Minidress, Maxi Drama

Minidress, Maxi Drama

Jemma Posch looks at an iconic hemline and an iconic fashion photographer of 1960s Australia

Laurence Le Guay, Model in Lacy Dress Posing in Front of Flowers, 1960s, nla.cat-vn1091208

The 1960s was an exciting decade—not only was our National Library born, but this was also a time of radical change throughout Australian society and the world. Fashion served as a fabulous mirror to these changes, as evidenced by Laurence Le Guay’s photographs in the Library’s Pictures Collection. Le Guay enthusiastically embraced the Zeitgeist: ‘This is easily the most exciting and freest time for photographers. You can innovate. You must’. He moved his models out of the studio and into the street—the new hot spot of sartorial expression—and instilled his photographs with refreshing dynamism and fun that made him a pioneer in Australia and brought him international standing.

This photograph from the Le Guay collection is a vibrant example. The model stands on the footpath outside a flower shop in a pose suggesting she has paused mid-stride to reach up and admire the larger-than-life blooms that cascade down around the shop entrance. Her long, lithe outstretched limbs give a sense of movement and potential energy, and her pose creates a strong geometric shape, perfectly enhancing that most iconic of 1960s garments, the minidress.

This radical piece of attire swung sensationally into Australia’s consciousness and wardrobes in 1965 when English model Jean Shrimpton appeared at Derby Day in a shift dress whose hem defiantly sat inches above her knees. While it no longer shocks our twenty-first-century eyes, when the mini hem length was introduced in the 1960s, it was one that hadn’t been seen since prehistoric times and a provocative expression of changing mores. It represented the new wave of feminism and the rise of youth, rebelling against their parents’ conservative attitudes and formality. The minidress also demonstrated the shift from haute couture to ready-to-wear fashion as trends began to ‘bubble up’ from young people in the new high street boutiques rather than trickle down from fashion houses.

The central market for fashion was no longer the elite socialite of pre-war times, but the hip young working girl. As one such mover and shaker, Australian actor Noeline Brown played her part in the bumpy integration of these new freer social concepts into a staunchly conservative Australian society:

I remember an outfit I wore, consisting of a turquoise tabard worn over a black top and long pants, which somehow didn’t meet the dress standards of Chequers Nightclub when I went there one night. I was informed by the bouncer that my trousers were unacceptable, which I thought was ridiculous, as I was standing near a poster for the club featuring near-naked women dancing around on stage. I slipped out of the slacks, handed them to the man at the door and was allowed in.

Clearly, when a glimpse of thigh was involved it was easier to get on board with the newfound feminist concept of women’s sexual freedom, as expressed by minis like the one in the Le Guay photograph. Even though pants covered more up, accepting them as anything other than a masculine garment proved more difficult.

Jemma Posch is an Image Content Coordinator at NLA Publishing, the imprint of the National Library of Australia.

View the Le Guay photograph collection in our catalogue and read more about Noeline Brown’s favourite decade in Living the 1960s.