I do intend to write about the way pantyhose changed our lives, but first I want to lead a brief tour through the 1960s’ skirt revolution that made pantyhose necessary.
In fashion there are very few absolutes, but I’ll share a group of images I’ve collected. Keep in mind that not all women follow fashion slavishly, and that even within one country, some areas will be more conservative than others.
Many people think that all the “short skirts” of the Sixties were mini-skirts. Not true. The skirts we wore in the early 1960s came in for some criticism because they were short in relation to the skirts of the 1950s. It was only near the end of the 1960s that skirt lengths exposed more leg (and thigh) than was ever before shown by fully dressed adult women.
It’s surprising to see how long the post-war “New Look” remained main-stream fashion. From 1947 to 1956, Dior’s influence dominated.
Then hems began to rise.
We can understand that the skirts of 1959 did look shockingly short after ten years of mid-calf fashions.
I started high school in 1958. Our school uniforms had brown wool skirts with stitched-down pleats, and came well below the knee. Skirts continued to rise in the early 60s, but in my school the line was drawn at the bottom of the kneecap. By 1961, if a teacher or hall monitor thought your skirt was too short, you would be asked to kneel on the floor. If the hem didn’t touch the floor while you were kneeling, you would be sent to the principal’s office where a seam ripper was waiting. (I mention this because it tells us that by 1961 girls were trying to wear mid-knee skirts.)
The skirts of Butterick 9082 would easily have passed the “kneeling test.”
However, in the same year other designs just covered the kneecap.
In fact, hems that just covered the knee were the norm for a while:
From now on, we’ll have to look for the spot where the curve of the calf indicates the bottom of the knee.
It’s good to look at patterns sold through newspapers, since they were aimed at rural and small town women — women who did not have access to department stores. I was surprised to see that the lengths are in step with fashion.
[My husband grew up in small-town Texas, while I grew up near fashionable San Francisco, California. We’re the same age. He and I kept disagreeing on what teenaged girls wore in the Sixties — until we realized that the girls he remembered lived in North Texas, which is still quite conservative.]
1964 was the year the Beatles came to America. British fashion, at least for young people, suddenly went from notoriously dowdy to trend-setting. Young women began to dress differently from their elders — and from sophisticated adult fashion models.
People waiting for the mini skirt to appear may feel that “now we’re getting somewhere!” However, this model’s Vogue pattern partially covers her knees even when she’s sitting. (I had a hat like that and those gloves designed for 3/4 sleeved coats, circa 1965.)
Those outfits by Deanna Littell are suitable for business or travel, but the ones below (not by Littell) are definitely for the young.
It appears that by 1966, a woman who did not bare her knees was out of fashion. (As a senior in college, I often wore these short skirts with opaque tights.)
1967 was also famous for the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco. It was getting hard to find dresses the weren’t this short! These were the years when I took every new dress straight to the fabric store and bought matching 2 inch hem tape so I could let the dress down before wearing it. Sitting on a cold cable car’s wooden seat in one of these was unpleasant…. Panty-hose or tights were a blessing.
But the very shortest skirts were yet to come…
Even that chart didn’t include the shortest of the short skirts:
It makes the mini-skirts of the 1960s seem tame by comparison.
Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that in 1970 the bank I was working for announced that female employees would finally be allowed to wear pant suits (or trousers with a matching top) to work. In the fall of 1970, I returned to teaching high school. I was glad that trouser suits were soon permitted in the classroom, too. It was a conservative (“men wear the pants in this family”) Central California community, but around 1970 we had reached the point where trousers were often less shocking than dresses.
It’s often hard for young teachers to maintain discipline in high school classes. I knew some young male teachers who grew beards or wore jackets and neckties just to look older. Here’s a piece of advice about classroom discipline and those very short 1960s’ and 70s’ dresses: turning your back to a class full of adolescent boys when you reach high to write on the chalkboard while wearing a mini dress is not conducive to the ideal learning environment…. Better to be a little out of fashion!