Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scandalous Savoir Faire

They still talk about it to this day back in Australia when the Melbourne Cup is run each year, how the most beautiful girl in the world shocked a nation and set a fashion trend that would be one of the most significant of the century.

Jean Shrimpton the ‘it’ girl of the 1960’s turned up at the most prestigious horse race in the country in…….. wait for it….. a dress five inches above the knee, NO hat, NO gloves and NO stockings!

The fashion company Orlon had hired her in 1965 to present prizes at the event, didn’t really brief her on her assignment and shock horror (compared to today) did not even provide her with a wardrobe, instead opting to send her some fabric which she could use for outfits.

She was left to design what she wanted and had them made up. She hired a dressmaker, Colin Rolf, who discovered there was not sufficient fabric for her designs. He then said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Make them a bit shorter – no one’s going to notice.” However, notice they did!

"The day of the races was a hot one, so I didn't bother to wear any stockings. My legs were still brown from the summer, and as the dress was short it was hardly formal. I had no hat or gloves with me, for the very good reason that I owned neither. I went downstairs cheerfully from my hotel room, all regardless of what was to come."

The classic photo (below) taken of her that day showed a dramatic contrast -- in the foreground, the young, carefree, independent Jean her in her famous minidress, and behind her, a crowd of scowling middle-aged Melbourne matrons dressed in regulation twin-set, pearls and hats. It justifiably became one of the iconic images of Sixties Australia.

Suddenly the mini, which had had a half-hearted start in Paris, became fashionable. “Mary Quant rode in on the back of it, immediately making shorter skirts. Many people gave her credit for the new craze, but the truth was that the mini took off because Orlon had been stingy with the fabric.”

To quote a newspaper of the time…

The shockwaves were still rumbling around fashionable Melbourne last night when Jean Shrimpton -- The Shrimp -- swore she hadn't realised she was setting off such an outraged upheaval at Flemington on Saturday.

"I don't see what was wrong with the way I looked," she said. "I wouldn't have dressed differently for a race meeting anywhere in the world.'

For my money, she looked tremendous -- but Flemington was not amused. Fashion-conscious Derby Day race goers were horrified. 'Insulting' ... 'a disgrace' ... 'how dare she?' ... ! If the skies had rained acid not a well-dressed woman there would have given The Shrimp an umbrella.

Society was vitriolic with the below also being said…

"If Miss Shrimpton wants to wear skirts four inches above the knee in London, that's her business, but it's not done here. I feel we do know so much better than Miss Shrimpton ... we all dress correctly here."

The British press also had their go reacting angrily to the Australian criticism of Jean, as shown by the London Evening News, which said that "... surrounded by sober draped silks and floral nylons, ghastly tulle hats and fur stoles, she was like a petunia in an onion patch."

The actual day of the cup being run Ms. Shrimpton bent towards conservatism and public opinion wore a three-piece grey suit with an ice-blue straw Breton hat, beige gloves and stockings, and a chocolate-brown handbag.

My how things have changed! Ms. Shrimpton with a bit of natural savoir faire caused a revolution with an outfit that would hardly cause a ripple in today’s fashion world!


  1. How gorgeous she was, truly the look of the 60s. I wonder, is that a fabulous Bvlgari brooch on her white mini dress?

  2. Belle, I know she was just gorgeous! I wish we could get a closeup to see what the brooch was like. I am not sure but I remember seeing a colour photo once and it was in browns and oranges.

  3. "a petunia in an onion patch"? Love it!

    Gotta use that one one day.

  4. Jason, Its a classic. I also loved
    "If the skies had rained acid not a well-dressed woman there would have given The Shrimp an umbrella."

  5. It's a far cry from today - Jean, with her careful makeup, healthy hair, rather demure 4-inches-from-the-knee minidress, and elegant kitten heeled shoes, seems positively conservative compared to the Jersey Shore tramps and Kardashian coochies that show up at various "celebrity" events.

  6. TJ- I know. Its such a shame that "celebrity" has stopped so low and the public just loves it!


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