The Long — and Short — Of It

When hemlines don’t know if they’re rising or lowering so they do both.


According to the Hemline Index, which was a theory culled in 1926 by a professor named George Taylor at UPenn’s Wharton, there is a direct and decidedly profound relationship between hemlines and the economy.

As the theory goes, when the economy is strong, skirts are short. When it is weak, they get longer. According to a study by Marjolein van Baardwijk, there is a three year lag period between the economic cycle and the lengthening or shortening of hemlines. This should make spectacular sense when considering the maxi skirts of 2011 and the ankle length skirts of 2012 vis-a-vis the American finance bubble not just burst but explosion of 2008.

Where difficultly arises, as far as I’m concerned, is in the most recent trend to re-emerge and subtly re-enter the fashion psyche and that is the proliferation of uneven hemlines. What may have started as the resuscitation of a reverse mullet, leading way to party in the front, business in the back as championed by such designers as Emilio Pucci, Thakoon Panichgul and, uh, Free People has, in at least the last two seasons, become a brazen clutter of disparate lengths on one garment.

Think the theatrical Roberto Cavalli of yonder — only espoused by the establishment of today’s minimalism.

Now consider the most recent fall endeavors of Céline’s Phoebe Philo, or Christopher Kane (who even went so far as to present an uneven hemmed coat), or Dior’s Raf Simons, or Sacai. Consider Nicolas Ghesquière’s Resort collection for Louis Vuitton or the stuff in stores now — like Clare Waight Keller’s dresses and skirts for pre-fall Chloé, or if you’re very lucky, the leftover loot from her spring offering.

If we’re clocking economic insight and taking the Index at face value, what do these collections infer? Where the mullet skirt may have suggested a tale of two cities — one where wealth populated the upper echelons of a singular town and poverty eclipsed a lower degree of the same territory — these uneven hems say what? That our two cities-so-to-speak under one umbrella have become one? Will become one? Free ready-to-wear for all?

Maybe I’m reading too far into this, maybe fashion is just responding to a request brought forward by an anonymous, enterprising pretty young thing to cover her escalating sunspots. Or something.

All Runway Images via

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  • Good thought!

  • GapToothedGirl

    So I have to be happy…Great news!!

    XOX, Gap.

  • Alexandra Puffer

    Nice research, love the concept that it could all be intertwined. I wrote a post about high lows last summer, & personally I think their moment has past. I’m all about the hems that fall 2-3 inches above the knees right now. This was a good read – thanks!

    Warm regards,

  • love this post! my dad always said he hated the high-low trend because they look like “ass capes.” He’s usually no pro when it comes to fashion, but I think I’m going to have to agree with him on this one.
    This whole “in-between” thing isn’t for me. Let’s decide on high OR low, not both, please.

    • MippysMom

      LOL Ass-capes!! Those high-low hems look incredibly silly. I’ll stick with my ankle/maxi skirts. You can sit to play a musical instrument without providing more entertainment to the audience than intended!

  • Androbel

    love love the mid long skirts with the long tops!

    Xo, Belen

    A Hint of Life

  • something similar happened in the early 30s when the shorter flapper styles gave way to the slightly longer depression era styles. There were a lot of handkerchief & asymmetrical hems.

  • Incredible analysis and tremendous insight into our economic situation. Here’s to hoping hemlines will rise up–evenly–over the next couple years!

  • Interesting theory. It reminds me of the inverse relationship between lipstick sales and skirts. In a bad economy lipstick sales go up because for just eight bucks you can brighten your day with a new shade. Funny how the world works.

    • Leandra Medine

      oooooh tell me more

      • Hi Leandra, yup it’s true. Consumer psychology studies show that lipstick sales are driven up in a bad economy–even the heftier priced ones. They think it’s because it’s a quick mood booster during tough economic times. On the contrary gourmet coffee sales drop because people don’t necessarily want to shell out $4/cup–it’s an easy luxury to cut out. They’ve also found positive correlation between the sales of diapers and beer! A bit of research into this showed that when dads are sent to the grocery store to pick up diapers, they also buy a case of beer–perhaps to feel ‘manly’ or to offset the diaper purchase. Who knows, men are weird creatures. Consumer psychology is fascinating stuff!

        • Saakshi Kaushik

          did you secretly write Freakonomics? I’m suspicious…

  • Lisa

    Sounds like natural economist!
    Love the post, so interesting for me as an economy student and a girl at the same time!

  • monkeyshines
  • Guest
  • I’ve always found this theory super interesting! It makes total sense in the 20s-90s, but I don’t know, something about fashion of the past few years seems like it’s less about making statements and more about making clothes with slight variations for a nation/world with shorter attention spans and a knack for getting bored easily, specifically because we have the world at our fingertips and can quite literally — in the case of fashion — see something until we hate it so much, get so sick of it, and can no longer stand to see it anymore.

    that might have made no sense…summer brain, oops!

  • Without you Man Repeller, the ratio between wit and humor with macarons selfies would be even more painfully out of balance in the blogging world. oh and this too—>