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Hemlines through the ages

Clothing can be a true picture of a society.

“Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening,” said Parisian designer Coco Chanel.

Each piece has a reason and purpose, marking shifts in social movements and historical events. One such influential piece of outerwear is widely known as the “skirt.”

According to the 1927 Hemline Index, the length of a skirt or dress indicates a country’s wealth and prosperity. Known as the “Hemline Theory,” this idea was supposedly conceived by George Taylor, an economist who claimed the length of women’s skirts could predict the stock market’s rise and fall. In theory, when money is tight, women tend to wear longer skirts to hide their lack of stockings, a fashion staple among women of the decade. When the economy was thriving, women tended to hike up their skirts, exposing perfect, stocking-covered gams.

Some debate exists over the credibility of the theory, but there is evidence of a correlation between skirt length and the economy. In 1927, hemlines rose a shocking 18.6 inches from the floor as the Dow Jones Industrial Median soared to 178.

“The decade spelled economic freedom. Women threw off the shackles of the heavily-corseted Edwardian period and hemlines became dramatically shorter for the first time,” said Sonnet Stanfil, fashion curator of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression ravaged the country and people desperately saved every penny, struggling to make ends meet. Women had fewer reasons and means to dress up and wear stockings; therefore, 8.8 inches were added to hemlines as the Dow Jones Industrial Median fell to a historic low.

Hemlines slowly rose in the ‘40s averaging 14.5 inches off the ground because there wasn’t enough fabric to go around. Women settled for practical, onthe-knee skirt length, the Dow Jones was comfortable at 140 and WWII raged on.

The 1950s brought a cautious post-war mood reflected in the mid-length skirts and dresses as the hemline slowly expanded to 11.6 inches off the ground. The stock markets slowly rose in revenue as the economy began to rebuild itself.

The ‘60s produced one of the most iconic trends of fashion history: the miniskirt. The average length of the ever popular, short skirt was 25 inches off the ground and worn predominately by teenagers, the new youth culture taking the consumer industry by storm.

Social disconnect, however, erupted when the decade switched gears in the ‘70s. The Vietnam War, unexpected inflation and the oil embargo of 1973 caused stock values to fall, as did the floor-length maxi skirts.

With a new pop culture and new sense of teen angst, skirts lengths varied during the 1980s and ‘90s. Since 2000, likewise, skirt lengths are both touching toes and hiked up high as nostalgic pieces from all decades dominate the fashion industry.

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