‘Undressing the Fashionable Myth’ Symposium

The Rise and Fall of the Hemline Index

By Clara Berg

Hemlines rise when the economy is good and fall when times are tough—so says the theory of the “hemline index.” This supposed correlation between skirt length and the economy has been cited in everything from books on investing, to academic studies, to newspaper articles hoping to spice up the latest stock market numbers. The theory has been credited to multiple figures, including an economist in the 1920s and a stock analyst in the 1960s, but citations to original texts are not easy to find.  This paper is an investigation of the history of the theory, the various ways it has been referenced, and the reasons that have been given for the connection between rising hemlines and economic boom.  While some have dismissed the theory as frivolous, others have given it weight and believe it to be logical and provable. This paper is also a re-examination of the evidence for the theory through the study of key moments in the twentieth century where either fashion or the economy shifted significantly. Whether true or false, the continuing resonance of the hemline index goes to the heart of how our culture understands fashion. Is it something that reacts and follows trends started elsewhere, or is it so pure an expression of the spirit of the times that it can predict shifts in other parts of society?

prosperity or depression? The long hemline of the 1930s. Max M. Autrey, Myrna Loy, 1930.

***Scanned from the book “Decades of Fashion” by Gatochy

Undressing the Fashionable Myth Symposium. Saturday May 7th, Robert Lagary Board Room, Marvin Feldman Center 9th Floor, Seventh Ave at 27th street.

This event is free and open to the public. To register please call 212-217-4319 or email gradrsvp@fitnyc.edu


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