The History of the Midi Skirt

The swath of fabric that caused industry bankruptcy and feminist uproar.

History of the Midi Man Repeller Feature 1

If the midi skirt had a Real Housewives opening credit, it might be: “I may look innocent, but I’m anything but…”And you’d be wise to believe it (and steer clear of it at particularly tipsy dinner parties), because the skirt that hits above the ankle and below the knee — demure as it may seem — has a history of being a real shit-stirrer.

It all started in the 1920s when, for the first time in centuries, floor-length hems were on the rise. The war was over and the world was a nightclub: the economy was making it rain, lady ankles were out to dance, waists were dropping low, sweaty Victorian-era modesty was being ushered out by security and Coco Chanel was chilling in the VIP area telling everyone to just freaking live a little.


For the small portion of humanity that wasn’t being marginalized by evil humans during this decade, it was a real gas. And then in 1929, like a total buzzkill, the Great Depression hit. Spirits plummeted and they brought hemlines down with them. If Instagram had existed, ladies surely would have captioned their longer-skirted selfies with, “Mood AF.”


This was the era of the longer, more traditional midi. Hard economic times brought a renewed focus on modesty, and tea-length was an appropriately less-fun alternative to the shorter flapper dress. Sad. But also kind of chic. Post-depression blues carried the plain, demure midi into and through the 1940s.


Finally, mid-century, the traditional midi gave way to skirts of the poodle and pencil variety, and it’s right around the time I use the term “poodle variety” that you’re thinking: OKAY BUT WHERE THE F IS THE DRAMA YOU PROMISED ME?

And to that I say, BE PATIENT! A storm is brewing! And that storm looks a lot like a mini skirt.


If you read our recent retrospective on Mary Quant, you’ll recall that the invention of the mini skirt in the 1960s was as scandalous as it was revolutionary. L-E-G-S were finally out to P-L-A-Y.

What does this have to do with the midi? Well, this is when things gets muddy. By the late ’60s, loads of industry people — not to be confused with everyday women who were rocking the fuq out of minis — were still offended by a skirt that had the gall to show a woman’s thighs. They wanted the midi back and they intended to bring it back by brute force if necessary.

Enter: John Fairchild, “the tyrannical, mischievous editor-in-chief of Women’s Wear Daily and founder of W Magazine.” DUN DUN DUN! Fairchild found minis to be immoral and unladylike so he banned them from all of his offices, proclaimed them dead and then declared 1970 “the year of the midi.

Now, let me be clear. This proclamation was not an educated guess or a creative idea; it was a morally-driven decision. And designers and manufacturers and stores and fashion influencers promptly listened because WWD was, as TIME described it, “a sacred mouthpiece of the fashion world.”

Stores started stocking up on midis. One high-end department store, Bonwit Teller announced that 95% of its fall fashion would be midi-length. Marketing on midis was plastered everywhere with reckless abandon. Hollywood pushed midis as the next big thing.

People were pissed. Because guess what? The midi skirt was actually not back. No matter how hard the industry pushed it, people weren’t taking to it. Consumers didn’t want to wear them! They’d shop for mini skirts and only find midi skirts! Can you imagine? It’s the sartorial equivalent of shopping for chocolate and only finding broccoli.

Actual boycotts erupted and soon newspapers were calling it a “hemline war.” The length of women’s skirts became a feminist issue: how dare anyone tell them how to dress? How dare a man define decency?


Rags, a counterculture fashion magazine out of San Francisco, called the push of the midi a conspiracy in a 1970 exposé entitled, “Fashion Fascism: The Politics of Midi.”

By 1974, the forced resurgence of the midi was proclaimed a failure. The New York Times reported that “women stayed away in droves, forcing several couture houses and small manufacturers into bankruptcy and the apparel industry into a tailspin.”

Did I not tell you this was drama? Although the midi-length peeked its head out via the classic 90s slip dress, it didn’t really find its footing again until the Spring and Fall 2014 collections when designers started mashing together influences from all the latter decades of the 20th century and — this is the clincher!!! — people actually liked it.

Which is kind of the point, right? If the midi debacle of 1970 achieved anything, it proved that even the most influential voices can’t sway the public if they don’t want to be swayed.

Good news: trends and progress and freedom lie in the hands of the collective.

Feature photographs by Bess Georgette/Flickr via The Atlantic and High Valley Books. Inserted image credits in order of appearance: via Huffington Post; via Wearing History Blog; via Marie Claire; via Mintage Vintage; via The Atlantic.


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  • Haley this was so good! I loved the writing and it was really informative. For me the battle with mini skirts lies solely on my self-esteem. It’s like they’re proportional: the shorter the skirt goes, the better I’m feeling about myself. That being said, I flight long dresses (not midi but full) also make me feel great.

    It’s amazing how much they were pushing midis! I imagine that the midi skirts that were being bought were also getting cropped considerably.

  • Amelia Diamond



    This was awesome and I wish I was alive to experience it firsthand. Also, it’s so weird to think about an industry that rejects miniskirts in the 60s, because the mod, straight, mini skirt shape is basically the only constant I associate with that decade.

    • That’s where my curiosity lies. I regularly wonder what this decade and the 2000-2010 would be synonymous with in the years of our children and grandchildren. Is it determined by the most popular trends (probably not) or the most outrageous ones (could be) or random, possibly obscure trends that just happen to stick (quite likely)? I think about how many trends we as “regular” yet fashion interested people go through, and that there’s no way past generations didn’t fly through trends at overwhelming speeds too. Maybe not as fast as now because, ya know, fast fashion and thousands of runway seasons. But still. It’s crazy to think an entire 10 years of fashion evolution can be reduced to just one or two trends. We know that era as the mini skirt era, but to think there were tons of other trends pushed by the people AND the industry that just slip away into oblivion.

  • Kari

    Love the drama!! This is great, and so well written. Looking forward to talking to my mom about if she remembers any of this.

  • Skully

    …..probably wearing a midi right now. quite a few of my friends and i go between midi’s and pencil skirts, never minis — but only because in a mini you’d need to wear undies to not flash bits

  • Rachel (Waco) Turnbow

    Well that was a very entertaining little post, there, Haley. I totally love that the public pushed back on some fancy dude deciding women shouldn’t show their thighs. Ha! As if! But after giving it a little thought, I felt the need to throw in my 2-cents, as someone who was born in the 60’s and has lived through all the ensuing decades. You state: “Although the midi-length peeked its head out via the classic 90s slip dress, it didn’t really find its footing again until the Spring and Fall 2014 collections…”, but that’s not actually true. While mini-skirts tended to appear and disappear, for most of my teenage and young adult years, miniskirts were not “in” fashion. In fact, starting in the late 1970’s (with the layered prairie look), through the 80’s (1940’s redo), and well into the 90s (who cares about skirts, let’s wear pants!), the mid-calf length skirt was very much the thing to wear; I should know because I looked like a matronly hag in these skirts and that’s when I stopped wearing dresses. There were definitely cultural segments that held on to “retro” fashion, but mainstream did not. As a shorter gal with good legs and curvaceous hips/booty, I latched on to miniskirts whenever I found them, but that didn’t happen very often (honestly) after I was in about 4th grade. By the mid 70’s, mini skirts were on their way out. Now that my thighs, also, are on their way out, I can only give a nostalgic salute to the mini skirt fashion trend that reached its peak too soon for me, a scowling middle finger to the longer lengths that hung off my hips and tummy like a circus tent, and a dubious raised eyebrow to the truly mid-length trend that started a couple of years ago. What’s the use in showing my knees when the back of my arms now look like canned biscuits and the veins around my knees look like drunken tattoos? Hey, maybe the W Magazine fancy dude was really just trying to protect the fragile egos and dignity of middle aged women who hadn’t looked great in short skirts since the(ir) 20’s?

    • Sandra Dudley

      And/or maybe his wife/girlfriend mentioned how incredibly painful it could be to sit down on a vinyl car seat in summer, in a mini skirt.
      I wanted a mini when I was in Jr High, and have never worn one since. Midis are difficult, but once you find a pattern that works for your shape . . . SO much more comfortable. AND you can wear knee-high nylons when the occasion (or the office) demands stockings. I hate pantyhose, always have. Unhygienic & uncomfortable.

  • A Opishinski

    Actually midis did have a resurgence in popularity in the mid to late 70s as a-line skirts, much of the 80s in return of the “prairie” and ’30s/’40s styles as well as basically everything Princess Di ever wore, and again in the 90s with the comeback of granny chic, and challis front-buttoning everything..

  • Terri Borden

    I lived through all of this being born in the 50’s. My mother was a wonderful seamstress. She made most of my clothes. My hemlines went up and staid up. When I got into my teens and started earning money, I started buying midi length skirts and dresses. My mother would always look at them and insist that she shorten them! I liked the longer lengths. I still do. I will not wear anything that shows my knees. Look at pictures. Look at knees. They are not attractive. Wear a mini skirt and wear a midi skirt, which one are you the most comfortable walking, sitting, and moving around in? The midi! The lies that have been fed you are the ones about mini skirts not midis.