“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months,” Oscar Wilde once famously quipped. He was almost right. When discussing trends in fashion staples, very little is altered…not even the copy. Such is the case of The New York Times and its obsession with skirts.
“It seems parrotlike to go on repeating the statement that short skirts are fashionable,” wrote The New York Times fashion reporter Anne Rittenhouse, “but it is amazing to observe their progress toward a complete sweep of the field.”
Ms. Rittenhouse (a penname for Ms. Harry-Dele Hallmark) must have been looking into a crystal ball: she was already exasperated by the skirt trend stories back in 1909, when the novelty of a hemline was that it was no longer attached to a dress. Her item was titled: “What the well-dressed women are wearing; The Skirt With Separate Bodice the Correct Styles for Smartly Dressed Women This Season.”
With that, The New York Times pronounced that skirts were “in.” And twice a year because it lines up with Fashion Week: long skirts come back for fall, short skirts for Spring, with an almost clockwork preciseness, the parrotlike Grey Lady announces that once again, skirts are fashionable. Yes ladies, free yourself of those dowdy knickerbockers and put on a skirt…they’re back in style!
The only problem? No one has ever made the argument in the last 100+ years that skirts were somehow not in vogue. Even when The New York Times was reporting on trousers and slacks as a feminine workplace alternative to skirts, they were running concurrent articles about “miniskirt mobs”: women rebelling against conservative groups telling them to lower their hemlines.
The most recent example of the “skirt trend story” trend was found in a Thursday Styles piece mid-March. In “Only the Half of It“, Ruth La Ferla made a passionate argument for the attire, saying “its very multiplicity, emblematic of a fashion landscape in which no single style or trend prevails, is acting as catnip to consumers, who are combining skirts, long and short, slim and wide, plain and patterned, with pieces varying from tank tops to mannish shirts, from turtlenecks to blazers.”
There’s even a quote from Marshall Cohen of the research firm NPD Group: “The skirt has become the new hot toy for women to play with in fashion.”
Ms. Ferla’s column begins with a young MTV executive whose choice of attire makes her feel left out among colleagues who wear leggings (confusing, since leggings–like tights–aren’t fashionable unless you wear something over them…or are an Olsen twin), and ends with the definitive last word on the subject: “Skirts are a statement for sure.”
Really? Are they?
Even fashion insiders seem to think that the the never-ending skirts-are-in story seems dubious.
“Are you wearing a skirt right now?” Kelly Cutrone, of PR firm People’s Revolution and America’s Next Top Model, demanded over the phone. “Are you wearing leggings?” No, we were wearing jeans…then again, no one has ever accused us of being at the forefront of fashion.
“I will guarantee,” she continued sardonically, “that in the summer people will be wearing skirts, shorts, and bathing suits.” She broke into hysterical, throaty laughter. “And no, they won’t be wearing leggings, because those are cotton-poly blend and don’t breathe.”
Jennifer Wright, editor-in-chief of fashion and beauty blog TheGloss.com, put in her two cents as well when asked by The Observer where skirts had gone that necessitated these “Return of Skirts” trend stories.
“Where did skirts go? They went into your closet. With the rest of your spring/summer clothes. Because it was 30 degrees out. Every spring they come out again. Because it’s warm again.”
Now, one could make the case that most skirt stories in The New York Times have not really been about the novelty of the item itself, but the styles in which people wore them. Throughout the century, there have been endless debates over the mini, the micro-mini, the a-line, the midi, the maxi, and the pencil. But even these pieces tend to have a Groundhog Day quality to them.
In December of 1991, Bernadine Morris wrote that designers were trying to find a way to have longer skirts catch on with the public after 20 years cropped styles. “Still, the mini will not disappear,” she wrote. “Designers will do their best to keep a balance.”
That seemed reasonable, if that just two years prior, Ms. Morris had written almost the exact same story. Her June 13th, 1989 piece, “Summer Comfort, in Long Looks” ended with a very similar line. A woman walking down Seventh Avenue told Ms. Morris, “We don’t want to invest in good clothes that cost a lot of money and then be told we can’t wear them more than one season. I feel comfortable in long skirts and in short ones. I plan to wear them both.”
Of course, The New York Times isn’t the only offender. Across the seas, Harriet Walker wrote in The Independenton January 17th, 2011 that long skirts were indeed making a comeback, without acknowledging that they’ve apparently been in the comeback stage for over two decades.
“The long skirt has, understandably enough, gained something of a reputation for being for fuddy-duddies—a bit droopy, a bit (apologies here) ‘art teacher,” Ms. Walker opined, before ending her piece in the style of her predecessors with a quote from Caroline Evans: “Fashion is defined by rapid style changes. It never stands still …After all, nothing is less fashionable than the recently out-of-fashion.”
“Saying that skirts are in trend is like saying pants, t-shirts or jackets are in trend,” Houghton Creative Director and stylist Katherine Polk told The Observer.
Now that’s a good idea for a Styles Section trend story if we’ve ever heard one: “T-shirts: What the well-dressed women are wearing.”
Follow Drew Grant via RSS.