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Peggy Moffitt

The top American model of the 1960s, Peggy Moffitt was a startling innovator who didn’t just wear fashions, she inspired them.

The daughter of screenwriter Jack Moffitt, Margaret “Peggy” Anne Moffitt was born in Los Angeles on 14 May 1940 and attended the exclusive Marlborough School for Girls in Los Angeles, working after school at the Jax boutique in Beverly Hills.

She moved to New York for two years to study drama, then returned to Hollywood and won small parts in some movies including You’re Never Too Young (1955), the Mitzi Gaynor/David Niven comedy The Birds and the Bees (1956), camp classic Girls Town with Mamie Van Doren (1959) and the Korean War movie Battle Flame (1959).

She started modelling in the early 60s with the new and exclusive Nina Blanchard modelling agency in Los Angeles.

By 1966 she was in London, appearing as one of the models in the background of Blow-Up, the classic Antonioni film about swinging London.

That year she also played a model in a little-seen French film called Who Are You, Polly Magoo? She also starred in the first promotional fashion movie, Basic Black. Created by innovative designer Rudi Gernreich, it was shot by William Claxton, who would later become her husband.

Peggy became the partner-in-crime and primary inspiration for Gernreich, designer of revealing clothes made out of clear plastic and topless swimsuits. She eventually modelled exclusively for him, calling him her “soulmate”.

Tall and slender, she had a great model’s figure with a fearless attitude towards nudity and fashion.

That fearlessness came in handy because Gernreich’s designs for her often caused sensations: In 1964 she wore the first topless bathing suit, and in 1966 he covered her body just in black vinyl triangles.

His other fashion innovations included the first androgynous “unisex” clothes such as men’s underwear for women, the first knitted tube dress, the first clothes made out of plastic, the first dress to have “cutouts,” the first transparent clothes, the soft “no-bra bra” as an alternative to the heavily structured torpedo-bras of the 50s, the first designer-label jeans, and in the 70s the first thong bathing suit.

Moffitt’s impact was not just in the revolutionary clothes she inspired, but in the way she wore them, often with a pigeon-toed posture and with strong, amazing makeup that became a style in itself. Gernreich changed the way women dressed, and Peggy changed the way women looked.