Sunday, September 18, 2011

Too Short, Not Really

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.
           -- Cole Porter, 1934

Over the summer we saw the hemline of miniskirts rising up higher than ever, getting dangerously close to showing the underwear, if not the buttocks, and, on occasion, actually exposing the cheeks to the public view, even without stooping. Young wearers of these micro miniskirts (and ultra short hot pants, too) no doubt relish the thrill of their daring; and men, I suppose, revel in the feast to their eyes, while mothers try in vain to stop their daughters going out in them.

“Too short” was the outcry of women past adolescence, who themselves wouldn’t dare sport such a daringly hemline. The line it was believed to have crossed was decency. So, the young wearers were charged for being vulgar, lewd, and provocative, and even subscribing to sexism. “They are dressed like whores,” the censure usually concurred.

When we say too short, we mean that it exceeded the acceptable short length; and by acceptable we mean that the length, though short, was the one prevalently worn by young women at large. But the curious thing is that in fashion history the standard of decent length changed drastically over time; and that is to say the notion of modesty has changed with it, too. The skirt at one time in Victorian era had a train; the hemline then rose to the floor length and yet shorter to the ankle length, and the exposure of the ankles was scandalous at first. Flapper girls in mid-1920s wore skirts at knee length or shorter, and they were at first regarded titillating. When Mary Quant and André Courrèges introduced the miniskirt in 1965, it was a sensation; and it was “too short” and "indecent" to the no-longer-so-young women of the day. The mini, it was even said, invited rape, and it was banned in Europe for a while. But it eventually became a prevailing fashion and it was then acceptable, and when it became acceptable it was no longer “too short.” Fashion historically defined morality, not vice versa. So, earlier, Marie Antoinette's scandalous diaphanous gown, virtually see through, became the fashionable robe-en-chemise.


Women’s beachwear early in the 20th century was still little different from street clothing, as we see on the swimwear contestants for Miss America 1923. Eventually, the tank suit or maillot came into being, followed after World War II by the bikini, which in the next decades got smaller and smaller in coverage into the string bikini, and then in the 1980s the thong or tanga came into fashion, and it exposed the buttock in its fullness, and it was no longer subject to censorship.

So, the style of showing the cheeks spilling out of a micro miniskirt, when adopted by enough adherents, may become a matter of fact, like the deep décolletage, acceptable in history one time or another, has returned in fashion in the last couple of years.  It is therefore, far from inconceivable that at some point in the future the fully exposed buttock, after the initial shock, may become an acceptable fashion, bringing the bikini and even the thong from the beach to the street in hot summer days.

If the micro miniskirt seems too revealing, it might be useful to consider the skintight tights and stretch jeans that so clearly outline the buttock and the crotch without exposing them in the flesh, even more than the skintight micro minidress does, perhaps no less obscene to those who object to the skirt that is “too short.”

It is hard to believe today that before World War I only prostitutes wore black stockings. Whoever it was who first wore them outside the profession must have been called names. Times change; and the parameters of morality change, too.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we are told, and so is obscenity.