Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fashion Flashback: The Midi Skirt

Saleswomen at New York's Bonwit Teller learning techniques to sell the midi skirt,
which eventually grossed one million that year.  Photo by John Dominis.

A family friend recently gifted me with a vintage tweed houndstooth skirt that is a much longer length than I'm typically accustomed to wearing -- it's a conservative style with the skirt length falling to about mid-calf.

Apparently this type of skirt is called the midi skirt, or "midis," and they were all the rage in the 1970s.  Women's Wear Daily editor John Fairchild heavily promoted the look, which served as an alternative to the mini skirt that was also so popular in the '60s and '70s.  It incited a great reaction, even spurring an uproar from proponents of the mini skirt who found midis to be dowdy.  You can even see a protester's sign below that says "Minis are truth."



A 1970 issue of LIFE magazine offers a rather humorous account of the trend:
When Lord & Taylor ran an ad which gave women a choice ("It's not the length, it's the look that counts"), many, angered at the overpromotion of the midi, wrote in.  "Thank you for easing at least one of life's endless harassments," said one.  Another, from Ohio, explained that "I for one would look like a dumpy squashed pumpkin in the long skirts...With Lord & Taylor behind me I know I'll still be in fashion."  But fashion is just what the midi-men are counting on.  "There'll always be that strange woman, God bless her, we love her," reasons Charles W. Folds, vice president of Marshall Field, "who wants to be the first out of the hen coop with the latest oddity.  She'll go to any length to be au courant and we make a lot of money because of her."
Barbara Walters (seen below on the right) herself was an advocate of the midi look back in the '70s, saying "I'm seen by more people than any other woman in this country, and when I wear a midi, that's it."


It's safe to say the midi has made a comeback -- I've seen more and more longer-length skirts at retailers.  ASOS even has a category on their Web site devoted to midi skirts, as well as Macy's and Modcloth.  Carey Mulligan, who is one of my personal favorites, is often seen wearing them.  Check out some inspiration below, which include designs from Nina Ricci and Balmain.

Photo Source: LIFE on Google Books

3 comments:

  1. I love this trend, and I’ll like to try it out. Unfortunately, I am petite and midi skirts make me look short. :( But I think with a little help or advice from an expert I think I might look good in this trend.

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  2. Point of order: I was there in 1970 and midis were in no senes "all the rage". Unless by rage you mean fury. The midi was so controversial that even I, an eight-year old boy at the time, remember the hatred women poured all over it. The anger was all over the media: on TV, in magazines and newspapers. Later I learned that women viewed the midi as something cooked up by the fashion industry and forced on them. Throughout my youth and into my college years, the term "midi" was used like "Edsel" to mean a complete corporate failure, even by men; that tells you how loudly and universally women rejected it.

    All these years later I got to remembering the Midi War, Googled it, and landed here. But checking some of the graphics I've seen tonight on the Net, I realise that the midi was only ugly because it was made in the 70s. Everything was ugly in the 70s. Even miniskirts were ugly in the 70s. I still remember with horror the God-awful leisure suits that absolutely every adult, and even a few kids, wore for three or four years there. Clothes so ugly, even a man can tell.

    Anyway, current styles that come up if you Google "midi + skirt" are very attractive. So my theory is valid: it wasn't the dress that was ugly, it was the decade.

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  3. The problem with the midi skirt is that it usually hit the leg mid-calf, which is an extremely unflattering length. Just below the knee is fine, if the skirt is well cut, but mid-calf couldn't be worse. That's one reason women hated it. The other, of course, is that the arrival of the midi meant spending time and a lot of money spent revamping your wardrobe if you cared at all about being fashionable.

    But Robin, the midi -- or at least below the knee skirts -- did become pretty much the standard hem length for years, so it was by no means a failure. It wasn't until the mid-80's that above-the-knee skirts really returned to the fashion forefront.

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