BBC History Magazine

The mini dress makes waves at the races

Swinging Sixties model Jean Shrimpton causes a stir by baring her knees


Derby Day, and Melbourne was agog. The Victoria Racing Club had started a ‘Fashions on the Field’ event to attract younger visitors, and in 1965, they had pulled off a coup. At a cost of £2,000, textile firm DuPont persuaded Jean Shrimpton to fly from London to judge the fashion show.

To many in 1965, the 22-year-old Shrimpton was not just the world’s most celebrated model. She was a symbol of modernity itself, the embodiment of Swinging London. No wonder the Australian press were excited.

Shrimpton and her dressmaker, Colin Rolfe, designed a white shift dress using DuPont’s new acrylic fabric, Orlon. But they did not have enough so Rolfe had to cut it short, about four inches above the knee. Also, the day of her appearance was hot. Shrimpton chose not to wear stockings, a hat or gloves.

She never imagined the fuss to come. When Shrimpton walked into the members’ lounge, there was a long, appalled silence. “There she was, the world’s highest-paid model, snubbing the iron-clad convention­s at fashionabl­e Flemington in a dress five inches above the knee, NO hat, NO gloves, and NO stockings!” gasped the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial.

Later, this was seen as the moment the mini-skirt was born, even though Shrimpton was actually wearing a dress. But to the British press, the furore merely proved that Australia was decades behind the times. “Surrounded by sober draped silks and floral nylons, ghastly tulle hats and fur stoles,” the Evening News said witheringl­y, Shrimpton looked “like a petunia in an onion patch”.

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