Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hemlines, recessions, and correlations

Today is graduation ceremony. We are converging in an iconic location in midtown Manhattan where there are often many big shows, and we the faculty get to sit and blink in bright stage lights while the students and families feel proud. I dislike being a prop, but I like the excitement that students feel. So as a result, I am going to rebel by wearing something not so solemn under my robe (which DMed confirms were created to keep stinky, chubby clerics warm back in the day, in drafty stone walled early European Universities).

Yesterday, I read my student evals from the prior semester. Nothing to report (3 or 4 haters, but mostly a lot of love), but one student did mention that she appreciated my "modern style" and envied my "tall and lean figure." OK, I guess that's pretty cool. All in all, it was an irreverent set of comments (including the students who signed their names on their comments sheets, and the one person who wrote, "I HEART PROF RAD" across the bottom half of a page).

On a somewhat related note, I present to you the second installment of "fashions in academia" although maybe for today, I can call it "fashioning claims in academia." I found this article "The Long, Lean Backlash to the Mini," from Thursday styles section of the NYTimes to be interesting. Evidently, a fashion forward (fringe) trend is the dark, lean maxi skirt/dress. Not to be confused with the bright and beachy styles of last year, these new styles are typically paired with "harsher" pieces, like motorcycle vests and thick soled boots. I'm actually pretty into this look. Some of these dresses are amazing, and I always want to wear more unstructured styles.

The woman on the right found her dress at a local Goodwill (!!!) I really like the simple style of the middle tank dress. I could probably fake that with some jersey fabric. The "midi" length is a little hard (between knee and ankle) but the higher heels can make up some of the loss leg length.
What I especially liked were the attempts at explained why this style has emerged. The article claims that the emergence of these "fluid by rigorously plain" maxi dresses/skirts are the result of "shifting cultural climate born in the wake of the Dow’s collapse." A fashion director at Saks argues that reflects women's desire for less show and more quality.
Never mind that the Times and most major media outlets have (prior to the Euro-panic of the past couple weeks) been been publishing "recovery" articles since January. The quote reminded me of an oft cited dicta about hem lengths and the economy. Economist George Taylor created the "hemlines index" back in the Roaring 20s, arguing that hemlines tended to go up during flush times, and down during recessions. This makes sense when you think of how hemlines first rose during the 1920s. The Maxi first came into style during those awesome stagflation days of the 1970s.
Such a prediction was popular for a while, during the start of this Great Recession, or whatever you'd like to call it.'s "Slaves to Fashion" blog also predicted lower hemlines in January 2009, but as you know, this hasn't happened in a noticeable manner yet. Yet high hemlines are still the norm, both in mass marketed retail and on tastemakers. In addition, a fashion writer in the Guardian claims that historically, this has not been true. Another Financial Times piece in late 2008 confirmed that empirical evidence goes against this maxim. (A write for Jezebel says, "bah!" to the idea that fashion is as culturally or socially relevant as it once was, in response).
Yet here we are again, in 2010, possibly on the cusp of a [what Rad will argue her face off to be] temporary [jobless] recovery, and fashion experts explain a marginal trend of longer flowing skirts as relating to an unstable economy. Do you buy this at all? Could my permanently pessimistic view of our current account deficit driven American economic* model be responsible for my desire to flock to the simplicity of these long and elegant dresses? Or are you, like me, annoyed with how economists try to create spurious, unimportant relationships between ridiculous variables? Will you try the

(Did I just over professor myself? Ack, stack of final papers to grade that will likely make my eyeballs bleed. I miss those students already Over and out.)

(By the way, if you dig the look and wanna thrift some lovely lengthy skirts, but are puzzled on how to style them, Sal at AlreadyPretty has an awes tutorial.)

*This is a fancy word for we spend more money buying stuff from abroad than we make.


  1. Hahaha. The hemline argument always cracks me up. I feel like hemlines go up and down because people get bored of one length or the other. Simple as that. But I, for one, am delighted to be ahead of this particular curve.

    And thanks for the shout-out, lady.

  2. Yeah, I don't really buy the hemline thing... especially since every summer it seems like both mini and maxi lengths (and a few in-between) are "trendy"... I like the long black dresses though, they have that effortless cool look that I can rarely pull off... a minimalist I am not.

  3. I just read this article from new york times. Congrat on your great teaching eval! Your students are so cute. It usually takes me a month to receive eval. Your school does it so quick. -hyunju

  4. I just read the same article this morning. For as long as I can remember, women have worn both short and long hem lengths. I think it really comes down to what people with fashion credentials happen to notice any given year!

    I have been fascinated by the calf-length hem for a while now, but I find it really difficult to execute. Overall, I do like these looks very much, even surprisingly so.

  5. Yeah, I also don't buy the hemline argument, and I think that it's the sort of thin argument that is often made when journalists try to be historians or sociologists or whatever.

    I was once told on a teaching eval that the only thing I could have done to make the course better was cartwheels.

  6. yay for your evals! i've never had anyone mention style on mine (there's still time though...).

  7. Yeah, the hemline argument has a definite whiff of crap about it.

    Also, aww! Your students sound great. How was graduation? 'Any exceptionally special moments?

    'Looking forward to seeing you rock the long black maxi-ish trend.

  8. Agreed on the hemline hokum. It sounds like an economist trying and failing to dumb economics down. Interesting that women's fashion seems to be the go-to analogy for this exercise.

    I do love the look of these long dresses but long dresses stumpify me. This did not stop me from buying an awesome 70s-ish maxi dress two summers ago. I will post it someday when it is warm enough to wear it.

    Your students do sound sweet. I'm still waiting for my evaluations from this term but the most common suggestion I get on evaluations is to add more modern texts. In courses on Middle English literature. Seriously.

  9. I found this article really interesting too. And such an easy look that can be interpreted a lot of ways.

  10. yay for your evals! i've never had anyone mention style on mine (there's still time though...).