Has Fashion Defied the Hemline Index?

Writers, editors, and even some would-be economists have been waiting to see how the fashion world would react to the current financial crisis. According to the Hemline Index, a theory coined by economist George Taylor in the twenties, there’s a correlation between the length of women’s hemlines and our economic health. In good times, skirts rise. In bad, they fall. (Perhaps it’s a sign of our current gloom that analysts have recently been peering desperately at Japanese haircuts and skinny ties for economic forecasts, too.)

So skirts should be way below the knee for the fall collections of the past few weeks, right? Wrong. Plunging necklines, bodysuits, and the no-pants look perfected by Lady Gaga were all marched down the runway in Milan’s fall collections last week. Full bodysuits in mesh and shorter-than-short dresses, complete with underwear flashes, were the norm in Paris this week.

Does this mean fashion has defied the Hemline Index, as Daily Telegraph critic Hilary Alexander noted at Cavalli? Not according to Simon Doonan, who doesn’t believe in the Hemline Index. “You would have to be on crack to think that designers are all going to move in the same direction,” the Barneys creative director says. “There is, thank God, a fabulous diversity.” Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, thinks that although there were longer skirts in the thirties and seventies, “this economic recession is so different we can’t use history as a yardstick. It’s really new territory. ” Rather than hemlines, he sees “the idea of a more practical, more modular dressing” in the fall collections as fashion’s response to a different era.

So what message can we glean from the sky-high skirts of fall? Perhaps simply that designers are trying to get your attention. Sex does sell, after all, and, as Bolton tells us, skirt length has a lot to do with personal choice, youth culture, and economic independence. In other words, designers want you to wear what you want, but they really need you to buy their clothes.

To see skin-baring looks from the fall collections, click ahead.

Has Fashion Defied the Hemline Index?