Dinah Lee – Fashion Icon

Dinah Lee – Fashion Icon

This entry is part of 3 in the series Fashion Scene 5

What I love about writing this column is that you are always discovering new things. Take Dinah Lee for example, a random post on Facebook the other week led me to find out more about this mod girl and 60s style icon from New Zealand. Dinah was indeed Australia and New Zealand’s very own Queen of the Mods and was one of the biggest stars and highest paid artists of the 60s in Australasia.

She had a classic mod look with a sharp blunt cut bob. She was boyish and feminine at the same time and despite her rather demure looks and small frame was able to belt out a song. Her big hits were ‘Don’t You Know Yockomo?’ an RnB track originally recorded by Dee Dee Sharp. She followed this with Reet Petite (Jackie Wilson) and Blue Beat. All three went to number one and she had 15 other top ten hits.

Her look was the embodiment of mod cool to her fans and not surprisingly she became a poster girl for the leading make-up brand of the time – Yardley. Her modern style perfectly suiting the brand’s British connections.

Her debut album, The Mod World of Dinah Lee, came out on Viking records in 1964. The music was pure 60s pop with a touch of ska/blue-beat about it. Her sound and style was, no doubt, influenced by the people she hung around with. She at one time shared a flat with Millie Small who had the ska hit ‘My Boy Lollipop.’

She made regular trips to the UK and the US, appearing on Shindig with Glen Campbell and hanging around London with David Jones (David Bowie). She also performed with the likes of Ray Charles, the Bee Gees, Gene Pitney and New Zealand Aussie mod singer, Ray Columbus. According to Australian rock music journalist, Ed Nimmervoll: “Lee was the most successful female singer of both her New Zealand homeland and Australia … on stage and on record Dinah had all the adventure and exuberance for the time the boys had.”

It appears that Lee did cause some controversy simply because she didn’t appear to want to fit into the female stereotype of singers at the time. First there was her love of Mod fashion, but she also had a bit of mod attitude about her on seeing interviews from the time. Her dress sense meant that she was sometimes heckled at regional venues and caused some issues with viewers for wearing a pair of Bermuda shorts on a TV show broadcast in Australia and New Zealand.

Her friend Bobi Petch who became her PA friend tells in an interview for New Zealand music website (see here) of their days living together in Sydney where they would shop for the latest fashions. A particular favourite was The Casual Shop – a Sydney boutique which stocked all the latest one-off mod designs.

Dinah used to drive around town with Bobbi in her Mini Minor, which Bobi recalls had only a second and third working gear. She tells Gareth Cartwright: “I remember us getting Hank Marvin of The Shadows in that Mini one night and driving him around Sydney and all of us laughing like mad because the Mini only had second and third gear!” They also met the Small Faces on their ill-fated tour of Australia. Petch recalls: They really little guys, so cute, with hand-painted psychedelic boots. They were in Australia with The Who, who we only got to see in a nightclub. They were sitting around a table and none of them were dancing.”

Listening to and looking at the style of Dinah Lee gives us an insight into how the influence of mod style spread far and wide, way beyond the streets of Soho. Mod really was mainstream by Dinah’s era, but none the less, she is a great example of the boyish and savvy charm that any girl who wanted to be ‘with it’ in the mid 60s wanted a slice of.

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Claire Mahoney

At the age of 13 mod made perfect sense to me. I liked the look and the attitude - but most of all I liked the music. Secret Affair was my entry point, but they were soon playing second fiddle in my affections to The Jam. Paul Weller, of course, proceeded to break mine and many others hearts in 1982, when he put an end to that particular musical roller coaster – but what it meant was that, uninterested in anything else that was happening in music at the time, I had to look back. I was lucky enough to be given two plastic bags full of 60s 45s by my uncle who used to stock the jukeboxes back in the day. Their contents included a number of Stax originals, plus the Who and the Small Faces, as well as Motown classics from The Four Tops and the Supremes. So, when Phil Collins charted in the mid 80s with 'You Can't Hurry Love' it was nice to be able to say: “I've got the original of that!” It became quite an irritating habit of mine over the years. These days I still enjoy discovering new, old music, be it soul, rnb or jazz, as well as witnessing mod taken another turn among today's youth with bands like The Strypes. My day job as a journalist means I am lucky enough to be able to write about music and modernism now and again. Other than that you'll find me mostly on the dance floor or on eBay still looking for that perfect A line dress.

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September 19, 2017 By : Category : Articles,Fashion,Front Page,Scene,Style Tags:, , , ,
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