×

Jean Shrimpton: The 'Most Beautiful Girl' Of The '60s (And First Supermodel), Then And Now

Icons | November 7, 2020

Glamour 1965: Model Jean Shrimpton wearing shrimp-colored suede suit with cardigan jacket by Viola Sylbert for Highlander Sportswear, black straw hat by Emme Boutique, gold earrings by Trifari. (Photo by Francesco Scavullo/Condé Nast via Getty Image

Considered to be the world’s first "supermodel," Jean Shrimpton was the It-Girl of the 1960s who epitomized the sought-after "Swinging London" look, setting the mold for how fashion would become. She was acclaimed as the “Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” “The Face Of The ‘60s,” and “Most Photographed In The World” with her large eyes, fringe bangs, slim figure, and long legs. Shrimpton not only posed for the covers of all the top magazines of the untamed decade, but she can also be credited as liberating women through one simple statement piece: the mini skirt. 

The term "supermodel" became common in the '80s, to refer to the likes of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Cindy Crawford; and '70s stars like Lauren Hutton and Beverly Johnson have been retroactively deemed supermodels. But before all of these, there was Jean Shrimpton.

Jean Shrimpton Worked On A Farm As A Child

Source: Magnum Photos

Shrimpton was born in Buckinghamshire in 1942 and started her glamorous life working with animals on her family’s rural farm. As many women were unfairly encouraged to do, Shrimpton had intended on becoming a secretary and enrolled at Langham Secretarial College in London when she was 17. As fate would have it, she ran into director Cy Endfield at a drugstore and was invited to audition for his film Mysterious Island. While the audition was unsuccessful, Endfield suggested she attend a modeling academy which prompted Shrimpton to transfer over to a London modeling school, the Lucie Clayton Charm Academy. At age 17, she was a full-time model.

From Cereal Ads To Fashion Magazine Covers

Source: Pinterest

Shrimpton was shooting an amusing Kellogg’s Corn Flakes advertisement in 1960 with photographer Brian Duffy when she caught the attention of David Bailey. Bailey was a photographer famous for capturing the swinging fashion and culture of the ‘60s through his cutting-edge photos and promoting these looks to the rest of the world. Bailey noticed Shrimpton’s striking appearance was strong enough to go beyond cereal ads so he used her for a 1962 editorial "Young Idea Goes West" for British Vogue, and from that point on both Bailey and Shrimpton’s careers were launched into fame and fortune. Shrimpton became Bailey’s primary model in his photographs, and Shrimpton has stated that she owes her career to the man. The pair eventually began a relationship that would last until 1964. Bailey admired Shrimpton’s humbleness as despite being a top model, she didn’t really focus on her looks and cared more about animals and people than being photographed.

Source: Pinterest

Shrimpton was innovative in the way she changed fashion and how women were expected to present themselves. She broke the mold of the standard fancy, elegant, and reserved styles and embraced the youthquake movement of the time with fashion that was bold, colorful, playful, showing more skin than what was typically accepted at the time. Prior to the ‘60s, women were supposed to keep their bodies confined as it was seen as more “lady-like,” but Shrimpton, along with many other icons of the ‘60s, helped the female species realize fashion could be fun and a way to express oneself and rebel against unfair expectations. By age 21, Shrimpton was a star nicknamed “The Shrimp” and could be found on all the top magazines of the day with the clothes she wore in photographs selling instantly to young women trying to emulate her.  

Shrimpton’s Mini Skirt Caused Both A Controversy And A Revolution

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

Shrimpton’s progressive fashion style served her well in London, but it caused a rather scandalous situation in the land down under. Australia’s Victoria Racing Club invited Shrimpton to attend the Melbourne Cup Carnival races to judge the “Fashions On The Field” competition in 1965. Dressmaker Colin Rolfe was hired by DuPont de Nemours International to construct a dress with their new fabric Orlon for Shrimpton to promote. However, Rolfe was not given enough of the fabric to finish the original design of the dress so Shrimpton suggested the dress just be hemmed a tad shorter. Neither realized what the consequences would be of this common London trend. When Shrimpton arrived at the first event on Derby Day with then-boyfriend actor Terence Stamp, jaws dropped as the conservative crowd anticipating her appearance went silent. Melbourne was not ready for the miniskirt.  

Source: Pinterest

Shrimpton was immediately ridiculed and taunted by the formally-dressed women for not only showing her legs, but also because Shrimpton didn’t wear a hat, stockings, or gloves (must-have accessories for classy women in Australia). Radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and even other models criticized her for her “tasteless” attire. For the first time since the introductory race in 1861, the next days’ newspaper failed to mention the winning horse on the front page, but instead told the story of Shrimpton’s controversial outfit. Although Australia was distraught, Shrimpton’s dress ignited an international fashion revolution with women all over the world starting to hem their dresses and proudly displaying their knees. Ironically, by today’s standards Shrimpton’s Derby Day dress would be considered quite long compared to trending skirts in modern times. 

Shrimpton Disappeared From The Spotlight During Her Later Years

Source: Pinterest

Shrimpton experimented in acting briefly when she starred in the 1967 British film Privilege. But by her early ‘30s she gave up modeling entirely and moved to Cornwall to escape the limelight. Shrimpton never truly enjoyed fame and was burnt out of the lifestyle that so many desire and view as glamorous. In Cornwall, she slowed her life down by running an antique store where she eventually met her current husband. Shrimpton and photographer Michael Cox married in 1979 and she gave birth to their son Thaddeus that same year. Still calling herself a recluse, Shrimpton explained her experience in the modeling world very bluntly, “Fashion is full of dark, troubled people. It's a high-pressured environment that takes its toll and burns people out. Only the shrewd survive – Andy Warhol, for example, and David Bailey."

Tags: Jean Shrimpton | Models | Swinging London

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook

Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.