October 27, 2012

Obsessing too long...

Let me ask you something: Do you ever obsess about skirt length?

Of course, way back in the day, hemlines were a big issue. Every season, women eagerly awaited the new dictats from Paris, brought to them by their trusted local magazines. 
I've read about it time and again in the vintage magazines in my collection: Fashion editors would visit the shows in Paris twice a year. It was hard to get invitations, and even if they did, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture had strict rulings about when they were allowed to publish sketches and photographs. In their articles, the fashion editors often show themselves as being rather in awe of all that's going on in Paris. And of course, they also display a sensible Dutch disdain for so much frivolity. And they tend to be conservative: a big change is hardly ever greeted with enthousiasm. It tends to take them the better part of a season to actually start recommending a new silhouette, and until then (as in the more practical 'what to buy now' articles all year round) they will advice readers to go for classic and quiet shapes, in safe colours (although that does change over the course of the 1950's when the general level of wellfare increases and clothes become cheaper and more readily available). 

Precisely defined hemlines, measured in centimeters from the ground (I don't know whether or not they considered different heel heights in that. Maybe there was usually only one fashionable heel height) are usually one of the first things mentioned in any report about the Paris shows. 
In the 1940's, during World War II, textiles were being rationed in all of Europe, which resulted in frugal kind of fashion. Boxy, sporty shapes with square shoulders, skirts to just below the knee with sufficient width for ease of movement (including running).

Like in these designs from Dutch sewing magazine Bella from 1942.

In 1947, Dior shocked the world with is New Look: the 'Ligne Corrolle' (which I may have mis-spelled), as it was actually called, introduced a very feminine silhouette with sloping shoulders, a narrow waist and long, full skirts. It caused an outrage in countries where textiles were still on ration. Libelle's fashion editor, in the autumn of 1947, called the New Look unflattering, aging, old-fashioned and of course, frivolous. And quite impossible to accomplish from one 'textile points'.
Those much-debated long skirts reached, for daywear, to 30 cm from the ground, which is suggested to be at a skirt length of 85 cm from the waist. 
For the autumn of 1948, the same editor was quick to pronounce the death of the New Look: skirt were getting shorter again. At most fashion houses, they were now to be 32 or 33 cm from the ground. At some, day dress hemlines even floated at 35 cm but this seemed a bit too short...

In the years that followed, skirt lengths would change with each season (getting shorter at some times and longer at others, contrary to what my small selection of pictures may suggest).  

In December 1950 (Ok, these are cocktail dresses, but I don't have photographs of day dresses) hems were still pretty much at calf length. Picture from Bella.

The summer dresses of 1955 are clearly shorter, although quite clearly below the knee. Picture from Libelle, and such a charming one. I think the colour really adds to the atmosphere.

In 1959 they are shorter yet, just about grazing the bottom of the knee, but still longer than during the war. Picture from Margriet practisch modeboek.

Of course, there hasn't been one single, universally accepted, fashionable skirt length in decade. Yes, skirt fashions still change but you won't be pointed at in street for wearing a too long one. 
I often experiment with different lengths. I was going to show you examples, but I think this post is long enough as it is. I'll save that for the next one.

And why am I suddenly so interested in hemlines? The point is: I want to make that big bright pink skirt... I spent a lot of time and thought on the length it should have. 


  1. I tend to worry more about pant hemlines, along with heel heights and such. With skirts any length would look good on you but with your tiny waist I'd go with the Dior look.

  2. Fascinating! I'm relieved we now have an anything goes culture with respect to hem lengths. Some lengths definitely don't suit everyone.

  3. Great post! I'm so glad I get to pick my own hemlines... ;)

    Can't wait to see what you do with the pink!

  4. This made me think of high school, when there was a very particular length of jeans--they had to be rolled just this many inches above your shoes... But I'm glad we don't have to think about it too hard anymore. And that long floor-length skirts are for every day, too.