Have Short Hemlines And A Rising Economy Decoupled?

The old rule was that when women’s hemlines rose, so did the economy.

If Jill Stuart’s show today at the Stephen Schwartzman building formerly known as the New York Public Library is any indication, the economy is about the skyrocket. “We were just seeing lots of very short dresseswith spangles,” Racked.com reported.

It’s not really clear if the so-called “hemline theory” really applies anymore. It has allegedly originated in the 1920s when George Taylor, an economist at Wharton, claimed that in booming economic times many women raised their skirts to show off their silk stockings. When times were bad, he said, women lowered their skirts to hide that they couldn’t afford stockings. What does this mean in an age when few women bother with stockings? Could shorter skirts and the economy have decoupled?

There’s also a supplementary commodities based theory of hemlines and the economy. The idea is that in boom times, the demand for fabric increases relative to supply. As prices for fabric rose, designers would make shorter skirts to cut costs. These days cheaper manufacturing and materials may have made this version of the hemline theory defunct.

A careful skirt watcher would have noticed in 1927 that hemlines were starting to come down. The stock market crashed two years later. Arguably, the hemline indicator was too early.

Here’s the latest version of hemline theory: people are looking to the stickiness of fashion trends. If a trend pushed by designers takes off, it may be an indicator that consumers are willing to invest more in clothing.  It’s sort of the fashion version of a user-generated market trend.

So if you see lots of women walking around in mini-skirts and micro-dresses, that might be a sign that the economy is recovering. It’s a theory that may have legs.

(Picture via Racked)


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