or How Short Can You Go?
The twentieth century saw more radical changes in fashion, than any era before - most strikingly, the amount of flesh that clothing no longer covered, combined with the fit of garments. Today I thought I'd look at hemlines on women's dresses and skirts throughout last century.
I've deliberated for a while over this post, as regards the content and the photos. The vast majority of the photos are family, hence, in the main, this is my perspective on the topic, from my little corner of the world - Australia.
The four photos that are not mine, early on in the century, are in the public domain.
|Family photo - one of my ancestors - mid to late 1800s|
The lady above is a family ancestor who lived in the mid to late 1800s - during the Victorian era, when there wasn't much exposed skin, at least on the bottom half. Shoulders and necklines were another matter when it came to evening wear, but that's not the topic for today.
The fashion from the 19th Century Victorian era sets the scene for today's post.
1900 - 1909
|1903 - Spencer Sisters|
For the first ten years of the century, most dresses and skirts covered the ankles, with many of them trailing along the ground...
1910 - 1919
|Hobble Skirt ~ Postcard ~ 1911|
During the 1910s, the hobble skirt became fashionable - jokingly referred to as the speed-limit skirt in the postcard. Hmmm... not exactly practical, but apparently in fashion for several years. Not by working women, I'm guessing.
Due to the First World War, hemlines rose above the ankles.
- 1910s in Western Fashion
- Vintage Fashion 1910 - 1920
- Women's Clothing 1910s
- 1910 Fashion Images
- 1910 Paris Fashions
1920 - 1929
|1927 - Norma Shearer|
The 1920s saw clothes become less restrictive and more comfortable. Shapeless dresses, boyish styles and the flapper dress were in vogue. Hemlines rose, but still well below the knees.
- Flapper Fashion - 1920s History
- 1920 Fashion Photographs of Real People
- 1920s in Western Fashion
- Women's Fashion 1920 - 1930
- History of Women's Fashion 1920 - 1929
- The Flapper Referendum in 1922
|1931 - Mary Pickford|
Hemlines lengthened during the 30s, halfway between the knees and ankles. Waist lines returned, designs were more feminine and zippers became widely used in garments. Ready to wear fashion had begun, although only for some.
|Family photo ~ 1930s - my paternal grandparents|
The Great Depression dictated that clothes were less extravagant. Repair, reuse, make do, and don't throw anything away was a motto at the time. Thrift is the spirit of the day. Reckless spending is a thing of the past, is another.
- 1930 - 1945 in Western Fashion
- Stylish 30s Fashion
- Fashion in the 1930s
- 1930s Fashion Including Prices
- Flour Sacks for Clothes
- Big Changes Came to Fashion Trends in the 1930s
- Fashion During the Great Depression
- The Great Depression and Women's Fashion
- What Did Women Wear in the 1930s
- 1930 to 1940
1940 - 1949
|Family photo - 1940s - my Mum, Aunty & a friend|
The 1940s saw hemlines on the rise again. Boxy shoulders, nipped in waists and A-line skirts to, or just below the knees were the go.
|Family photo - 1940s - Mum in a skirt made from a tablecloth|
Dress lengths rose due to the shortage of fabrics caused by rationing and the war. Women were encouraged to Mend and Make Do. Nothing was wasted. Blankets, linen and parachute silks were made into clothing. The term refashioning didn't exist.
|Family photo - 1940s - my grandmother & my mother|
Clothing was constructed so as to not waste fabric. Suits, with their mix and match skirts, blouses and jackets became popular.
- 1940s Rationing
- What Did Women Wear in the 1940s?
- Women's Clothing - 1940s
- Women's Dress Code in the War Years
- Women's Clothing in the 1940s
- 1940 to 1950
- Women's Fashion in the 1940s
1950 - 1959
|Family photo - 1950s - my parents, godparents, and my Nana holding me|
After the restrictions of the war, more fabric was used in dresses during the 1950s. Tea length dresses had soft shoulders, cinched waistlines and very full skirts. They were designed to show off an hour glass figure. Foundation garments were worn to achieve the perfect figure.
|Family photo - 1950s - family friend making sure I don't fall off the wall|
The 50s saw a variety of styles, more so than in past decades. Women did not want to give up the freedoms they had gained during the war years. On the one hand, the skirts of the 40s were largely replaced with pretty, feminine dresses. To a lesser extent, long slim fitted skirts were also worn, as were sack dresses.
- 1950s Fashion - Women's Dresses
- 1950s Fashion History
- 1950s Fashion - What Did Women Wear?
- Fashion in the 1950s
- Women's Clothing - 1950s
- Fashion in the 1950s
- Women's Clothing of the 1950s
1960 - 1969
|Me in the early 1960s|
The 1960s saw even more changes in fashion than the 50s. Teenagers growing up in the 60s wanted to be as different as possible to their parents, hence the gap in fashion styles for young people and more mature women widened. The latter were content to wear a variation of 50s clothing. Teenagers, on the other hand, wanted change.
|Me in the mid 1960s in a baby doll dress|
Although the 60s were associated with the mini skirt, it took time to evolve. Short skirts were not really worn till 1966 / 67. As well as the short skirts and dresses, shift dresses were popular, as was the baby doll look.
|Me in the late 1960s|
As the 60s progressed, hair was worn longer, while dresses became shorter. For the first time, the young were leading fashion.
The invention of pantyhose in the 60s, made the wearing of mini skirts possible. Well dressed ladies still didn't venture outside in bare legs, unless in casual clothes. No more stockings and garter belts to hide and this allowed hemlines to well and truly rise.
- 1960s Dresses and Skirts
- 1960s Fashion - What Did Women Wear?
- The 60s Mini Skirt
- 1960s in Western Fashion
- Mini Skirt
- Jean Shrimpton and the Mini Dress
- Debut of the Mini Skirt
- A History of the Mini Skirt
- How Fashion's Most Daring Hemline Came to Be
1970 - 1979
|Early 70s - out to the movies with Mr TMW|
|School photo - very early 1970s - I'm the one in the middle|
Even school uniforms were worn short. In the mid 60s, teachers stipulated that hemlines were to be a maximum of 4" from the ground when kneeling on the ground - and they checked if they thought a dress was too short. In the junior years we'd hitch the dresses up over our belts. As we entered the 70s, rules were relaxed, at our school at least.
|Early 1970s - Mr TMW, Mum & me in my going away outfit at our wedding - a hand knitted dress|
There was still a wide gap between dress lengths of different generations, as evidenced by my barely covering anything hand knitted dress, and my Mum's dress falling to just below the knees.
|Mid 1970s - me in my halter neck mini dress|
And here's the photo I've deliberated about showing - a halter neck mini dress worn with my favourite JCs (leather sandals that I wore till they fell to pieces). I made this about the time I was training to be a teacher, but it was a bit too casual for wearing once teaching. The length would have been OK while teaching, just not the halter neck style. Now-a-days, it would barely be considered long enough to be worn as a tunic over leggings.
As a young teacher in the mid 70s, I can remember having to hold down the back of my dress as I wrote high up on the blackboard, so my underwear could not be seen by the students. Hard to imagine, but most of my peers in their mid twenties wore similar length dresses, and no one ever complained.
Funny story - On the first day at a new school, I was wearing wooden Scholl sandals, and the Principal said to me, We cover our toes here at XYZ School. Ha, ha, he wasn't worried about the length of my dress, just my bare toes. I did cover them up for a few days, till I could see most of the other females were showing their bare toes. Said boss didn't say a word when I wore my Scholls again.
Much as you may think I'm making a peace sign - fits in with the era - I'm not. Mr TMW and I were looking at blocks of land to buy and this was block #2 that we looked at. The pink hexagonal sunnies, a present from Mr TMW, were popular during the 70s.
|Family photo - late 70s - me in long hippie style dress and Mum|
In direct contrast to the ever so short mini dresses, long flowing hippie style dresses with hemlines just above the ground were also popular, as were halter neck dresses, loose fitting kaftans and palazzo pants or culottes.
Hippie style clothes were often made with cheese cloth fabrics from India. Polyester, however, was the material that gained in popularity. It was everywhere!!! Wish I had a photo of my 70s culottes - polyester from head to toe.
The 70s saw the disco scene and accompanying fashions - think Saturday Night Fever - but that was for night wear.
High platform heels, adding several inches to height, were worn by both men and women. In direct contrast, flat JC leather sandals were also popular.
|Family photo - Mid to late 1970s - Mr TMW's graduation - me in woollen skirt and jumper I made|
Hemlines were all over the place during the 70s - micro minis, minis, midis and maxis could all be seen around at the same time and in the same places.
|Family photo - Mid to late 1970s - me in a woollen suit I sewed|
From the mid 70s on, mini skirts were seen less, and micro minis disappeared almost completely. Hemlines were on the way down.
- 1970s in Western Fashion
- 1970s Fashion
- 70s Fashion
- Fashion in the 1970s
- 1970s Fashion War
- Fashion Protest Over Hemlines in the 70s
- Skirt-ing Around the Issue
- 1970s Dresses and Skirts
- 1970s Fashion History
1980 - 1989
|Family photo - 1980s - me at an evening wedding|
Big hair, slap bands, velour tracksuits, stirrup pants, turtle necks and scrunchies, all made an appearance. Large shoulder pads were synonymous with power dressing. Dresses, skirts and blouses became looser, and pants tighter.
Hemlines varied in length, with minis reappearing in the late 80s. Brightly coloured, flared knit skirts with large roll over waistbands were popular, as were light coloured, flared denim skirts.
In previous decades, evening wear was usually ankle length. From the 80s onwards, it became acceptable to wear dresses which sat just under the knees.
- Fashion in the 1980s
- 1980s Fashion History
- 1980s Fashion for Women and Girls
- 80s Fashion
- Trends that Rocked the 80s and 90s
- 80s Dresses
- 1980s in Western Fashion
- 1980 - 1990
1990 - 1999
The big clothes of the 80s gave way to more fitted. Bright colours disappeared, fashion rules were relaxed and both grunge and minimalism were embraced. There was a move towards comfort during the 90s.
Skorts were invented in the 90s - half skirt, half shorts. The fad didn't last long.
Short tight skirts, made with with either stretch fabric or denim, became fashionable. They were often paired with leggings or bicycle shorts.
Skirt suits were also popular, with both the skirt and blazer lengths shortening throughout the decade.
- 1990s in Fashion
- Fashion and Skirts of the 1990s
- Fashion in the 1990s
- 19990 - 2000
- 1990s Fashion for Women and Girls
- What Did People Wear in the 1990s
- 1990s Womens Fashion
- 1990s Period in Fashion History
- 11 Fashions Kids Were Wearing in 1993
- 90s Fashion
The last century saw a HUGE range of dress lengths - as high and as low as is physically possible. Do I have a favourite? Not really - from the 50s onwards, each brings back various memories.
Would I be happy wearing all of those style now? NO!!! You'll never see me wearing a micro mini again. At the time I thought I looked cool and loved the look. When I see young girls wearing short skirts now, I have to admit I think they should cover up a little more - and they don't have to be micro minis for me to think this. Perhaps this is my age showing, or maybe it's a matter of perspective - whether you're the one looking out or looking in.
Hemlines will continue to go up and down, but I don't think we'll ever see the extremes we saw in the 20th Century. Women now wouldn't tolerate the inconvenience of wearing dresses down to the ground. It might be OK for special occasions, but not for every day wear. And as far as dresses and skirts that barely cover the backside, I doubt that they will become mainstream fashion again. To quote a family member on seeing old photos of me in a micro mini - You look like a tart! Ha, ha... we certainly didn't think so at the time, but perceptions are very much dependent on place and time.
I hope you've enjoyed seeing and reading about evolving hemlines during last century. I've most definitely enjoyed reminiscing.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on different dress lengths - what you wore, how you felt then and now. If you lived in the 60s and 70s, how short did you go?
If you enjoyed this post, you may find the following interesting...
- Pants and Jeans in the 50s, 60s and 70s
- Clothes from the 50s and 60s
- How We Amused Ourselves in the 50s and 60s
- History of Swimwear
- All Women Become Like Their Mothers - or do they?