Friday, May 28, 2010

Do Falling Hemlines Tell a Tale?

Perhaps it is a mere curiosity, akin to astrology, the Super Bowl indicator, and tea leaves, but some investors believe that the length of women's skirts reflects the state of the stock market. In their minds, short skirts denote frivolity and confidence, a positive attitude toward the economy, and thus befit a bull market. Long skirts reflect fear and gloom, an impulse to hunker down, and the pain of a bear market.

Whether or not that's true, the New York Times reports that, from street fashion to design studios, skirt lengths are falling precipitously. Fashion forward young women are starting to wear skirts whose hemlines even brush against the floor. Link here.

It's fair to say that when the purveyors of fashion try to dictate a new trend, they want women to buy more clothes. A young woman with a closet full of short skirts might well decide that she does not need yet another micro mini. But, if the fashion changes, she will be obliged to stock up on maxi skirts.

On the other side there have been moments when the lords of fashion promoted a new style, only to find that women simply refused to buy it. And it also happens that fashion designers hang out on the street to get inspiration from the style trends of everyday women. From the street to the runway is often the way style develops.

Either way, a fashion trend seems to bespeak a culture trend. And if longer skirts are coming into vogue, then we all want to know what it means. The Times sees it as a cultural indicator and offers an analysis: "Today the fluid but rigorously plain maxis reflect a subtly shifting cultural climate born in the wake of the Dow's collapse."

If so, it is a delayed reaction, though one that would suggest the advent of a secular-- that is, long term-- bear market.

According to the Times skirt length also represents a turn away from "the frivolity and calculated provocation of a thigh-high skirt 'toward a more austere sensibility.'"

If this is true, what happened to hope and change? How much is the young generation simply expressing a fundamental disappointment in the new administration? Is it preparing for greater austerity and more belt tightening, ahead.

Of course, hemlines had risen so high that they really had nowhere to go but down. And with rising hemlines there was accompanying transformation of values. Modesty and mystery went out of fashion, and young women began hooking up, sexting, and posing for Girls Gone Wild videos.

Young women who wore extreme minis reached a level of exposure that horrified their elders, but that also seemed to undermine their own self-respect. If a woman exposes nearly everything to everyone, she loses her right to choose to whom she wishes to expose what.

Intimacy is not very intimate, it's not even yours, when you offer it to everyone.

Forget about the self-puffery prescribed by the self-esteem movement; if you really want to develop and maintain your self respect you have to start by showing the world, in your appearance and decorum, that you respect yourself.

I hate to use the word, but micro-minis seem to disempower women while maxi skirts seem to produce heightened self-respect. As the Times suggests, they seem to give women back their swagger.

After the necessary disclaimer that no one knows whether this trend will continue, one forecaster still predicted that five years from now all women will be wearing maxi skirts: "and fending off the advances from unsavory-looking strangers with an insolent hitch of the hem."

From hooking up to hitching up. That would be quite a cultural transformation.


Ralph said...

I'm hoping the waistline on jeans is also rising. It is another area of skin display (above the top of jeans and below the bottom of belly shirts), like the plumbers butt crack, we could all probably live without.

Anonymous said...

@Becky - the rise of jeans has gotten higher. Midlevel rises are more popular than the low rises of a few years ago. Waistlines at the belly button are fortunately not popular - haven't seen that look good on any woman.

sp said...

"If a woman exposes nearly everything to everyone, she loses her right to choose to whom she wishes to expose what."

choosing to expose nearly everything to everyone IS exercising the right to choose to whom she wishes to expose what; not everyone's idea of modesty is the same, nor should it be.

that said, too many inadvertent butt crack viewings will always ruin my day, so i'm all for lengthening hemlines. but i'll support anyone in their right to make their own choice, no matter what the public stigma may be.

Phantasmix said...

Ha, I was early but correct.

Anonymous said...

Two theories:
1) The fashion world, if what my sister tells me is correct, tends to be run by a few big designers at any one time. These designers probably start off young, and age as they grow in prominence. Once they can no longer wear the clothes they have designed, I would not be surprised if many fashion designers start producing longer skirts and less-revealing blouses. Enough at once, and a trend is born.

2) The generation that is buying high-fashion apparel at the moment grew up during the years of the "you're going to do it anyway, so just wear a condom" mentality, the Internet and Court TV. They have seen that condoms fail, from the vast number of single mothers they know. YouTube and Facebook have shown them that flashing their assets all over will result in photos or videos of you circulating on the web, and might hurt job prospects or relationships. Finally, many mothers spend quite a lot of time watching stories about sexual predators on Nancy Grace. These mothers are a lot less likely to send their kids to school in Daisy Dukes or short skirts. When you see the collateral damage of permissiveness every day, it makes it harder to walk around half naked, or to get your daughter in the habit of doing so.

Banshee said...

The main reason that skirts are falling is that steampunk has gone from a minor trend among the science fiction/Renfaire crowd, to a major trend among the Goths and indie music clubbers, and is now starting to take over European fashion houses. Lots of cleavage and stupid visible corsetry, but also long Victorian skirts and tailored jackets. Frankly, the brass goggles, pulp heroes, and mad scientists crowd is pretty optimistic, and many of them want to dress... um... revealingly and get even more tattoos. However, I think there's also an implied criticism of today's world for not being adventurous or aesthetic enough for folks' liking. It's a sort of "Have your high tech and your Arts and Crafts Movement, too" feeling.

Banshee said...

Oh, yeah. And Regency movies and books. Austenpunk, as it were. Austen and her ilk have an immense fascination for women right now, and of course Regency-cut dresses with the high waists and long skirts are flattering on those who are young and skinny, but not as skinny as fashion likes to demand.

The long skirt thing is probably mostly just people getting tired of short skirts; but the way that it's ramping up _in the summer_ indicates that people's fantasies of being serious, elegant heroines are coming into play. Normally people would wait till fall.

The black thing may also be about feeling fat, or about wanting to be able to match it easily and wear it everywhere. (That's an economic move, if you like.)

Anonymous said...


I highly doubt that the 18-year-old in the micro-mini and the belly shirt knows she is "choosing" to be lusted after by hordes of men 40 and up, of all shapes and sizes. She's out to catch the eyes of the 19- and 20-year-old young men. She isn't even thinking about the 40+ year olds, and she's correspondingly naive and ignorant enough to assume that they aren't thinking about her.

Unfortunately, broadcasting is BROADcasting. You can't select who receives, or responds to, your message.

Modesty (and I'm not talking burqas, just dialing down the exposure a few notches to levels before the "if you've got it, flaunt it" cultural bomb hit) has its advantages. Among them, not needlessly provoking unwelcome responses from men 2x and 3x your age.

It used to be, older women (who had the advantage of more knowledge of how men think & what they respond to) would counsel younger women on how to control themselves and their situation via their clothing choices. (And, yes, modesty is a form of exerting control over one's situation, which is what I think the author was getting at in the use of the term disempower/empower.) Alas, too many older women these days have too little modesty themselves to be counseling younger women on it.

American culture's attitude towards the female form & the females who inhabit those forms is too schizophrenic to be addressed in a single post about hemline levels. But hemline levels are, or can be, indicative of other things, whether it's Wall Street, culture, gender expectations, or a mixture of all three.

BTW, the dresses shown in the link are almost all god-awful looking. Is wearing calf-length Hefty bags supposed to be indicative of cultural repentance of some sort or other? Sackcloth and ashes, anyone? Cripes, you would think Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, and below-the-knee A-lines had never existed.

Another Anonymous Opinion said...

Re: Jeans: The correct location for the top of the jeans is mid-way between the bellybutton and... and... oh, heck. There's no way to say this tastefully, is there? Anyway, mid-way between the bellybutton and where the pubic hair starts. (Or naturally would, if it were there. Jeez, there's just no way to keep it classy on this topic, is there?)

Anyway, the problem with revealed bellies these days is not the jeans having too low a rise. As one commenter noted, they're mostly mid-rise now, having come up from the ridiculous low-rise excesses of a few years back.

No, the problem is the length of the shirt/blouse/tank top/whatever. A top that stops at the bottom of the ribcage is incomplete.

Lotta Thighs said...

Real reason for falling hemlines:
Women are getting heftier. They look real bad (fat legs) in shorter skirts.