If you went to Catholic school in the 1950’s, you might remember a nun asking you to kneel down on the floor of the classroom. Your skirt or dress had to touch the floor as you were kneeling. If not, your skirt or dress was deemed “too short.” You could not wear such an outfit to school.
Things have really changed. In 2016. a student in a local high school was told to hold her arm down at her side while she was standing. Her skirt or dress had to be at least as long as her arm with fingers extended. That means the hemline of the garment could be mid-thigh!
What causes hemlines to vary from short-short to floor length? One theory was proposed in 1926 by Professor George Taylor from the University of Pennsylvania. It is called the hemline index. The theory is that women’s dresses rise and fall with the stock market. The stronger the economy, the shorter the skirts. The weaker the economy, the longer the skirts.
Other factors can influence the length of dresses. For example, during World War II, the government needed fabric for the war effort. According to “Vintage Fashion—The History of Hemlines” at http://glamordaze.com,, “In 1942. Clothing rationing brought about actual regulations on women’s clothing! The UK had their “Utility Clothes” regulations, and the USA introduced Regulation L85 which set skirt lengths to 17 inches above the floor.”
Internationally known clothing designers also play an important role in determining the length of dresses. For example, in 1947 Christian Dior, a French fashion designer, introduced his first collection. It featured designs using large amounts of fabric to create a feminine silhouette.
During the 1950’s, the popular style was a dress with a full, billowy skirt that hit below the knee. A blouse and full, billowy skirt was also the preferred attire for teenage girls. The blouse was often sleeveless or short sleeve.
In 1962, a controversial item of clothing, the miniskirt, came upon the scene. The hemline was eight inches above the knee. A Huffington Post article describes the reaction: “Major designers like Coco Chanel and Christian Dior were initially against the trend. Chanel even deemed them “just awful.” The Netherlands banned the skirts for a limited period of time.” Inspired by the fashions she saw on the streets, British designer Mary Quant raised her hemlines to several inches above the knee in 1964.
In 1968, designer Oscar de la Renta created a maxi-dress for Elizabeth Arden Salon. Other designers soon followed, and the maxi-dress craze began. The dresses were made from soft fabric and flowed down to the floor. The Maxi has had a resurgence and is one of the top styles today.
—By Karen Centowski