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November 9, 2015

The Midi Skirts: How One of Today’s Top Trends Caused a 1970s Fashion War

Despite its resurgence today, the midi skirt was a contentious new style when introduced at the turn of the 1970s.

The midi skirt was a popular length in the 1940s, a fashion decade known for its elegance and grace. By the '60s, the midi was out, replaced by the more revealing and progressive mini skirt. Feeling suppressed by fashions past, women loved showing off their legs in this short style.

After this breath of freedom, however, came the fated year of 1970, and with it, John Burr Fairchild's decree that 1970 would be the year of the midi. “The head of Fairchild Publications and the boss of Women's Wear Daily... he did not guess that hems would dive this year; he decided.”

“Farewell to knees and maybe even calves if the anti-mini forces have their way,” LIFE declared in August 1970, as a new wave of more modest clothing styles paraded down runways. Department store buyers were swiftly replacing racks of mini skirts with new shipments of midi skirts, praying for the look to catch on with what the magazine called “a reluctant public.”

The Midi muscles in.

Saks Fifth Avenue sales personnel watch a fashion show as part of their indoctrination on how to foist the midi on a reluctant public.

At Bonwit's, midi-clad salesgirls learn techniques that helped the thirteen stores, in the first ten days of August, gross a million on the new line.

In the garment district warehouse of big time midi-backer Susan Thomas, one thousand medium-priced dresses hang on racks for store delivery.

Shoe salesmen see how the boot teams up with the long skirt to create the total look that fashion has decreed.

Amy Levitt of ABC's One Life to Live thinks more positively: "One thing about the midi, it's sexy."

On NBC's Today Show, midi-enthusiast Barbara Walters interviews James Brady of Women's Wear Daily, which has been relentlessly pushing the style it calls "the longuette," and Mrs. Linda Oller, a viewer who wrote in demanding equal time to state the case against it.

Ruth Warrick and Joanna Miles play mother and daughter on ABC's All My Children. Both are midi-haters, "I have terrific legs," says Miss Miles, "but you'd never know it." Miss Warrick calls the midi "the poor pitiful Pearl look."

Two stalwarts in the movie world are caught up with the midi ruckus. Doris Day loves the look. She wore it first last summer on the Merv Griffin Show, where the warm response—especially from men—calmed her doubts. When the Doris Day Show resumes in the fall on CBS, she will wear only midis and pants.

Midi fashion, 1970.

Midi fashion, 1970.

Midi fashion, 1970.

Rock Hudson doesn't agree. He sits on the MGM lot surrounded by the eight midiskirted starlets who will appear with him in the upcoming movie Pretty Maids All in a Row. Of midi's, Rock says, "Yechh!"

(Photos: John Dominis—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)


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