The might of the mini

EVERYONE loves a comeback, or do they? The mini-skirt, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, looks set to make a return and turn heads yet again.

Despite sartorial evidence to the contrary, be it Victoria Beckham’s 33-inch pencil styles or Prada’s layered maxi/trouser trousseau, hems are steadily rising. Sales of the mini-skirt on eBay.ie have spiked by a whopping 92% in the last year, with luxury e-tailer Net-a-Porter boasting a sell-out success of Proenza Schouler’s cult basket-weave mini — a snip at e3,104.26. If the spring/summer 13 collections from Chanel, Dior and Moschino are any indication, expect to get out those gams in the next six months. Like it or loathe it, the cloth is set to be cut.

So just what is the mini-skirt’s enduring appeal? Put simply — divisiveness. Since its inception in 1962 by experimental designer Mary Quant, the mini-skirt has become a symbol of emancipation — social, political and sexual. Beatlemania, a burgeoning consumer culture, the advent of birth control and a looming Vietnam War all combined to create a societal shift, one which came to be summed up in an equally revolutionary fashion statement.

Quant’s decision to create a garment that represented London’s ‘youthquake’ bore implications well beyond the boundaries of modesty. Her King’s Road boutique Bazaar — a popular mod and rocker hangout — became the first showcase for the skirt named after her favourite car — the Mini.

The truncated hem — measuring four to seven inches above respected codes of decency — was actually a practical measure designed to help women run for a bus, one which would be co-opted as a libertarian symbol by second-wave feminists Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem.

Although influential in capturing the zeitgeist of ‘Swinging London’, Quant’s credits would be openly challenged by French designer André Courrèges who showcased similar above-the-knee styles in his 1964 ‘Space Age’ collection.

Although Courrèges made the mini acceptable in Parisian haute couture circles, its international appeal remained untapped. It was model Jean Shrimpton who would unwittingly spread the popularity of the skirt in attending the 1965 Melbourne Cup Carnival. Shrimpton’s decision to wear a mini-dress without tights, gloves and a hat, acted as sartorial Semtex, challenging the fashion mores of conservative Australian society.

Come 1966, a doe-eyed lanky model called ‘Twiggy’ would become the de facto poster girl for the mini-skirt Described by then US Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland as ‘the mini-girl in the mini-era’. Twiggy’s androgynous Lolita-like physique became a hotbed of controversy. Although a more zaftig Brigitte Bardot would prove the mini worthy of a womanly silhouette, especially when worn with go-go boots and a PVC mac, the look would soon be derided as ‘Dollybird’, adding to the semantic minefield.

Come the ’70s, the skirt’s popularity dipped (bar a brief punk revival) along with the global economy — a trend which led to The Hemline Index. Created by University of Pennsylvania Wharton School’s Professor George Taylor, the theory attributes rising hemlines to that of consumer confidence.

Subsequent spikes in mini-skirt popularity corroborate this research: puffballs and ra-ras coincided with the British boom up to ’87, while growing optimism in the late ’90s found expression in TV programmes such as Sex and the City, Ally McBeal and box office hit, Clueless.

Let’s not forget the not-so-Catholic schoolgirl uniform worn by Britney Spears in her Hit Me Baby One More Time video — which famously caused an outcry amongst parent association’s for being too risqué.

With the 2012 Hemline Index having risen from 35.04 in 2011 to 44.38 in 2012, a mini-skirt renaissance looks highly probable (jury is still out on the economic boom). The question remains, how does one work the mini-skirt 3.0?

Stylist and TV presenter Darren Kennedy explains: “It’s really that old guideline: if you’re showing leg, don’t show cleavage,” says Kennedy, who cites Jessica Alba as an ideal example. “I think mini-skirts look best when worn with a full-length sleeve and something that covers your décolletage, so it’s actually quite demure.

“In terms of footwear, I don’t really like a mini skirt with a full-length boot. It looks best with a nice stiletto, a short bootie or even a brogue so there’s a boyish take to it.”

For an edgier twist, Folkster.com owner Blanaid Hennessy offers some tips. “I prefer a high-waisted, A-line cut as it skims the thighs in a more flattering manner. I also have a more irreverent approach, so I will wear my mini-skirt with a battered rock tee or oversized Aran knit sweater and would tend towards leather styles which are less clingy.”

As for Samui boutique owner, Clodagh Shorten, it’s all about perfect pins.

“I was having lunch in a restaurant across from Colette boutique during Paris Fashion Week,” explains the Corkonian, “and who did I see only Kate Moss with Stella McCartney. Kate was wearing a fringed mini skirt and it looked fab on her — obviously because she’s got model’s legs.”

Supermodel figures aside, Shorten recommends autumn/winter as an easier season for the trend, from a retail and mere mortal perspective, by the simple slimming virtue of opaque tights. That said, spring/summer 13 comes with leather minis by Dom & Ruby, Helmut Lang and Vince, all due to hit the Samui shop floor.

It may be time to dust off the tracksuit and trainers — we might be able to afford new gym membership after all.

A history of the mini-skirt

1926: Josephine Baker wore a mini-skirt made from bananas for her theatre performances in the Folies Bergère, Paris.

1962: British designer Mary Quant launches the mini-skirt in London.

1964: French couturier André Courrèges showcases a collection of above-the-knee space-age minimalistic dresses.

1965: Model Jean Shrimpton wears a mini-skirt with no stockings, hat or gloves to the Melbourne Cup Carnival in Australia, causing an international stir.

1965: Yves Saint Laurent showcases shorter hemlines in his a/w ‘65 collection.

1966: British model Twiggy becomes the poster girl for the mini generation.

1966: Paco Rabanne launches his plastic chain-mail mini-skirt and the throw-away mini-dress.

1980s: Puffball and ra-ra mini skirts are made popular by the Princess of Wales and ’80s girl bands like Pepsi & Shirley.

1985: Vivienne Westwood showcases the ‘mini-crini’ — a mini version of the 19th-century cage crinoline hoop skirt.

1990s: Pop culture reinstates the mini-skirt with films like Clueless and TV hits such as Sex and the City, Melrose Place and Ally Mc Beal.

1996: Britney Spears wears a Catholic schoolgirl tartan skirt in the video for ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ causing controversy over its alleged risqué subtext.

2003-2007: Harajuku and Emo fashions redux thank to pop stars like Gwen Stefani wearing pleated and crinoline mini-skirts.

2011: Prada reworks the go-go boot paired with abbreviated mini hems.

2012: The eBay hemline index rises with abbreviated hems part and parcel of fashion’s s/s 13 offering.

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