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An inch to pinch

February 4, 2010

Christian Dior, 1949

You know how it is. You start surfing the internet merrily for something utterly forgettable and mundane. Then before you know it you’re in Google news reading the Spring fashion supplement from the Tri-City Herald from March 1949.

And then you catch sight of one particular headline that brings you up short:

Skirt lengths inch shorter for Spring ’49.

One inch? Is that all? If I was a thrifty girl about town in 1949 I doubt I’d have even gone to the trouble of getting out needle and thread and taking up my skirt hems. An inch is nothing. Who’s going to notice one little inch?

Jean Dessès, 1949

The fashion police were obviously in town and underemployed. The dictat continued:

Wide skirts…are not so billowing as the New Look made them, and skirt lengths for everyday wear are an inch shorter thus making 13 inches from the floor the Spring-1949 prescribed length.

Can you imagine? That’s 13 inches from the floor. Which is going to make dress shopping very difficult if you’re not whatever was considered an average height back in 1949. And that’s before you’ve even factored your heel height into the equation. (And means you can’t switch those heels for flats on the fly without falling foul of the 13 inch rule.)

The laying down of the fashion law continued:

For cocktail and dinner dresses, lengths go down to 10 inches.

Robert Piguet, 1949

Ha. Doesn’t all this seem ridiculous to us modern readers? We’re so used to being able to pick and choose just about any length we choose that suits that it seems laughable anyone could prescribe an actual figure for skirt lengths. Occasionally I do actually feel immensely thankful that we live in an era in which pretty much anything goes, sartorial-wise. I wonder how many readers did pay close attention to this in 1949 and got that tape measure out. (Or perhaps all this was viewed back then in the same spirit as Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Code- “really more like guidelines, anyway”…)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2010 6:11 pm

    Indeed! I can’t imagine….
    I do love that black dress with the recurring print, very pretty.

  2. February 4, 2010 7:55 pm

    Wow, such crazy rules!! I’m sure not too many real women followed them, realistically you couldn’t. On another note, that first ensemble you’ve featured is so dreamy!!!

  3. Nathalie permalink
    February 5, 2010 10:28 am

    ‘Fashion police’ seems very apt a description. I’ve often heard my French grandmother (now 89) say how the powers that be would decide what length hems should be for the year and that was the length all hems were… Women obeyed, presumably for fear of being deemed unfashionable otherwise. With them, it wasn’t measured from the floor though (which seems extremely impractical, for all the reasons you stated!) but from the knees.

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