I was interested to learn that many believe that hemlines rise during economic prosperity and fall during economic decline. That prompted me to do a little looking around to get a brief background on the ups and downs of the hemline. To begin with, the miniskirt originated in London, which apparently caused a huge stir in the elite Parisian fashion world, which had previously ruled supreme setting fashion trends. The development of the mini skirt literally had the likes of Parisian fashion gurus like Yves Saint Laurent forced to follow in the footsteps of London's Carnaby Street!
The mini skirt's origins can be traced to London fashion designer Mary Quant (seen above). The mini skirt would maintain popularity until the mid-1970's when pants became more fashionable for women. Why was it such an instant success? Think about the attitude of this new generation - youth was everything, the Who were singing they hoped they'd die before they got old, and the older generation just didn't get it, man. The mini skirt became a symbol of this exalted youth since you basically had to be youthful to get away with wearing it, and it was a bit controversial too.
The mini skirt hemline gradually inched upwards, prompting one critic in 1969 to spout, "Skirts had gone as high as they could architecturally go--any higher, and they would cease to be skirts and become blouses."
So how did a British fad, popular among the mod culture, make it to the states? Well, many Americans got their first glimpse on an ABC television special called "The Mini-Skirt Rebellion" in 1967. It wasn't long before the American Baby Boomers, who were also basking in their youthful splendor, latched on to the trend. Soon they were even wearing them on "The Brady Bunch".
Indeed, the mini skirt enjoyed its greatest popularity in the U.S. in the early 1970's. The picture below is actually from Wikipedia and shows three Freshman college girls between classes in Memphis, Tennessee, 1973 - you can plainly see the hemline was up.... way up.
Correlating hemlines to stock prices may be a stretch, but I think it is safe to say that hemlines are related to the overall cultural mood. In the roaring twenties the hemlines rose (ex. flappers), and went back down during the Great Depression, only to rise again in the swingin' sixties. Not buying it? Well, after the economic depression of the 1970's was over, the U.S. entered the affluent 80's... and guess what?
I think, in a way, you are able to gauge the mindset and sexual attitudes of a culture by their hemline. A mini skirt would have been simply scandalous in the 1950's, yet it would be commonplace a mere decade later with the sexual revolution. Here's the cultural litmus test: Is a woman in a mini skirt liberated or a slut? The popular consensus to that question says a lot about the culture.
In 1972, the consensus was resoundingly positive. So much so that you could have a member of a Christian band wearing a mini skirt, and no one raise an eyebrow.
There are a multitude of factors that you have to consider in tracking the rise and fall of the hemline. For instance, you could have the most free and sexually liberated culture in history, but they reject the mini skirt simply because of its negative association with the 1970's - a time of some pretty severe fashion disasters. Case in point:
Whatever the case, it is interesting to think that the hemline may have a connection to not just economics but also sexual attitudes. There's gotta be a doctoral dissertation out there somewhere that answers the question.... until then, it's just fun to speculate.