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History of the Trend: Midi Skirts


Fall 2011 RTW Midi skirtsFall 2011 RTW looks that show off the midi skirt: Margaret Howell, Banana Republic, Alexis Mabille

In case you couldn’t tell, we at CF are getting incredibly excited for fall fashion – with so many adorable trends and striking colors to choose from, it’s hard not to be! Inspired by the season, this installment of History of the Trend is highlighting the comeback of one surprisingly versatile look that stirs strong opinions from both its admirers and detractors: the midi skirt.

Midi skirts are characterized by their length, which can reach anywhere from just below the knee to mid-calf. If you’re interested in the controversy, rebellion, and yes, even outrage surrounding the colorful history of this garment, you’ve come to the right place!

History of Midi skirts

Sheer black midi skirt from Etsy
A chic midi skirt from Etsy

  • The midi skirt was a popular length in the 1940s, a fashion decade known for its elegance and grace. This collection of vintage pattern images traces the fashion trends of the time, including the midi. My favorite shots are the patterned skirt on the left of this image and the smart skirt suits in this one.
  • By the ’60s, the midi was out, replaced by the more revealing and progressive mini skirt. Feeling suppressed by fashions past, women loved showing off their legs in this short style.
  • After this breath of freedom, however, came the fated year of 1970, and with it, John Burr Fairchild’s decree that 1970 would be the year of the midi. “The head of Fairchild Publications and the boss of Women’s Wear Daily…he did not guess that hems would dive this year; he decided.”
  •  In short, the public was not thrilled. In fact, a 1970 poll by New York’s Daily News reported 83% of readers wearing skirts above the knee in sheer defiance of this supposedly fashionable trend.
  • Others took the midi trend in stride, even putting their reputations on the line. In June of 1970, the high-end department store Bonwit Teller noted that 95% of its fall fashion would be midi-length. To really sell it, the store’s president stated that all salesgirls would be required to wear only one style of skirt while on duty – the midi!
  • The TIME coverage continued. While researching this post, I found no fewer than 12 articles in their archives that had a mention of the midi skirt, and that was only searching within the window of 1968-1970!
  • Much of the resistance toward the midi trend was not just due to the length, which was a point of contention, but rather the incredibly hard sell. Mildred Sullivan, director of the New York Couture Business Council at the time, said it best: “I don’t hesitate to point the finger directly at Women’s Wear for the outrageous situation. They have consumers believing [this] is the only style they should wear.”
  • The midi tried its best, but its reincarnation in the 1970s was a flop. Thankfully, designers have injected new life into this trend for 2011, highlighting its ladylike attributes and flexible wearability with a range of fabrics and creative styling to suit just about anyone.

Why We Still Love This Trend

Zina of Fashionvibe in midi skirts
Zina of Fashionvibe rocks the midi skirt | Photo Credits: 1, 2

Now that you know about its tumultuous history, some of you may be skeptical about this trend. Personally, I think the ladies of the ’70s were missing out, so I’ve rounded up a few reasons and resources to ease your mind and get you to try this trend:

  • The fashion world is all about the midi – within reason! This may sound similar to Women’s Wear Daily and their aggressive push for the midi, but modern fashion is entirely different. Yes, designers are exploring the once-shunned length again, but they’re not shoving it down our throats. We have so many avenues for fashion inspiration now that the fashion houses themselves are just one small part. Bloggers, sites like Polyvore and Flickr, magazines (both print and online), and personal opinion all dictate how we’d like to dress. If you’d like to choose the midi, check out some tips from Refinery 29, plus an article in defense of the midi from Alexandra Shulman of British Vogue.
  • The midi skirt is polished. Styled correctly, this trend is at the forefront of sophistication. A midi is a great piece to have if you’d like to change up your look a little, and look classy while doing so! Make sure to balance out the length of the skirt by choosing one with a high waist or using a belt to create shape. Add some additional pop in the footwear department. Think boots, oxfords, or a great pair of heels.
  •  It’s more adventurous than you think! There’s a certain amount of attitude required to rock a revealing top or a short skirt, but it takes just as much to really own a trend like this one, where the trick is to look fashionable while also covering up. Challenge yourself to try out the midi skirt – you may be surprised at how much you like it.


Will you rock the midi skirt trend? What are your perceptions of this look? Do you think the fashion scenario caused by Women’s Wear Daily in the ’70s could ever happen again? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it!

Posted on on August 20, 2011 / Filed Under: Trends / Tags: , , , , , , ,

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56 Responses to “History of the Trend: Midi Skirts”

  1. 1
    August 20th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    I like the midi skirt; I don’t have to show my knees! (ew.)

  2. 2
    August 20th, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    I don’t know…I think I would look silly since I’m really short :p

  3. 3
    August 20th, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I think the reason why women are so against it, is because it’s so hard to pull off! (anyone can pull off a mini skirt) I love this trend, and I’ll like to try it out. Unfortunately, midi skits are hard to find! :(

    I agree with SD, I don’t like showing my knees either, lol :D

  4. 4
    August 20th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    They’re beautiful, true, but they make people look short. I’m petite, and you won’t catch me dead in this trend.

  5. 5
    August 20th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    I have a soft, floral print midi. It makes a really feminine statement and has great “twirl-ability” – I feel like a dancer!!

  6. 6
    August 20th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    I totally agree with you, Louise: love the twirling affect!
    I have got only only midi skirt though, but I might just go out and buy another one!

  7. 7
    August 20th, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    hmmm, I’d like to try it, but like Paola, they are hard to find in a small town in Canada. And like Paula, I am not very tall…

  8. 8
    August 20th, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I love these skirts! there real versatile, and smart and i think there quirky looking too :)
    finding it hard to get a jersey one that isn’t completely plain though!!

  9. 9
    August 20th, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Midi skirts are a great option when you’re looking to class up an outfit. I prefer the length where it hits right at the knee. This isn’t always easy to find, and I definitely recommend having them tailored to a length that you feel most comfortable in.

  10. 10
    August 20th, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Not sure where everybody’s from, but I’ve been searching for pretty, modest things to wear to work, and I find a lot of nice at-the-knee and just-below-the-knee skirts at Burlington Coat Factiory.

  11. 11
    August 20th, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    I think it would look fantastic on certain people. It’s not my style but I could definitely see some people rocking this look.

  12. 12
    August 20th, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    I think cf should do an article on how to wear the midi skirt and specify how to wear by girls who are tall and girls who are short! I would love to wear this trend by I am short as well!

  13. 13
    August 20th, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Also too short (4’11), so I’ll pass. Would look great on someone with long legs that can pull it off.

  14. 14
    August 20th, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    I love midi skirts! They’re perfect for the business world. I just make sure to wear heels and not wear them too long (just below the knee works for me) so I don’t look too short.

  15. 15
    August 20th, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    these look great on all these models and stuff, but they look very awkward on me. it’s never really been my style either.

  16. 16
    August 21st, 2011 at 12:40 am

    ahaha, I think I’m really open to new things when it comes to fashion, but this is one trend I definitely just can’t bring myself to try.
    I like extreme skirt lengths; either tiny mini’s or long dramatic flowy maxis. I just can’t do mid length skirts, they’re too…tame? idk
    also they just look weird on me, maybe if I had longer legs…

  17. 17
    August 21st, 2011 at 12:59 am

    *Update: I tried one on today and immediately my sister told me it looked bad. I’ll be sending it back :/

  18. 18
    August 21st, 2011 at 1:32 am

    This is actually my preferred skirt length. I have made or altered most of the skirts that I wear and I hem them to few inches below the knee. I find it to be a very classy silhouette with a somewhat vintage vibe.

  19. 19
    August 21st, 2011 at 2:24 am

    This has to be the most interesting fashion history article on College Fashion to date. I never this use to be so controversial! I definitely learned something reading this article.:) ~Thank you.

  20. 20
    August 21st, 2011 at 2:37 am

    I actually have two midi skirts, and one maxi that I like to hike up and use as a midi; needless to say, I adore this trend. The way the spin out when I twirl, the way they float up when I walk down stairs, the way they swish around my knees when I walk, not to mention just how pretty they look — I always feel like a princess when I wear them. I’m not usually a follower of in-and-out trends — I like to stick to things that are timeless, like high-tops, button-ups, and sundresses — but this is one in-and-out I can get behind — especially because they were big in the 40’s, and I LOVE 40’s fashion. :)

  21. 21
    August 21st, 2011 at 2:38 am

    Wow! Who would have guessed a skirt could be so controversial? Interesting history part! I enjoyed reading about it.

    Personally, I love my knee-length skirts because I have chubby thigs. I wear them almost every day. The best place to find them are vintage and thrift stores. Shop for the longer lengths and then hem them up to a length you like. I usually have them at the knee or just an inch or two above it.

    Someone asked how to wear them. I tend to wear them a few ways:
    1) Plain t-shirt + pattern midi + contrasting cardigan + belt + boots. Cinch at the waist (I often wear the cardigan under the belt) and add a necklace if you want some more interest.
    2) Pretty blouse + midi + knee socks + flats. This has a school-girl vibe, but I like it.
    3) Crop top + midi + flats + earrings. Just a peek of skin every time you reach up or bend over :)

  22. 22
    August 21st, 2011 at 3:42 am

    I think that this trend is very sophisticated when paired with the right top, shoes, and accessories. One can instantly look classy and polished with the midi skirt, yet feel cozy and breezy at the same time. Very happy that it’s making a comeback! :D

  23. 23
    August 21st, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Although i am short, I bought 2 midi skirts as i feel that they look classy (i avoid fitted ones though). The majority of maxi skirts swamp my legs and have the tendency to trip over, so i think the midi would be classified as my maxi.

  24. 24
    August 21st, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Oh and another tip, pick midis that don’t hit the widest part of your calf

  25. 25
    August 21st, 2011 at 9:14 am

    I definatly agree it’s hard to wear if you’re short, I end up looking diproportionate unless I wear heels with a midi skirt, so I don’t think I’ll bother with these, but they look great on some people

  26. 26
    August 21st, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I love that college fashion infuses history with the fabulous new fashion trends! This blog is honestly so informative and up-to-date! I’ve already recommended this site to all of my friends who, just like me, are in love with it! Keep up the good work! Love you guys!!

  27. 27
    August 21st, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Erin, Emmy & Lydia: Thanks for your tips!
    Re & Akire: Your kind words mean a lot to me, I’m so glad you enjoy this series!

  28. 28
    August 21st, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    A calf length midi can be gorgeous with the right cut (more on the flowy, full side) but it NEEDS an elegant shoe with at least a little heel. If a short girl wants to help her legs out a bit, a d’orsay shape shoe is perfect. I personally love this length and wear it far more often than I will wear anything above the knee.

  29. 29
    August 22nd, 2011 at 12:16 am

    I love different skirt lengths and I’m definitely NOT married to “mini-skirt” lengths. However, I don’t think the mid-calf skirt length is really a flattering look on anyone. It is true that people can “make it work.” But 99 times out of 100, if you took that same skirt and chopped it to just below the knees, the outfit would automatically look better. Mid-calf just isn’t flattering. It’s something that you have to “make work,” and I prefer to wear things that are naturally complimentary. To each their own though. Interestingly, the girl pictured in the blue skirt looks very nice in that outfit. If you notice though, it isn’t a true “midi-skirt.” It’s asymmetric so that part of the hemline is just below the knees…

  30. 30
    August 22nd, 2011 at 12:19 am

    Having now fully read the post, I’m not sure why just-below-the-knee is described as midi-skirt length or “controversial.” Just-below-the-knee is the one skirt length that has remained non-controversial for the past 8 decades, so I really don’t think that length should be included here. It’s more like the length shown on the girls in the high-waisted black skirt and the peach colored one…

  31. 31
    August 22nd, 2011 at 12:52 am

    I would love to have one! But I have to choose one that fits well with the shape of my legs.

  32. 32
    August 22nd, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Last year i acquired a vintage plaid midi skirt from my grandmother’s closet. I would love to wear it to school but I can’t for the life of me find something to go with it that doesn’t look frumpy! What do you suggest?

  33. 33
    August 23rd, 2011 at 10:57 am

    I love midi skirts on everyone else except me since they just don’t look good on me!!

  34. 34
    August 23rd, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Hi Ariel!
    It would depend on the silhouette of the skirt. If it’s more flowy, a fitted top like Zina is wearing in the last picture with the blue skirt would work well, especially with a belt if you really want to define your waist. If it’s more fitted, a blousy top like the one seen in the link below would give you a nice shape. You want to make sure you balance out your proportions with this look to keep it looking fresh – I hope that helps!

  35. 35
    August 23rd, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Thank you so much Rachel! It has a very defined a-line shape to it actually.

  36. 36
    August 23rd, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Sounds cute! Enjoy styling it and thanks for reading :)

  37. 37
    August 24th, 2011 at 8:37 am

    You know, when you said “…the trick is to look fashionable while also covering up” I couldn’t help but smile to myself because I’m Muslim, & therefore that’s what I’ve been doing all my life (since I can only show my hands, feet, face)!

    I’m glad people realise it’s not always easy to mix fashion & modesty- but I am really glad for the really modest clothes that have been coming into fashion lately! =D

  38. 38
    August 24th, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    I find that any skirt that’s longer than just below the knee or shorter than ankle-length looks horrible on most people–not everyone, but most. :/

    @The Clever Idiot: I just wanted to say that there’s a group of Muslim women at my university who have looked absolutely gorgeous every time I’ve seen them, so while it’s difficult to be fashionable while having to cover up so much, it’s still very possible. :)

  39. 39
    August 30th, 2011 at 4:38 am

    Oh no, I know it isn’t impossible (thank god for layering haha!) but I’m just saying it’s nice to see some fashion that is wearable and modest without having to do any alterations to it first =]

  40. 40
    September 6th, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    what about the kind of shoes, besides high heels? Im a person who cant wear sky high heels, and would prefer to wear flats to low mid heel.

    and i hear that nude / cream colours work really wel!

  41. 41
    September 6th, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Hi Lydia-
    Can I tell you a secret? I don’t wear heels either! Personally, I think midis look equally smart with a pair of oxfords, a wedge, or even a pair of ballet flats (see the picture of Zina in the pink blouse and skirt). The heels suggestion was to aid in balancing proportions of longer skirts, but I’ve seen them look great paired with many different shoes. The possibilities are up to you!
    Happy styling!

  42. 42
    October 4th, 2011 at 12:29 am

    I am SO thrilled about the midi. I’m dying for it to reach more stores. so far I can only find them at asos and nordstrom and my budget is more like forever21 and charlotte russe. can’t wait for them to catch on!

  43. 43
    November 13th, 2011 at 7:59 am

    If MKA Olsen can pull them off all the time, and they’re both VERY short (MK is only 4’11’ same as me!, and Ash is only 5’31/2”) then any short person can wear ‘em. I would wear them with flats, or penny loafers, or heeled boots. :) Oh, and over-the-knee socks. :) hehe

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