Drawing the Line

Fashion and its victims.
June 4 1998 3:30 AM

Drawing the Line

Skirts are sinking below the knee, but only because we know they'll scurry back up again.

(Continued from Page 1)

The original miniskirt had another revolutionary side--it was another theft by women from men, only disguised. Pants were an old story, and they were no longer strictly male; but the 1960s short-tunic-and-tights costume, especially when worn with high boots, cropped hair, and a hip-level belt, seemed to put girls into the clothes of Renaissance youths, so they looked like Carpaccio dandies or Ghirlandaio toughs. Daggers were not added, but the effect of privileged male freedom was very telling--maybe with a touch of Joan of Arc. Girls in such androgynous gear looked ready for any adventure.

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All such Robin Hood allusions have long since been extinguished. There followed the epoch of leg warmers and other mutations into the aerobics class look. Miniskirts withdrew from such sweaty connotations, emphasizing instead their harmony with classic jackets. These days, most miniskirts stop quite a few inches below the crotch. They have mainstream acceptance and no shock value, and are worn by young career women and old grandmothers alike.

Though many girls still wear their skirts very, very short, novelty has lately required increasing their length, not their brevity--and many new long skirts are resembling South Sea wraparounds, often gauzy, to suggest more exotic freedoms, newer ways for longer skirts to seduce. Once everybody goes in for length, let's give it about three years--the same period as between 1922 and 1925, say--and then expect another rise, with other connotations. The fashion business sees to it that interest in shifting skirt lengths is never exhausted.

But perhaps after a hundred years of skirts that liberate and expose, women will again feel the desire for fullness, drag, and bulk in their skirts; for the chance to swish, trail, and sweep; to swing heavy fabric from the hips; maybe even to lift heavy folds in front of the belly--or simply to have another way of muffling unsatisfactory legs with something that isn't pants. The couture ball dress and the standard wedding dress do, after all, keep suggesting the possibility, and Madonna's Oscar outfit this year suggests that full gowns have even attained the status of something avant-garde.

Anne Hollander is Slate's fashion columnist.

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