Prom dresses, with hemlines varying from above-the-ankle (tea length) to floor length

The hemline is the line formed by the lower edge of a garment, such as a skirt, dress or coat, measured from the floor.[1]

The hemline is perhaps the most variable style line in fashion, changing shape and ranging in height from hip-high to floor-length. What is a fashionable style and height of hemline has varied considerably throughout the years, and has also depended on a number of factors such as the age of the wearer, the occasion for which the garment is worn and the choice of the individual.


1817 caricature with ruffled hemlines (the dresses are shown as shorter than they would have been in real life).

Similar to necklines and waistlines, hemlines can be grouped by their height and shape:

  • floor-length hemlines
  • ankle hemlines
  • midcalf hemlines
  • below-knee hemlines
  • above-knee hemlines
  • mid-thigh hemlines
  • hip-high hemlines
  • handkerchief hemlines
  • diagonal or asymmetric hemlines
  • high-low hemlines, usually short in front and dipping behind
  • other hemlines, such as modern-cut hemlines

Dresses and skirts are also classified in terms of their length:

  • mini
  • ballerina length
  • midi
  • tea length
  • full length
  • maxi
  • Intermission length


Overview chart of changes in hemline height (skirt length), 1805-2005

In the history of Western fashion, the ordinary public clothes of upper- and middle-class women varied only between floor-length and slightly above ankle-length for many centuries before World War I. Skirts of lower-calf or mid-calf length were associated with the practical working garments of lower-class or pioneer women, while even shorter skirt lengths were seen only in certain specialized and restricted contexts (e.g. sea-bathing costumes, or outfits worn by ballerinas on stage). It was not until the mid-1910s that hemlines began to rise significantly (with many variations in height thereafter). Skirts rose all the way from floor-length to near knee-length in little more than fifteen years (from late in the decade of the 1900s to the mid-1920s). Between 1919 and 1923 they changed considerably, being almost to the floor in 1919, rising to the mid-calf in 1920, before dropping back to the ankles by 1923.[2] 1927 saw "flapper length" skirts at the kneecap and higher, before shifting down again in the 1930s.[2]

From World War I to roughly 1970, women were under social pressure to wear skirts near to the currently fashionable length or be considered unstylish, but since the 1970s, women's options have widened, and there is no longer really only one single fashionable skirt-length at a time.

Another influence on the length of a woman's skirt is the hemline index, which, oversimplified, states that hemlines rise and fall in sync with the stock market. The term was brought up by Wharton Business School Professor George Taylor in 1926 at a time when hemlines rose with flapper dresses during the so-called Roaring '20s. The Great Depression subsequently set in and hemlines fell to the floor once again.


See also


  1. ^ "Hemlines - Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  2. ^ a b "Hemline Changes Mild Now," Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News, 1 April 1954, accessed 1 March 2014. United Press syndicated article, summarizing the rise and fall of hemlines from 1900 to 1954.

Media files used on this page

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Microskirt (Karmen Pedaru at Anna Sui crop).png
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Karmen Pedaru modelling a microskirt (with matching knickers and bikini top) and sleeveless jacket by Anna Sui, 2011.
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Hemline (skirt height) overview chart 1805-2005.svg

An abstract conceptual overview graph of changes in hemline heights (skirt lengths) in middle- and upper-class western women's clothes over two hundred years (1805-2005). The curve in this image is not based on exact numerical data, but instead presents a summary of broad general trends (i.e. the graph is more qualitative than quantitative, or "not to precise scale").

Before World War I, the hemlines of middle- and upper-class adult women's ordinary public clothes in western societies had varied only between floor length and an inch or two above ankle length (at most) for centuries. This graph shows how things then changed in a previously-unprecedented way.

On the left, hemline height is indicated as being at ankle length (or slightly above) at the chronological start date of 1805 (i.e. 200 years before the date the first version of this chart was made), then dropping to floor-length ca. 1835, where it stayed for most of the remainder of the 19th century (with a few temporary excursions back to ankle-length -- see File:1794-1887-Fashion-overview-Alfred-Roller.GIF). During WW1, hemlines rose far above ankle-length relatively quickly -- and then in the mid 1920's (after a brief dip) rose almost all the way to knee length. During the period from the early 1930's to the mid 1960's, hemlines fluctuated in a zone which was quite different from the zone where hemlines had fluctuated during the 19th century. In the late 1960's, hemlines rose significantly above knee length for the first time. In the early 1970's, some women stayed with the miniskirt, some women went to the other extreme of ankle-length "granny dresses", while fashion designers tried to push an intermediate "midi" skirt length (see illustrations from September 1971 issue of Women's Wear Daily on p. 473 of Survey of Historic Costume ISBN 1-56367-142-5). The strong rejection by women of the attempt to impose the "midi" as the new norm marked the end of only one skirt-length at a time -- while fashion trends continued to come and go, from the 1970's on it was no longer true that a woman had to wear one particular socially-predominating skirt-length or be considered almost hopelessly unstylish. Instead, a variety of skirt-lengths now became acceptable (though after the early 1970's, the miniskirt itself didn't return as a mainstream fashion until the mid-1980's) -- and of course, in many contexts women are free to wear trousers instead of a skirt or dress. This era of relative fashion freedom is shown as the dispersed grey area on the right of the chart.
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The children of Sir Dawda Elementary School dressed in their best uniforms to show their appreciation for the help of the crewmen from the frigate USS JESSE L. BROWN (FF 1089) in repairing and painting their school. Photo from April 1984 All Hands Magazine.
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