Trend Ender is an irregular feature created to identify, illustrate and investigate the origins of current fashion trends, discuss when they’re fabulous and when they fail, and attempt to predict their demise.
Trend: Mullet skirts. This is the affectionate or disparaging term for “high-low” hemlines which are currently dominating the high street. (In case you’re wondering, the etymology of the mullet is discussed here.)
Where it came from: High-low didn’t appear until hemlines rose in the 1920s, for obvious reasons. In some cases, very formal dresses still had trains, but also had the fashionable shorter length in the front. Variegated hemlines of various types – asymmetrical, handkerchief, zig-zag, etcetera – were common. One theory I remember reading once (though I can’t find an online reference) was that because hemlines were rising and falling unpredictably from one season to the next, women would adopt uneven hemlines to hedge their bets. Perhaps a more straight-forward explanation was the popularity of dancing during the jazz age – swags and fishtails wiggle fantastically during a foxtrot or a Charleston. The high-low hem in particular is associated with the Argentine Tango craze, and is often worn by tango dancers to this day.
The high-low hem made a reappearance in the 1950s and 60s, as it was favoured by the Spanish-born master couturier Cristobal Balenciaga, most famously in his conical, modern version of the wedding dress in 1967. Balenciaga’s designs reference in an abstract way the lavish bustled silhouettes that his female family members wore during his childhood, while at the same time elaborating on the high front hip of Dior’s New Look. It’s sheer speculation, though, as to why high-low and front-back contrasts are such a signature of his.
In 2009, Karl Lagerfeld presented a high-low silhouette for Chanel Couture and this appears to be the genesis of its current cycle of popularity. Style blogger Rumi Neely rocked them in 2010 and the look is now indelibly associated with her and her many imitators.
When it works: High-low looks fierce with a long stride and adds a satisfying sense of movement to those Tommy Ton landscape street style shots. It’s perfect for dancing and a cheap polyester knock-off is pretty appropriate for festival wear.
When it’s wack: This trend was super-saturated this summer, and the bad news for those of us with short attention spans is that it’s not even close to being over. I have a friend who works as a pattern-maker at a high street chain and she tells me:
I was talking with the head skirt designer at work just last week and she was explaining how she was feeling the pressure to come up with more mullet skirt ideas for next season. Mullets were the best selling skirts last summer, last winter, this sumer and they are forecasting this winter also. There are only so many variations on the mullet one can come up with so I do feel sorry for the designers. In just the last month I’ve drafted about 15 patterns for high low variations (cross over at the front, pleats, gathers, frills etc etc etc) Our next drop of mullets are going to be more of an asymmetrical thing. So short over the left but long over the right. Or a traditional mullet rotated to the side if you will…
How it will end: There’s a famous economic theory that hemlines go up in good times and down in bad times. George Taylor, who came up with the “Hemline Index” in 1926, thought it had something to do with conspicuous consumption of stockings, which were expensive and easily damaged. We’re no longer in the era of pricey hosiery, nor are we measuring our hems in lockstep with the seasons, so this indicator is probably specious now. Still, it is amusing (or depressing) to think that the uneven hem is a symptom of uncertain times. If that follows, the high-low hem will go the way of the mullet when the economy starts making sense again.