Jean Shrimpton, widely regarded as the world’s first supermodel, was the It-Girl of the 1960s, epitomizing the desired “Swinging London” look and laying the groundwork for how fashion would evolve. With her large eyes, slim figure, fringe bangs, and long legs, she was dubbed “The Face Of The 1960s,” “Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” and “Most Photographed In The World.” Shrimpton not only graced the covers of every major magazine during the wild decade but she is also credited with liberating women via one simple style statement: the mini skirt.
The term “supermodel” became popular in the 1980s to refer to celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and Cindy Crawford, and celebrities from the 1970s such as Beverly Johnson and Lauren Hutton have been retrospectively deemed, supermodels. But there was Jean Shrimpton before all of this.
Read on for a comprehensive look at this 60s top model‘s profile.
Jean Shrimpton: Who Is She?
Jean Shrimpton was the epitome of swingin’ London in the 1960s and is regarded as the world’s first supermodel. She’ll later be regarded as the face of the era, featuring on the covers of Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar.
Shrimpton’s waifish figure is in stark contrast to the decade’s more voluptuous models. She was jokingly alluded to as “the shrimp” because of her hair, long legs, eyelashes, and wide doe eyes.
Shrimpton popularized the mini skirt by wearing one to a horse race in Melbourne in the mid-1960s. Conservatives were outraged, but a defining trend had begun.
Shrimpton stepped down from the fashion world and, for the most part, the public eye when she was in her early thirties. Though she is largely associated with the 1960s, her slim lines and ubiquity as a supermodel live on in fashion’s zeitgeist.
Childhood and Early Life
Shrimpton was born in 1942 in Buckinghamshire and began her glamorous career working with her family’s rural farm animals. Like many other women, Shrimpton aspired to be a secretary and went to Langham Secretarial College in London at 17 years old.
She happened to meet Cy Endfield at a drugstore. The director invited her to audition for his movie Mysterious Island. While the audition was unfruitful, Endfield suggested Shrimpton attend a modeling academy, which compelled Shrimpton to transfer to London’s Lucie Clayton Charm Academy.
Jean Shrimpton began modeling at 17 after attending the Lucie Clayton Charm Academy. Her classic looks and doe eyes were everything the 60s fashion was searching for. She and her lover David Bailey would go on to become sixties icons.
Shrimpton caught David Bailey’s attention while shooting a humourous Kellogg’s Corn Flakes advertisement with photographer Brian Duffy in 1960. Bailey was a photographer known for capturing the culture and swinging fashion of the 1960s and promoting these styles to the rest of the world through his cutting-edge photographs.
Bailey noticed Shrimpton’s stark appearance was strong enough to go beyond cereal ads, so he employed her for “Young Idea Goes West,” a 1962 editorial for British Vogue. Both Shrimpton and Bailey’s careers were launched into fortune and fame from that point forward.
Shrimpton became Bailey’s main model in his photographs, and she has stated that the man is responsible for her career. The couple eventually started a relationship that lasted until 1964. Bailey admired Shrimpton’s humility because she was more concerned with people and animals than with being photographed despite being a top model.
Shrimpton was forward-thinking in her approach to fashion and how the female species were expected to display themselves. She went against the grain of the standard elegant, fancy, and reserved styles and adopted the youthquake movement of the time with bold, playful, and colorful fashion that showed more skin than was typically accepted.
Before the 1960s, women were expected to keep their bodies confined because it was considered more “lady-like.” Still, Shrimpton and other 1960s icons helped the women realize fashion could be fun and a manner of rebelling against unfair expectations and expressing oneself. Shrimpton was a star by the age of 21 and could be found in all of the top magazines of the time, with the clothes she sported in photographs selling quickly to young women attempting to emulate her.
The Mini Skirt
Shrimpton’s avant-garde fashion sense served her well in London, but it created a rather scandalous situation in Australia. In 1965, the Victoria Racing Club in Australia invited Shrimpton to judge the “Fashion On The Field” competition at the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
DuPont de Nemours International commissioned dressmaker Colin Rolfe to create a dress for Shrimpton to promote their new fabric, Orlon. However, because Rolfe was not given enough fabric to complete the original design of the dress, Shrimpton suggested that the dress be hemmed a tad shorter.
Neither of them anticipated the consequences of this popular London trend. When Shrimpton arrived at the first Derby Day event with then-boyfriend actor Terence Stamp, the conservative crowd anticipating her appearance fell silent. Melbourne was not prepared for miniskirts.
The formally dressed women immediately taunted and ridiculed Shrimpton for showing her legs and not wearing stockings, a hat, or gloves. Radio stations, magazines, newspapers, and other models chastised her for her “unfashionable” attire. For the first time since the 1861 inaugural race, the following day’s newspaper did not feature the winner on the front page; instead, it focused on Shrimpton’s controversial outfit.
Despite Australia’s outrage, Shrimpton’s dress sparked an international fashion revolution, with women worldwide beginning to hem their dresses and confidently display their knees. Ironically, Shrimpton’s Derby Day gown would be considered pretty long by today’s standards compared to trending skirts.
Shrimpton dabbled in acting briefly, appearing in the 1967 British film Privilege. But by her early thirties, she had given up modeling completely and relocated to Cornwall to escape the spotlight. Shrimpton never greatly enjoyed fame and became dissatisfied with the glamorous lifestyle that many aspire to.
She slowed her life down in Cornwall by running an antique store, where she met her current husband. Shrimpton married photographer Michael Cox in 1979, and she gave birth to a baby boy Thaddeus the following year.