The cover story for the August 21, 1970 issue of Life, “The Midi Muscles In,” relates the controversy over the introduction of the midi skirt, a below-the-knee-cousin to the down-to-the-floor maxi skirt. Backed by designers and big department stores, the new length met push back from consumers. In fact, many fashion history books see resistance to rapidly changing skirt lengths in the 1970s as the beginning of the end for fashion by dictate from above.
Department stores tried to boost sales, which were not strong, by getting all their saleswomen to wear and promote the new style. That’s not what’s going on in this photo, a fashion show for saleswomen at Lord and Taylor. We can see by all the knees on display that the older women in the front row had not yet taken to the new style. Their facial expressions don’t look very enthusiastic, either.
“Many women, resigned to the loss of the above-the-knee-look, are taking evasive action, buying pants and pants suits, whose sale have more than doubled in a year,” the article reports. Although I can’t imagine that gray haired woman, center front, jumping into a pants suit any time soon, it is certainly in the seventies when I begin seeing photos of a lot of older women in pants.
The midi skirt looks graceful, to my eye. Kind of harkens back to some of the fluid dresses of the 1920s. Unless one is sylph-like, short skirts can make a person look squat and ungainly.
I seem to remember at one time women wearing pants were denied entry to restaurants. When I was a young woman, I thought of older women wearing polyester double knit pants: Why don’t they iron some nice pants? What else do they have to do? Now that I’m older, the last thing I want to do is iron clothes.
I agree with Carol – I liked the midi look, too. As we get older, I don’t think above the knee skirts/dresses are very attractive for us. I’ve lowered my hemline to just below the knee or longer.
Those three on the front row are not impressed!
I’ve never liked my skirts below the knee, though I did wear them at that length in the late 70s. I’ve pretty much settled on a right above the kneecap length, though I can see myself going a bit longer in the years to come.
I love the range of facial expressions in the audience. I spent the early 70s automatically buying 1 1/4″ hem facing tape to match every dress or skirt I bought. My legs are not my best feature — never were — so I always feel some sympathy for Hillary Clinton. I know exactly why she wears pantsuits! But we were not allowed to wear pants in the office or in the classroom until after 1970, nor did politicians’ wives wear them on the campaign trail. I hated mini-skirts, but the tyranny of fashion is such that going completely against it makes people lose respect for you in many professions. So I bought what was in the stores and immediately let down the hem before wearing it in the classroom. Imagine what happens when a young woman turns her back to the class and writes on the top of the blackboard while wearing a minidress. A room full of teenaged boys will be distracted from the lesson, for sure.
I was around at the time, and I think the biggest problem with the midi length was the way it was introduced. One minute it was skirts above the knee, the next, every woman was just supposed to throw out her dresses and skirts and adopt the longer length and that would have included their coats as well. That really did put women’s backs up, as I recall. A gradual intro over a few years as has happened with the re-introduction of longer lengths in the present day would have worked better.
Then, too, the midi length (and it was just one length at that time–mid-calf–not the mix of just-below-the-knee to nearly ankle length that now all seem to fall under the midi classification) could be really unflattering and “stumpifying” on a lot of women.
Neither my mother or my grandmother approved of skirts above the knee, but neither took to the midi skirt either. Interestingly, my grandmother, who had lived through both the ’30s and the ’50s when skirts were quite long, wouldn’t consider wearing that “clod-hopper” length again. My mother came of age in the ’50s and had worn the long, full skirts of that time–and never wore any skirt above the bottom of her knee even when shorter skirts came in–didn’t have any time for the midi either. Both of them were wearing pants almost exclusively by the mid 1970s.