Of course skirt lengths matter. They’ve always mattered. You never want anyone to say, “That skirt is just too short for a woman your age.” Yet, you hear it all the time. Judgements are formed quickly and most often with personal bias.
Sleazy, sexy, matronly and proper. These are words you often hear referring to a woman’s image when associated with her skirt length. The exact length different people consider to be “proper” depends upon who and where you are, whom you’re with and what image you want to portray. In our society today, we’re lucky to have the choice as to how long we want to wear our skirts, but this was not always the case.
For thousands of years, women’s skirts and dresses conformed to one length: down to the floor. It wasn’t until 1850 that skirt lengths were socially challenged by social activist Amelia Bloomer. She designed her revolutionary “freedom costume” which was a knee length corset-free dress over what eventually become ankle length “bloomers.” Yes, this is where the name came from. Her design never quite caught on and long dresses continued to be the fashion of the day. It wasn’t until the bicycle was invented that her design was resurrected to become the official “split-skirt” bicycle riding costume of the day.
It was first in the roaring ‘20s – with the rise in the stock market – when hemlines began to rise to radically high levels. Women’s knees were revealed for all to see.
As a result of this shocking change in hemlines, in 1926 the “Hemline Index” was created by University of Pennsylvania professor George Taylor. His theory was that women’s hemlines rise and fall with stock prices. The stronger the economy, the shorter the skirt – to show off your expensive silk stockings. The weaker the economy, the longer the skirt – to hide the fact that you couldn’t afford those same silk stockings. As strange as it sounds, it’s crazy to think that women’s hemlines were directly impacted by the economy, but until recently it has proven to be amazingly accurate.
The market crash brought women’s skirt lengths down to more conservative lengths.
Skirt lengths shortened and narrowed as the need for fabric went toward the war effort. In 1942, the U.S. introduced ‘Regulation L85’ dictating that skirt lengths had to be 17 inches above the floor – no longer, and no shorter. The exact number of inches changed over the next two decades, although the ongoing discussion of the proper length of one’s skirt continued to be discussed in fitting rooms and powder rooms alike.
The 1960’s and early 70’s:
All hell broke loose. Hemlines shot back up with rising levels of fiscal prosperity. Thanks to the arrival of the miniskirt, created by fashion designer Mary Quant, the fashion world turned upside down, pushing new boundaries with the shortest skirts women had ever worn. Going by different names, the “mini” and the “micro-mini”, are still worn today, primarily by teens and twenty-somethings.
However, because older women wouldn’t think of wearing the minis that younger women were wearing, society was forced to accept a variety of skirt lengths. This was the first time in history that women had a choice of how long or short they wanted to wear their skirts and dresses. Women no longer had to stand over their mothers and seamstresses and have their skirts measured to an exact number of inches from the floor. Choice felt good!
The 70’s and 80’s:
The world economy was in the grip of uncertainty, the Vietnam War, inflation, recession and an oil embargo. Stock values began to fall, as did the length of women’s skirts. Floor length “maxi skirts” were all the rage, coming back into fashion for the first time since the early 1900’s. The cool people had to have one. The not so cool people had to have one. Everyone had to have one! I remember feeling like a cool 10 year old on the half a dozen times I actually wore my black and red printed bohemian maxi dress. I liked that nobody could see my legs. It gave me a different feeling of freedom from that of wearing a mini skirt with my legs completely exposed.
All lengths have been in vogue from that time on, whether maxi, midi, mini or anything in-between.
MEN’S ATTITUDES TOWARD SKIRTS AND SKIRT LENGTHS
Men have been directing what women wear for thousands of years. The reasons are multi-layered and complex. But things have changed dramatically for women in the last 60 years as we have gained independence and a powerful voice. We are fortunate that we have the choice of how we dress each day, and if we want to wear a skirt how long that skirt should be.
The latest comments in the news from Donald Trump about skirts, and dresses in general, have angered feminists. A recent article in Axios suggests that “Trump likes the women who work for him ‘to dress like women,’” What does that really mean? Additionally, according to a source who worked on Trump’s campaign, “…women who worked in Trump’s campaign field offices felt pressure to wear dresses to impress Trump.” This topic has sparked an instant protest on social media. The hashtag #DressLikeAWoman has started trending on Twitter, with thousands of women taking to the social media platform to show the limitless variety of clothing they choose to wear in their respective occupations. The hot topic of how women dress hasn’t been in the national news like this in decades.
Here and now in the 21st century, for the most part the “suggestion” by a boss that women wear skirts to work is a relic of the past. We have grown accustomed to our freedom of choice about what we wear, and our freedom to use our dress choices as a personal statement.
SKIRT LENGTHS OF THE 21ST CENTURY : HOW TO DECIDE ON THE LENGTH OF YOUR SKIRT
With the arrival of the 21st century, so many rules have vanished. Professor Taylor’s hemline index no longer holds true. The fashion industry shows everything from skimpy, butt-cheek revealing skirts to skirts that brush the floor — and everything in between. The default traditional skirt length seems to hover somewhere around the knee. Should it be above the knee? At the knee? Below the knee? This is the question I hear many women ask.
As a general rule, you always want to have your skirt length at the thinnest part of your leg. The intersection of the horizontal line of the skirt and the vertical line of your leg is where one’s eyes naturally go when subconsciously determining if your skirt length has that sexy elegance or dowdy look.
But more important in deciding on the most flattering length of your skirt is the shape of your legs. Do you have long or short, slender or heavy legs? What is the shape of your knees and calves. You will probably want to show your legs to best advantage, and not bring unwanted attention to features you may be self-conscious about.
Depending upon these considerations, your skirt length could hit either just above or below your knee. You may want to be bold in your fashion statement or you may want to be more reserved. If you prefer shorter skirts, you might want to wear your hemline up to one to two inches above the knee, depending on where your leg narrows. If you like a longer skirt it could end just barely below your knee joint.
If you’re an athlete (or not) and have large or muscular calves, you will not want to have your skirt close to mid-calf. There are 3 places to aim for: 1) above your knee 2) the thinnest area between the bottom of your knee and top of your calf or 3) completely below your calf for an elegant elongated look. Remember – aim for the thinnest part of your legs.
Another option, if you like wearing shorter skirts and you don’t want to show bare legs or bare knees, is to wear tights or opaque stockings the same color as your skirt.
For petites and women with short full legs, the best hemline is just above the knee to keep the leg looking as long as possible
When hitting the shops and trying on skirts and dresses, the most important thing you need to look for is the fit. If it’s a straight skirt, the narrower it is toward the bottom, the thinner you will look. If it’s too long, you can always have it shortened. Buy something you love! I tell this to my clients all the time.
Women in our society are not used to taking advantage of tailors and seamstresses as have women in the past and those in other countries. Don’t hesitate to find a local tailor to tweak your wardrobe. Make your clothes fit your body so that they are perfect for you. We’re all built differently, yet we only have a handful of styles to choose from. Make every article of clothing in your closet count!
Ultimately, the less we worry about other people’s biases, the more freedom we have to make a personal statement. Skirt length matters to different people for different reasons. The best way to decide which length works for you is to decide what matters to you and how you see yourself. When you wear what makes you feel authentic, you are truly liberated.