White shift dress of Jean Shrimpton
|White shift dress of Jean Shrimpton|
|Artist||Jean Shrimpton/Colin Rolfe|
|Type||White shift dress|
On 1965 Derby Day at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia, English model Jean Shrimpton wore a white minidress that sparked controversy and was later described as a pivotal moment in women's fashion. The dress was made by Shrimpton's dressmaker, Colin Rolfe, and its hem was 4 in (10 cm) above the knee because he had not been supplied with enough fabric to complete their intended design.
In 1962, the Victoria Racing Club, faced with waning crowd attendance at racing events in Victoria, Australia, added a "Fashions on the Field" competition to the program for the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival races held at Flemington Racecourse. The competition was intended to woo female racegoers in particular.
Three years later, in 1965, textile manufacturer DuPont de Nemours International engaged Jean Shrimpton, then the world's highest-paid model, to travel to Australia to be a judge in the 1965 "Fashions on the Field". Her fee for the two-week visit was £2,000, an enormous sum, equivalent to at least a year's wages for the average Australian man. Even the Beatles had been paid only £1,500 for their tour of Australia in 1964.
During the four days of the 1965 Spring Carnival events at Flemington, namely Derby Day, Melbourne Cup Day, Oaks Day and Stakes Day, Shrimpton would be promoting Orlon, DuPont's new acrylic fabric. DuPont sent Shrimpton rolls of Orlon so that she, in conjunction with her London dressmaker, Colin Rolfe, could design a secret wardrobe for her visit.
It has been said that Shrimpton, more than any other model of the 1960s, can lay claim to having been the world's first supermodel. Her visit to Australia was highly anticipated and was regarded as bringing international glamour and prestige to the Spring Carnival, which was the social and fashion event of the year. It was expected that when attending Derby Day, she would be wearing a beautiful hat and accessories, including gloves and stockings, which were de rigueur for the ultra-conservative Melbourne establishment.
The garment Shrimpton and Rolfe developed for Derby Day was a simple white shift dress. However, DuPont had not supplied enough fabric to complete the intended design, so at Shrimpton's suggestion, Rolfe improvised, by finishing the hemline 4 in (10 cm) above the knee. Shrimpton later claimed to have told Rolfe that "nobody's going to take any notice…" She also later told The Australian Women's Weekly magazine "I always wear my day dresses above the knee."
There was absolute silence in the members' lounge at Flemington when Shrimpton arrived two hours late, accompanied by her then-boyfriend, Hollywood actor Terence Stamp. Her outfit contrasted starkly with the conservative attire of the other racegoers, and she was openly scorned by them, particularly as she was defying protocol by wearing no hat, stockings or gloves. As well as being the target of catcalls from men and jeers from women, she was surrounded by kneeling cameramen, all shooting upwards to make the dress look even shorter.
Shrimpton's Derby Day outfit scandalised the nation, and caused a global sensation. In the following Monday's edition of The Sun News-Pictorial, a Melbourne tabloid newspaper, the Derby and its winner were bumped from the front page by the now-famous photo by Ray Cranbourne. Alongside that photo was an article about Shrimpton:
— The Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne, 1 November 1965)
Conservative Australia was shocked. Former Lady Mayoress of Melbourne, Lady Nathan, accused Shrimpton of being "a child," and even prominent Australian model and columnist Maggie Tabberer was critical. Radio stations and newspapers published editorials for and against the outfit, and Shrimpton defended it. "I don't see what was wrong with the way I looked. I wouldn't have dressed differently for a race meeting anywhere in the world", she was reported as saying at the time. The controversy quickly spread to Britain, where the press angrily defended Shrimpton, with comments like this one:
— London Evening News (November 1965)
All eyes were on Shrimpton on Melbourne Cup Day, 2 November 1965. Under pressure from her sponsors, she was dressed and accessorized entirely in keeping with accepted convention: a three-piece grey suit with a straw hat, beige gloves and stockings, and a brown handbag. But she could not avoid further discussion of her Derby Day outfit: "I feel Melbourne isn't ready for me yet. It seems years behind London," she said.
Shrimpton's appearance at Derby Day 1965 has since been described as the pivotal moment of the introduction of the miniskirt to the international stage, although London designers such as Mary Quant had promoted it the year before. The media attention surrounding Shrimpton's Derby Day appearance has been said to be a defining moment in fashion at the races. Designers quickly imitated the dress; according to The Age in 1966, "Last year's controversial Miss Shrimpton would have passed unnoticed in the crowd this year. Anyone with hemlines below the knee looked very 'old hat'." Angela Menz, the 2011 fashion competition winner, stated that "By today's standards, Shrimpton's dress was actually quite long".
The Derby Day dress has also had broader impact. Ray Cranbourne's famous press photo and the event it portrayed have even been the focus of serious academic analysis, in both Australia and England. According to the Australian analysis, Shrimpton's Derby Day appearance was the moment when a global youth culture began to shape young Australians' sense of style. A reviewer of that analysis has claimed that all the young girls wanted to be like "the Shrimp": free, cool, and elegant.
In an interview published in 2009, Shrimpton was reported as accepting the blame for the Derby Day controversy. She had presumed simply that she was being asked to attend the races because of who she was rather than what she would wear. She had had no intention of upsetting the racing hierarchy but had just not been sent enough material for a longer dress.
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