth a movement defined by youthful hedonism and rebellion."

The mod subculture surfaced in the late 1950s. The name itself is an abbreviation of ‘modernist’, owing to the original mods’ penchant for modern jazz. Jeff Noon, author of The Modernists, explains that the movement sprung from a lifestyle created by a community of working-class men in post-war London, who drew inspiration from cultural revolutions taking place in Europe: namely Italian neorealist cinema and the existentialist movement in France. Club culture, music, fashion and art came together to birth a movement defined by youthful hedonism and rebellion. By the mid-1960s it had swept the whole country, providing an escape from a decade of gloom following World War II in Britain.

Twiggy in Mary Quantinstagram/retrofashionphotography

The original mods listened to Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, but the movement is best remembered for its association with the 1960s’ pop-rock bands. Groups like The Kinks, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones not only boasted big followings among the mods, but themselves adopted a mod look in line with the cultural revolution around them: the ‘Beatle boots’ became a 1960s menswear staple. Bands like Small Faces and The Who emerged almost directly out of the movement, with Pete Townshend of The Who famously declaring: “We stand for pop-art clothes, pop-art music, and pop-art behaviour.” Pop art, then, was in its heyday: at once inspired by artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein across the pond, but equally distinct as a British movement. Artists like Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake came to prominence; the latter designed several album covers for The Who, as well as the cover of The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band’.

"For the first time, the brands-to-know were those selling relatively affordable clothing that appealed to the masses, a world apart from the proudly exclusive realm of haute couture."

By the late 1950s, Britain was starting to see a revived interest in clothes and a return to the high street. Carnaby Street and King’s Road in London became the hubs for trendy, up-and-coming boutiques catering to the young and hip. For the first time, the brands-to-know were those selling relatively affordable clothing that appealed to the masses, a world apart from the proudly exclusive realm of haute couture. Mod menswear involved sharp tailoring, US-Army style parkas, Beatle boots, French Nouvelle Vague-inspired hair styles and an Italian-made motorbike to finish the look (a Vespa or Lambretta, preferably). John Stephen, known then as the ‘King of Carnaby Street’, was the go-to choice for menswear, boasting a client list of the era’s biggest bands; he famously dressed The Kinks, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Bee Gees. He was known for his flamboyant and daring designs: coloured pinstripe and plaid suits in particular.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album coverinstagram/music_album_reviews._

At the end of the 1950s, mod womenswear was no different. The style was androgynous, embracing the movement towards sharp tailoring and adapting men’s blazers and suits. This was before the arrival of Mary Quant on the scene. Often credited with popularising the miniskirt, the British designer’s first Ginger Group collection was mass-produced in 1963 and led to women of all social strata flooding her King’s Road boutique. Her staples were the sleeveless shift dress, the tunic, the rib-knit sweater and brightly coloured tights; she had a penchant for jersey fabric, Peter Pan collars and PVC. And her brand wasn’t all hotpants and miniskirts; she continued to challenge the traditional notions of ‘womenswear’ with collections full of tailored trousers, dungarees and breeches. Her ‘Chelsea look’ was more of a lifestyle - brought into vogue by Twiggy and other British ‘It’ Girls, Quant famously claimed that ‘the fashionable woman wears clothes, the clothes don’t wear her.’

Small Faces in a Carnaby Street boutique in 1966instagram/hungonyouboutique

Some of her styles had already been pioneered in France by haute couture designer André Courrèges, the ‘inventor’ of the miniskirt, who also brought Go-Go boots à la mode and, like Quant, worked with PVC, geometric prints and primary colours. But Quant’s achievement went further; she democratised the decade’s fashion, and her clothes would represent every woman.

King's Road in 1966instagram/60smodmadness

The influence of the mod subculture on fashion is ever-present today, in the very existence of items like parkas, knee-high boots, PVC outerwear or shift dresses on our high streets. It was a movement that stopped looking to the runways, to the Diors and Chanels of the day, and started creating for itself, to meet the demands of the era’s young, dynamic consumer. That was mod’s biggest sartorial triumph.