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Fashion 87 : Skirts Shorter, but Southlanders Not Hemmed In by New Style

May 01, 1987|BETTIJANE LEVINE | Times Fashion Editor

How short is short? And does anybody care?

The world's top designers showed fall skirts short enough to get arrested, and for a while it seemed as if the look wouldn't take hold. But West Coast stores report a smattering of longer dresses already returned by customers who bought them just before the new short look hit fashion runways for fall. And tailors from Pasadena to Palos Verdes are doing increased business hiking hemlines of skirts that used to be worn below the knees.

Stores won't be foisting the short look on those who wouldn't be caught dead with their patellas unveiled. A survey of retailers reveals many will offer thigh-high minis only in their junior and "advance" departments, where the more avant-garde fashion types tend to shop. In traditional departments, lengths will vary from a few inches above to just below the knees.

"Shorter skirts look very good right now," says Sylvia Percelay, fashion director of Bullock's. "Many women will wear them because they're ready for a change. But this whole hemline controversy is ridiculous. Worrying about your skirt length is just as boring as worrying about whether you have the right shade of blond hair."

Percelay says discretion and comfort will dictate what length of skirts most women choose.

Lee Cass, vice president and fashion director of the Broadway, asks: "Do you really think designers of expensive clothes will deliver those clothes as short as they showed them on the runway? Even the designers' models looked crumby in some of the styles. Half of them had awful knees."

Cass says very short skirts are for the young, "who never look bad if their hair is clean." For 16- to 30-year-olds, she adds, her stores will offer very short skirts, either straight or full, in everything from casual to dress-up styles. But older women, she says, will be "very selective about short skirts. And if you're a serious career woman, you are out of your mind if your skirt doesn't hit your knees when you're standing up. What happens to it after that is your own problem. If it's a straight, skinny skirt, it will slither up when you sit down, which is what mine is doing right now."

Cass says far from being resistant to the new length, many women are coming into her stores asking for the new, short skirts. "And by that they mean shorter skirts. Maybe mid-knee or just above the knee."

David Cardoza, West Coast fashion director for Neiman-Marcus, says clothes at his stores are "all going to come in at the knee or below. Yes, New York, Paris and Milan all showed very short," Cardoza says. "But they did it for shock value, to show how they think a modern woman should look. But no one is dictating. We know women all can't wear dresses four inches above the knee. We'll hem it up to that length for those who want it. Short does look refreshing, however. And if you're a young girl who likes the look, I say go for it."

Ellin Saltzman, New York-based fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, takes a strong stand: "Short skirts look totally great for '87. What woman can't wear something just at the top of the knee? I'm not talking four or eight inches above it but somewhere just above or on it. Many top designers will deliver their skirts just at mid-kneecap, even though they presented these skirts much shorter in their shows.

Some sportswear people are delivering skirts two inches above the knee. But all these clothes are meant to be worn with opaque stockings, which makes a tremendous difference. In no case were there flesh-colored legs at the designer shows."

In some people's opinion, this latest invasion of thigh-high skirts didn't start with big-shot designers at all. It comes from the teen-agers of the world, who have been sporting very short skirts for the past year.

At the MGA shop in L.A.'s Westside Pavilion a few months back, a teen-ager explained it all to her reluctant mother while buying a blue denim micro-miniskirt by Guess?

"Mother, you have to understand. Minis always have been here, always will be here, and they're not going to go away." That's probably true. Robin Hood and his merry men wore something very similar to the "new look" in their heyday.

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