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March 19, 2009

In a Bad Economy, Women's Skirt Lengths ...

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

They (don't ask me who) used to say that bad economic times and the length of women's skirts correlated. As the market dropped towards the floor, so did the hems of skirts and dresses.

I suspect this notion was launched by the experience of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Sweet Young Things and wannabes during the Roaring Twenties wore knee-length skirts. By 1935 hems dropped to a few inches above the ankle: call it the lower calf area. And in the early 1940s hems were back to the lower edge of the knee.

So far, so good for the theory.

But the high skirts of the 20s were a complete break from centuries where women's dresses and skirts ended somewhere between the ankle and the floor. Not much room for correlation with this Golden Age or that Panic.

Flip to post-World War 2. Wartime skirt lengths came crashing down with Dior's New Look launched in 1947. For the next dozen years or so, skirt hems hovered near mid-calf. During which time we went through at least two economic downturns of note (1949 and 1958) plus Eisenhower's prosperity years.

As the 1958 recession eased, hems did rise in accord with the recovery. Around 1960 came A-line dresses where hems were just below the knee. As 1960s prosperity continued, hems went up. And up and up until the turn of the decade when there were miniskirts, micro-minis and and all sorts of eye-candy. I'm not sure whether this had anything to do with the economy or if it was launched by the invention of pantyhose in the late 60s.

By the 1980s, fashion lock-step had been largely broken and, ever since, women wear a greater variety of styles at any given time. This makes it difficult to link skirt lengths and stock prices.

Since correlating hems and business cycles seems to be something not worth pursuing, why don't we focus on the more interesting (to men) subject of skirt lengths. At 2Blowhards, Michael mused about skirts and other garment-related matters here.

My subject (now that I disposed of the economics thing) is what is the ideal skirt length.

Let's assume the Female Object (yes, feminists, we are indeed objectifying here: deal with it) is an average-attractive woman in her late 20s and has average-to-better legs. My vote is for a hemline at the bottom of the kneecap. When seated, a woman so dressed will show off her knees and perhaps a bit more. When standing or walking, the focus will be on the curves of the calf as the thickness of the lower leg increases and then decreases.

The longer skirts of the 30s and 50s allowed display of only the lower part of the lower leg. From all angles, all that could be seen was taper, and from the rear, many women had a bird-like appearance -- the lower legs forming a sort of V. On the other hand, short skirts are unfair to most women because extra-nice legs are required to make the right effect.

So that's the point-of-view from conservative me.

What's your take, guys? What skirt length do you consider ideal? There will be wiseguys out there wanting stuff ranging from sub-mini to nothin' at all. But for those viewing this in the office during lunch break (heh), let's restrict skirt lengths to those that were worn in public during the 20th century.

Now the gals. What's your take on skirt length? What length do you feel most comfortable wearing to work or doing daytime activities? Which do you think make you most attractive -- in your own eyes, not those of the guys. Which lengths bother you, and why?



posted by Donald at March 19, 2009


O, God, the Blowhards are discussing my favorite topic!!

I always wear skirts or dresses, a relic of a religious upbringing I suppose. Also, pants are so boring.

Used to regularly wear skirts shorter and straighter than I do now, but back then I wasn't bent over a wriggling baby in a carseat while inadvertently showing the world my thighs.

Only takes a couple of that sort of episode to convince a woman that her short skirt days are pretty much done. Now I wear them somewhere between mid-calf and upper ankle.

Short: sexy but sort of impractical outside an office or cocktail party.

Long: less sexy, but extremely practical.

Very long: visually impressive but also impractical, what with dragging them through the dirt and having to hike them up to get upstairs.

The fullness matters, too.

Straight or gored or A-line versus full and gathered...

That sleek straight-skirt look is really impressive when it's put together well (Sarah Palin rocked the pencil skirt and had the figure for it!) but for just everyday, an A-line or gathered one is a lot easier to wear.

Anyway, the length I detest the most is right below the knee. Virtually no woman can pull that off; it makes their lower legs look either stumpy or scrawny, like they are just "sticking out," especially in a straight skirt.

Had a Latin teacher who wore dark straight skirts that ended there. I could never understand it.

She would have looked a lot better with either two inches more, or two inches less fabric.

So my vote: straight or A-line skirts at knee, and gathered or pleated ones at mid-calf.

Posted by: omw on March 19, 2009 2:16 PM

The shoes involved make a big difference; that below-the-knee look really only works with great heels to emphasize the legs. Looks hopelessly dowdy in flats.

OTOH, a skirt that is pushing the limits of daytime acceptability can be toned down a little with cute flats or kitten heels, to keep the whole outfit from screaming SEX ME UP.

Posted by: omw on March 19, 2009 2:28 PM

Most women in their late 20s don't actually have legs worth showing off -- that's why they stop wearing shorts somewhere around 23, even in contexts where they're completely acceptable.

Ideal length is mini, about mid-thigh -- short enough to show the curves along the contours of her thigh, and long enough to keep the shape of the butt in order. If the skirt is too short, the bottom flares out around the butt and obscures its shape. A mini-skirt doesn't do that, and hugs the hips and booty area pretty well, flaring below that.

It also has to be short enough so that when she sits down, it rides up far enough to show that fleshy underside of her thigh, about halfway up. Otherwise you just see skinny, meatless knees.

Posted by: agnostic on March 19, 2009 6:09 PM

Women were dressed so beautifully from about 1945-1962, after wards it's all down hill. I'm with you Donald, bottom of the kneecaps with heels. So, so chic!

If the skirt's too short(above mid thigh), she better have good legs otherwise the effect is totally ruined. Even then, well...... it looks cheap.

If she has a good figure, pencil can be very nice too. But I've never liked the A line.

Posted by: slumlord on March 19, 2009 7:00 PM

Ag, how's the human skin suit coming along? Hopefully you haven't been too deterred by all those "meatless knees" out there.

Posted by: JV on March 19, 2009 8:56 PM

I've always felt indecent in micro-minis, although I do like miniskirts since I'm 5'1 and the minis lengthen my legs. I once worked at an office where I could wear minis to work and did so but that wouldn't fly at my present job. Ankle length skirts, as in broom skirts or other hippie styles also give me a bit of length but mid-calf length skirts make me look stumpy. I do knee length best in a pencil skirt, and I don't mind working in any of these lengths as long as I'm not bending over or twisting at the side.

I do however prefer to wear pantyhose with short skirts as an added layer of protection in case of a wind gust or other accidental exposure.

Ag, women don't stop wearing shorts at around 23.

Posted by: hello on March 19, 2009 9:17 PM

To be honest, your girlfriend delayed my schedule by quite a bit -- that bitch was fat as hell.

Posted by: agnostic on March 19, 2009 9:20 PM

As for myself, mid-sixties mini-skirted dresses with boots. When will those come back into style?

Also, JV, think less Ed Gein, more Ted Bundy.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on March 19, 2009 9:48 PM

women don't stop wearing shorts at around 23

I can't imagine why anyone would think otherwise. Just go to the nearest shopping mall in the summer and you'll see plenty of women well over 23 wearing shorts.

Posted by: Peter on March 19, 2009 10:20 PM

Peter, in the 5,000 page hand-drawn world of our Agnostic, women over 23 are led to Carousel so as not to sully the view.

Posted by: JV on March 19, 2009 10:56 PM

Oh, and Spike, I'm sticking with Gein. Bundy had some charm, from what I read.

Posted by: JV on March 19, 2009 10:58 PM


Shhhhhhh! If you break the illusion that is the Aggrosphere, he might insult you by intimating he slept with your fat girlfriend!

Though I suppose maybe it's a compliment, I mean he is sleeping with her. Either it's far too much for my drug-addled grad school drop-out head to comprehend, or it's just really stupid attempt at an insult by someone who regularly runs his mouth off without thinking a second about what he's actually saying.

Considering a google image search has returned hundreds of pictures of women above 30 in shorts, you know what Occam's Razor says.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on March 19, 2009 11:15 PM

I don't wear miniskirts because my penis is so long it hangs below the hem. It did that even before my 23rd birthday.

Man, what a strange discussion this one is.

Posted by: Buffalo Bill on March 20, 2009 12:37 AM

women don't stop wearing shorts at around 23

And thank goodness for that. If they're not overweight, many women look great in skirts/shorts beyond their 20s.

Posted by: tc on March 20, 2009 12:51 AM

I love the language around women's fashion. No idea what most of it means, but the words tickle me: "pencil skirt." "Gathered." "Kitten heels." I get "micro-mini," but the rest of it is beyond me. And it's so great that so many women actually have strong opinoins about questions like "when it's OK to wear flats." I have a friend who has covered the fashion world for years. She can spin paragraph upon paragraph of this language out, pretty much on demand. Ruche. Georgette. What the hell is georgette? No, don't tell me, I don't really want to know.

Go-go boots make most gals' fashions look better, though.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 20, 2009 2:38 AM

Oh, please! When I was working, I wore pants. You try carrying 30 pounds of gear wearing a skirt. Even when I got sucked out of the field and into something called policy-making (gag), I still wore pants. Spiffy pants, with sharp blazers and silk tops, but you betcha, pants. I still prefer pants for everyday, even going into town. Now, I could really get into a discussion about pant styles and construction.

That said, when I do dress-up (we mountain ladies used to jokingly refer to it as "going drag"), I love long, floaty skirts with elegant scarves and accessories. Or casual, long cambrey skirt with tunic, for instance. But knee-length? No, thank you. Left those behind in the sixties, happily. They look dumb and you can't DO anything in them.

Oh, by the way, I'm now 66, and I look great in shorts.

Posted by: Dayle Ann Stratton on March 20, 2009 9:18 AM

Like MB, I have no idea what 99% of the ladies' fashion terms even mean, including some of the things mentioned in previous comments.

And since I can't even describe what I think looks good beyond saying I know what I like, I'll just mention a pet peeve--the young ladies who wear skirts that are so short, or slit in such a fashion, that they have to keep one hand stationed down at the hem while they walk. It gives them a strange gait, and seems to defeat the whole purpose of wearing such styles in the first place!

Posted by: Narr on March 20, 2009 9:25 AM

I am female, mid-30s, 5'2, and a long-distance runner (which means I have decently shaped legs, even if they *are* short).

I can't stand wearing skirts that stop above the knee (unless they are just *barely* above the knee). I hate feeling self-conscious every time I have to sit, stoop, or bend over. I like skirts to be anywhere between knee-length and tea length (ankle-length gets in the way). I'm not crazy about pleats, but I'll take pleats over straight skirts any day. (Straight skirts are a pain if you have a high waist-to-hip ratio, which I have.) A-lines are the best.

My absolute favorite skirts are long, flowing, and pretty. They're not the most flattering on me, but ... oh well.

Posted by: Nina on March 20, 2009 11:03 AM

Hey, agnostic, doesn't the idea of cold self-appraisal on the part of 28-year-old crones sort of run counter to your theories about the arbitrary nature of female fashion?

It's true that women will wear all sorts of unflattering things, as long as they are in style.

Fifteen years ago, I saw women of all ages and shapes in shorts all the time (even women with varicose veins and random lumps) but they seem to have gone out of style for now.

I have literally never seen my very slender and fashion-conscious 18 and 22-year-old nieces in shorts, except for their athletic team uniforms.

Posted by: omw on March 20, 2009 11:36 AM

There is lots I could say on this topic, but I've chosen a comment specifically for other runners, or other women with muscular legs.

I am genetically muscular and run. My calves are 15 1/2 inch circumference and thus, I need "extended calf" boots. I have always hated my legs, and obsessed over covering them, or at least not drawing attention to them. I know I am not alone thinking this, because I've heard other runners say the same.

So, one day I am shopping for a new car with my husband in a auto lot. I am star-stuck to meet a high profile paint artist in our community. In the midst of speaking on horsepowers and fuel efficiency, he stops mid-sentence to acclaim, "yours are the most beautiful legs I've ever seem." His authentic credentials as a judge of beauty, erased my previous shame. Now I enjoy exposing my legs, and see their beauty. and NO, he was not gunning for a commission.

Posted by: jz on March 20, 2009 11:50 AM

Ay, straight skirts off-the-rack can look pretty unflattering on curvy girls (by which I don't mean "fat.")

You either wind up with a gappy waistband, or hips that are too tight, unless they're altered or custom-made. A-line or gathered skirts are so much more forgiving when it comes to fit.

Men know more about female fashion than they think they do; they just have no idea how to talk about it. Women don't, either, at least half the time.

Americans find it all too superficial to admit they care about it.

We do want to look good, but we pretend we just randomly grabbed fifteen items on the way home from work and that clothing is really of no consequence at all.

I spent most of my teens and early 20s trying to look Hot, but Easy-Going and Eclectically Arty, which meant a lot of scrutinizing myself in the mirror at Goodwill and the outlet mall.

"This old thing? I got it at some thrift store..." Like I just sauntered in and bought it with no concern over how it would actually look on me.


Posted by: omw on March 20, 2009 11:54 AM


Paul Macrae Montgomery has done some intriguing work on this, linking skirt lengths/styles to sunspot activity. (There is work with a long tradition in economics linking the sunspot cycle to the economy and to risk appetite).

Before skirt length changed, there was an alternation between bell and tubular styles. So one can go back further than you think.

Posted by: Laeeth on March 20, 2009 4:14 PM

I'll have to check out that sunspot theory, but meanwhile I'll say again that changes in fashion are largely a matter of young women unconsciously choosing to expose shifting erogenous zones, to awaken jaded erotic appetites and to some extent to differentiate themselves from their mothers. It's not my invention; I think it might have come from a professor of fashion history, but I won't swear to it.

Think of the 20th century: clothes in the 1920s exposed more leg than ever before in history, but concealed the curves of the female figure in shapeless straight tunics.

In the 1930s, suddenly clothes went tight against the bosom and hips (leaving waists a little loose) and had low necklines again, while hems dropped to mid-calf.

In the 1940s, hems rose again to the knee, necklines were modest, shoulders were broadened so that hips looked narrow in contrast, and waists became tight - partly as an erogenous zone shift and partly in response to wartime fabric restrictions.

In the 1950s, necklines dropped to reveal the bosom, and tight waists and hip padding (incredible, no?) emphasized hourglass figures for the first time since the Victorian era.

In the early 1960s hems suddenly rose and continued to rise, but most dresses were shapeless A-lines, narrow at top, wide at the bottom. They usually had high necks, no waists, invisible hips - but men grew to love them for the ever-more exposed legs.

At the end of the 1960s fashion was a riot of different looks. No one erogenous zone was central and women began to live in pants to avoid confusion. Then as the 1970s went on the look settled into very loose floating longish dresses, but they were sheer and showed off the bosom again. Not a big bosom, though - a braless, girlish bosom. Hips invisible under cloth.

And in the 1980s the hems went up, the clothes got much more tailored, and the look was dominatrix-like instead of soft and romantic. Big busts supported by underwire in again. Hips visible in tight skirts but they were supposed to be narrower than your shoulders - wide hips were the kiss of death.

See how the shifting erogenous zone theory works? A slight shift in emphasis, and both the look of the body and the personality of the clothes becomes very different. I don't think it's actually relevant today because there are so many options in fashion and so many subcultures in which very different looks are acceptable. But it worked through most of the previous century.

Posted by: aliasclio on March 21, 2009 11:12 AM

My first wife Rita wore the Coco Chanel-style suits popularized by Jackie Kennedy. They were below-knee length, and had a way of making the wearer look utterly lovely. In those days the best designers sought to make women look glowingly beautiful. The focus was on the woman and how a dress or suit might enhance her. Nowadays most designers don't care about the wearer; they just want to be known for their panache or cutting-edge design or radicalism. Rita was five-nine, slim, chestnut-haired, beautiful, and had a genius IQ coupled with wild humor. She picked clothing that made her glow. She died of cancer long ago.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on March 21, 2009 11:24 AM

I am star-stuck to meet a high profile paint artist in our community. In the midst of speaking on horsepowers and fuel efficiency, he stops mid-sentence to acclaim, "yours are the most beautiful legs I've ever seem." His authentic credentials as a judge of beauty, erased my previous shame.

he was playing you.
men of an artistic bent are especially perceptive at noticing a woman's flaws and using that knowledge to their advantage, whether as qualification bait or ego stroking.
and judging by your reaction, i'd say it worked.

Posted by: roissy on March 21, 2009 2:54 PM

His authentic credentials as a judge of beauty, erased my previous shame.

And along comes Roissy to restore it. He's all heart, that guy.

And don't forget, he just loves women!

Posted by: PatrickH on March 21, 2009 5:27 PM

Wrong. NO, he wasn't playing me. He stated it in a group of four, including my husband, and his little daughter.

judging by my reaction, I'd say his authentic credentials made me take a new perspective of my legs.

Posted by: jz on March 21, 2009 7:39 PM

I'm suspicious Roissy has those cute little stick-pin calves.

Posted by: jz on March 21, 2009 8:28 PM

I think he's got an uncute little stick-pin soul.

What a nasty piece of work he's becoming.

Posted by: PatrickH on March 22, 2009 9:35 AM

Clio: And in the 1980s the hems went up, the clothes got much more tailored, and the look was dominatrix-like instead of soft and romantic. Big busts supported by underwire in again. Hips visible in tight skirts but they were supposed to be narrower than your shoulders - wide hips were the kiss of death.

Which just goes to show that one should always trust the mirror over theory when it comes to dressing. I was nothing if not wide-hipped, but darling, I looked fabulous in those eighties' skirts. OK, I will grant you I had to remove a lot of shoulder pads and have the shoulders re-tailored, but, all told, the early eighties were bery, bery good to my allegedly all-wrong physique. And I bore not the slightest resemblance to a dominatrix. Couldn't have asked for a better fashion period to be in in my twenties. Ha, if I trusted "professional figure-type advice" over my own eye I would have died of terminal frumpiness sometime around 1978. (A-line skirts? A-line skirts are the work of the devil. You'd get me in an A-line skirt if you could force it on my cold, dead, body.) But I am persuaded more and more that your peregrinating erogenous zones theory has merit.

You know what I really miss, though? My extensive collection of classic high-heeled pumps in many colors. Sigh, that form-fitting little black-and-white houndstooth wool suit that I wore with those lipstick-red pumps. How many pairs of lipstick-red pumps did I wear out in those years? Ah, good times, good times.

Michael: Georgette. What the hell is georgette? No, don't tell me, I don't really want to know.

Wise choice. My husband would warn you that you should not go near a word like "georgette" without wearing your tin-foil jockstrap. As it stands you gentlemen are going to have to irradiate yourselves to neutralize all the girl cooties you're picking up in this thread.

Posted by: Moira Breen on March 22, 2009 5:46 PM

Moira, all us girls looked great in well tailored jackets, skirts and pumps! Dressing like a grown up can come back into fashion anytime. Oh, and for the sake of the thread, I like to wear my skirts just above the knee.

Posted by: Bradamante on March 22, 2009 9:20 PM

Have to agree with Roissy here. Painters can make those kinds of statements with impunity because hey, they're just noticing beauty and that's their job. Of course, if a favorable reaction occurs, then he can take it to the next step.

That said, there's no reason to not take it as a genuine compliment. And for what it's worth, I find well-developed calves on women attractive, probably due to my scrawny legs.

More on topic, I think our (men) prideful ignorance around fashion is just another symptom of the modern American male's overall mistrust of the sensual. Men pre WWII certainly knew how to dress.

Posted by: JV on March 22, 2009 11:12 PM

What a nasty piece of work he's becoming.

Posted by PatrickH

If you think what he said to jz is harsh please take a look at the "fat people" post Roosh wrote. He ripped poor Heather(?) apart. It was enough to make a weak person commit suicide.

Posted by: chic noir on March 23, 2009 5:05 PM

"Men pre WWII certainly knew how to dress." Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man. Oh, yeah.

Posted by: Bradamante on March 23, 2009 8:12 PM

"If you think what he said to jz is harsh please take a look at the "fat people" post Roosh wrote. He ripped poor Heather(?) apart. It was enough to make a weak person commit suicide."

I didn't find that comment particularly effective, myself (certainly not as much as the menfolk on Roosh's site did). Are we really to believe that an overweight woman cannot be happy? That her husband must certainly either be a NASCAR-watching loser or secretly looking for an out? The menfolk believed Heather crawled away in shame, but I can't help but think she just decided to look elsewhere for adult conversation.

Posted by: CyndiF on March 24, 2009 11:38 AM

@ Cyndif, I hope Heather found adult conversation somewhere else because she certainly didn't get it there.

Posted by: chic noir on March 24, 2009 3:47 PM

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