A history of hemlines

Where did the knee length and tea length hemline come from?

If you’re already a fan of our blog, chances are pretty good that you’re also a fan of the very same vintage-steampunk-rockabilly style that we love so much!

And while you can (and we do) use big, dramatic petticoats to make a loud statement, sometimes it’s just a fun thing to wear to the office or around town.

Petticoats don’t have to be for your Sunday best, or that Reverend Horton Heat concert, or the square dance convention next month!

For a very long time many women dressed like this on a daily basis, and even still it’s a very popular look.

And just as you can use a petticoat to add big drama, or just a little flair, there are many different skirt lengths to choose from in this great big beautiful world.

The most popular with the vintage look is of course the knee and tea lengths, but don’t let that stop you!

There are a hundred ways to dress up, sass up and fluff up almost any skirt length, we’ve checked!

Hemlines and necklines are two things that seem to change with the wind. There was a time when very specific looks were the height of fashion, and had to be worn in order to be considered any sort of fashionista. But these days, it’s a little more of an anything goes sort of feel.

Although some “experts” believe in rules such as no mini-skirts over 35.

We pay those people no mind at all, girl.

So where did our faves, tea and knee length come from?

We’re getting there.

Before World War I, hemlines were pretty much ankle and floor length, at least where publicly worn clothes were concerned. Exceptions to this would have been the mid-calf uniform of many working-class women and similar hemlines on the pioneer women’s skirts. You could of course find shorter hemlines on bathing and ballet costumes back in the day… but as a general rule it was all about modesty ladies!

Around 1910, something magical started happening. The rising of a new day saw the rising of hemlines as well, and inspired by this new freedom designers went in all directions with hemlines. It was still typical to wear floor length skirts until around 1920, when the mid-calf length became fashionable for the social elite. By 1927 we were all the way up to the kneecap and beyond! thanks to the sexy, celebratory spirit of the Roaring 20’s, before heading back to more modest lengths into the 30s during the Great Depression.

Funny side note… did you know that there is a stock market theory called the Hemline Index? From its Wikipedia page:

“The theory suggests that hemlines on women’s dresses rise along with stock prices. In good economies, we get such results as miniskirts (as seen in the 1920s and the 1960s),[3] or in poor economic times, as shown by the 1929 Wall Street Crash, hems can drop almost overnight. Non-peer-reviewed research in 2010 supported the correlation, suggesting that “the economic cycle leads the hemline with about three years”.”

About the tea length though

A tea-length hemline is one that falls “above the ankle but below the knee,” which leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

Tea-length usual will hit 3-4 inches above the ankle, or mid-calf.

Toward the late 1800s, tea length was mostly a Western culture thing, particularly in the US and in England.

This hemline was considered more casual than full length, but not yet acceptable for wear in public.

It was a time when pants were not socially acceptable for women so this was something a little lighter and easier but only suitable for home.

When the 1920s hit, it’s hard to argue that fashion didn’t change.

Women were wearing shorter skirts and even pants, so tea length skirts seemed very tame by this point.

In the following several years, women started wearing these lighter, breezier alternatives out and about, and designers started giving the look a more refined edge, replacing the typical cotton fabrics with more formal ones such as satin and chiffon.

This was around the 1950s and early 60s, an era many of us associate with the vintage pinup look.

The 60s era would bring us mini skirts and sexy pants, so the tea length hemline fell out of fashion, but as we know, that didn’t last long!

The tea length hemline is a timeless one.

Practical in many ways, it can be viewed as very conservative while still showing personality and a bit of flair, and it’s a great length for formal outdoor events where a longer hemline might be a tripping hazard and become easily soiled.

It can be dressed up or down, this length by no means needs to be formal, nor does it need to be conservative.

The right petticoat and accessories can add a whole ton of va-va-va-voom! to your look, so be sure and check out our amazing selection and definitely ask questions if you need to!

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