Skirting the Issues

It’s up and it’s down. It’s the hemline.

Hemlines are the litmus test of fashion history as a cultural study. Economist George Taylor coined the term “hemline index” to explain how skirts got shorter or longer depending on either a “roaring” or Depression-era economy. But what does today’s style say about our current economic situation?

First seen on designer runways last season, longer-length skirts are now hot on street style blogs, with women everywhere working the new silhouette. They’re calculating how to look slim in this look (cinch the waist), what shoes suit it best (flats and wedges), and why the proportions require a complete rethink of what to wear on top (sleeveless tees and fitted vintage denim jackets feel right).

I’ve been working my own take on this trend with a thrift shop find: A Ralph Lauren, double-layered jersey knit dress that hits at the calf. It’s a look that recalls the minimalism of the 90’s with its emphasis on sleek American sportswear. No one symbolized that era of elegant “throwaway chic” like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy (so we shouldn’t be surprised that her name keeps popping up in fashion blogs and magazines).

At the time, a Newsweek article cited designer Michael Kors praising Bessette-Kennedy’s eye for “proportion,” for her skirts were always just the right length. “That is unusual in someone so young,” he says, as if speaking of a child prodigy. It’s funny how random lines from magazines inexplicably stay with you. Fifteen years on, the idea of a “right length” skirt space as observed by a theatrically directorial fashion designer seems so quaint.

Because here’s the thing. Blowing Mr. George Taylor’s theory out of the water is the emergence this spring of the flirty flared shorter skirt. Just as we’re all getting our heads wrapped around long skirts, here comes a fresh mini. Not any mini, mind you, but a bubble hemmed, brightly patterned, ruffled and twisted thigh-baring one.

Perhaps it’s time for a new theory. If there’s a “hemline index” anymore, it seems to be indicating that it’s just fine to wear any length without having to ask if it’s in keeping with the times.


Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.