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Length is not the enemy: why are designers obsessed with short dresses?

At first, you
think it’s just you. You’re out shopping and spot a dress you like, one
that is not too strappy or too tight, doesn’t show too much cleavage, and maybe even
has a sleeve. Pretty colour, nice print, in your price range. You take it off
the rack and examine it.

It looks a little short, no? Is it actually a longish
top? Maybe it will lengthen miraculously in the change room. But no, it stops
around mid thigh, the merciless fluorescent light overhead spotlighting the
fact that your knees have seen better years. You sigh resignedly, thinking that you’re just getting older as you hand
the dress back to the assistant and hurry out of the store, terrified that you
may have been heading for that mutton dressed as lamb look.

Now, here’s a revolutionary thought: it’s not about your legs. And
the problem isn’t your age, or your figure. The problem is the length of the dress.
Too many, both high street and designer, are just too short. Every single woman I know shares the same
sense of frustration, and it’s time we turned to designers and
demand to know why we aren’t being offered those few extra centimetres of

I am obviously not
talking about bandage, sci fi, mini crini, stretch sportif style designer
dresses that are intended to barely cover the bottom and to show off long, firm
adolescent legs. They are not the sort of dress I am after anyway and never
have been, even when my skin tone was perfect.
I’m talking about solution pieces like shifts, A-line and wrap styles, tunics and
shirtdresses you can wear to work, to a meeting, to run errands on the weekend.
So many of them seem to come up short, or scalloped at the sides like a man’s

I am very sure that in many cases, designers think that chopping
the hemline makes a dress look instantly look more modern, more fashionable,
less “dowdy”. Perhaps this was the rationale behind the lovely navy and white
spot shirt-waister with long sleeves and a pussy bow at the neck which I recently spotted in Zara.

zara dress
Wouldn’t it look better at the knee? Photograph: Kristie Clements

That style of dress – a sort of sexy Catherine Deneuve circa 1974 – is supposed to reach the knee, or even longer. Zara revved it up by making the skirt reach mid thigh. It didn’t modernise it , it infantilised it. It was the same story with two other dresses I tried on in another store – one a beautiful black and white floral, the other a chinoiserie print, long sleeved, button through, a bit Jean Muir, Cacharel, a touch 1940s – my favourite. Both were cut the length of a skating skirt. It’s such a waste of a classic silhouette, and it completely ruins proportions. Why not offer different lengths? A dress can always be taken up.

It’s one thing to patronise and alienate the more mature customer, but it may pay to remember that younger women are also working as teachers, doctors, lawyers and professionals, and have little interest in wearing dresses and skirts they can’t bend over in. From what I see, they don’t all have perfect pins either. So when a design house cuts back on the fabric, and turns every style into a baby doll dress, they stand to lose out in both ends of the market. How modern is that?

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