Mary Quant: the V & A’s time machine


I am still reeling from the impact of yesterday’s visit to the V & A’s Quant exhibition.

We met at 11 in the main foyer, and sensibly opted for coffee first, to catch up on some of the ludicrous number of years since our last meeting.  Despite having seen each other only perhaps half a dozen times in the last 50 years, the intervening time dissolved almost instantly, in the way that often overtakes old friends. Perhaps the women below had a similar experience when they gathered for the grand opening. 


They  were Quant’s models.  They seem in as good nick as the garments on display.

Lesley and I first met in 1963, and sat next to each other most school days until 1970, when we left our respective homes for very different universities. We were thought of as upright and reliable students, which by and large we were. Occasionally when things got very boring one of us would feign illness while the other acted as escort to the loos. Our worthy reputations went before us; our behaviour never questioned.

We lived in a northern provincial backwater. 60s pop culture eventually reached us; the Stones toured the seaside theatres in the early 60s, and some of us saw the Beatles perform live – twice. (This contributed massively to my street cred later in professional life. Pupil millennials were awestruck: ‘you saw the Beatles live?’!)

But 60s fashion ? how did that reach us? I can’t remember how. But by 1964 I was attempting a black and white, dog-tooth, very short jersey tunic dress in our dreary needlework lessons (fairly disastrous, but I wore it – over my prized nylon black polo necked sweater); and by 1966 I was the proud owner of a very short skirt, shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, finished off with a close-fitting jumper I’d knitted myself.

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In 1967 a family trip to London resulted in the purchase of two A line dresses from Selfridges with zips up the front (very daring) and shoes I adored; by 1968 I actually owned a cape; and in 1969, my crowning glory : a purple PVC mac.

Sadly, it was all downhill for me after 1970 when a family tragedy blocked the light for many years (though I managed maxi dresses in the 70s – see above)

It was extraordinary how this wonderful exhibition brought so much back !

It was as if time had flipped backwards: standing in the company of a close school friend, in the midst of all those wonderfully familiar designs, colours, shapes and materials. We were enveloped by the ethos and vision in which had grown up: ‘girls can be boys’;  liberating garments;  flat functional footwear that you could run in; and strong physical presence, loud statement and self confidence.

And it wasn’t unwearable, unaffordable, haut couture. It was a high street look available to all. Even those of us from Scarborough! And we loved it!

It closes on 16 Feb 20 – don’t miss it! [especially if you’re 65 + and female]


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