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c. 1970

The reign of the Midi-skirt

While the fashion industry got behind the Midi, the public did not.

At the end of the 1960s, nobody knew what length to wear their skirt. Because the whole problem with miniskirts was that they were so…well, short. But then the whole problem with maxi skirts was they were so…well, long. Could no-one create a skirt that was the right length?!

They could, they did, they called it the Midi, and it was the fabric equivalent of Goldilocks porridge. Neither too short nor too long, but just right. At least, that was the idea.

In 1970, LIFE magazine went so far as to run a cover story on said skirts, despairing that the Midi meant “Farewell to knees and maybe even calves if the anti-mini forces have their way.” Actually, this is not quite accurate. So significant was the raging debate over hem length that the magazine ran two (count ’em) cover stories on the matter.

Dispatches from the hemline wars

Tempers (and material) ran high in the “hemline wars” — a phrase coined by Women’s Wear Daily. In 1968, that publisher had completely banned miniskirts from its office, with the explanation: “We all know minis are dead.” Vogue did not agree, and argued “We are quite clear, the miniskirt looks delicious in the summer with the right legs and the right girl.”

Designers were eager to weigh in with their two cents. “Miniskirts are an exhibition of meat,” said Coco Chanel. “Midi-skirts are a return to elegance after so many years of bad taste,” said Valentino. “I have always lingered around the knee,” said Givenchy.

In 1970, the Midi was everywhere. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Women Call it Sleazy, Dowdy, Depressing; but Designers Say It Will Catch On Yet.” But while the fashion industry got behind the Midi, the public did not.

The Fresno Bee even printed an obituary: “DEAD: THE MIDI DRESS, FROM ACUTE REJECTION BY THE AMERICAN WOMAN.” The failure of the Midi to catch fire actually caused a sea-change across the fashion industry, and even brought some manufacturers to bankruptcy,

However, the Midi was not dead, merely dormant. The Midi would make multiple comebacks, and is still high-fashion.

1970
A woman in a miniskirt holding up the latest style midi-skirt while looking in a store mirror.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
At Bonwit’s department store, midi-clad salesgirls learn techniques to sell new clothes.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Employees of Saks Fifth Avenue watching a fashion show promoting midi-length skirts.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
“Today” show anchor Barbara Walters (R) interviewing James Brady (L), publisher of “Women’s Wear Daily” and Linda Oller (C) re: midi or mini-length hemlines.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Actress Amy Levitt (L) of One Life to Live wearing a midi-length outfit for her role in the soap opera.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
L-R) Actresses Ruth Warrick and Joanna Miles playing mother and daughter in scene fr. soap opera All My Children. wearing midi-length coat and boots during height of fashion trend.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Actor Rock Hudson (C) sitting on MGM lot w. eight midi-skirted starlets who play opposite him in Pretty Maids All In a Row.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Actress Doris Day wearing midi-length skirt, petting dog.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Shoe salesmen looking at how boots complete the look of midi-length hemlines.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Racks of midi-length dresses hanging in Susan Thomas’ garment district warehouse ready for delivery to stores.
John Dominis / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

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