Over the last century there has been an amusing notion in the West that the length of women’s skirts is seen as an indicator of the state of the wider economy – the Hemline Index. A quick perusal of a variety of contemporary news and blog commentaries discussing this idea would suggest that slightly more commentators concur with the original proposition that skirts get shorter in good times than the reverse. Although the counter view that skirts actually get shorter in challenging times also had its supporters with more than just economic explanations for the perceived phenomenon.
It is just as you would expect, for every set of data there is a different interpretation of the data with as many different explanations as people doing the interpreting.
But I like the old, traditional version. The roaring twenties gave us higher hemlines around knee-height, with women’s calves on display for the first time in millennia. This period of affluence (for some anyway) was followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s with hemlines sinking back to around the ankles. The decades past until the Swinging Sixties brought us Mary Quant and the mini skirt, a truly short skirt for a time of optimism and booming markets.
Naturally, within a decade the hemlines dived again along with the world’s economy as the 1973 Oil Crisis hit. It was the era of the maxi skirt, and the hems of the Laura Ashley dresses, for example, hit the ground at the same time as major world economies tanked.
This all brings me to my recent observations regarding the latest fashion shows for 2020. Just when you think the Climate Crisis is finally at the top of the world’s agenda and the fashion sector is surely facing a time of moderation and sustainability, the runways are bedecked with strangely voluminous, outré and frivolous frocks, but at least as predicted by the Hemline Index, the frocks are indeed floor-length.
It would appear we are heading for some seriously choppy waters. And, as if to confirm this gloomy outlook we have tough and resilient from Jean-Paul Gaultier. In Paris last month he gave us the final show of his 50 year fashion career ending with the closing pair walking down the runway dressed as if they had just arrived from a ‘Mad Max’ dystopian future of climate chaos.