Fashion, we know, is sent to try us. You encounter a trend and circle it nervously for a while, like a mechanical bull in a rodeo bar. You steel yourself, gathering courage. Then, no sooner have you hopped aboard and started riding the thing in style than it shifts gears and bucks you right off again.
Take hemlines. A while ago, we had three lengths – your basic mini, your floor-sweeping maxi and knee-length, the catch-all safety zone that covered office to party and all that lies between. Then along came the midi and everything was new and exciting for a while. It felt elegant and grown-up – more subversive, less prim, despite the extra fabric. It wasn’t always the easiest to wear, but we rose to the challenge admirably. And quite literally, too, as we realised the quickest way to de-frump them is with heels, platforms or at least a bouncy stacked trainer. Not always ideal, but a fair payoff for having three inches less leg to shave.
But what happened? We got confident – cocky, even – and fashion decided to up the difficulty level. “Longer!” they cried. So we wore them longer. “Even longer!” they cried. So we stood on tiptoe in the changing rooms. “Asymmetric!” they cried, so we gamely styled-out mullet lengths and raggedy handkerchief hems. We bought new, longer coats to work with our new, longer skirts, and new high-leg ankle boots to bridge the gap. We got used to picking up our skirt whenever we walked up stairs, like a busy parlourmaid, and accumulating debris like a street sweeper.
I’ve been working to conquer the awkward-length midi. Because I can’t live in heels and perilous platforms – or rather, I won’t. And actually, a small tweak or two can be all it takes to stop feeling so much like a costumed volunteer at a Victorian museum
You know what’s really to blame, of course. Brexit. No, I’m serious – or at least if George Taylor’s hemline index, which suggests skirt lengths rise in good economies and fall in bad, is to be believed. It’s the 52 per cent's fault that we now exist in a world of Alice In Wonderland-style scale confusion – where some dresses are labelled "maxi" but end above your ankle, while others are called "midi" but can mean anywhere between knee-length and an inch off the floor. If you’re petite, which in this case means pretty much anything below 5ft 7in, there’s continued risk of disappointment. You try on what looks like a chic, easy-to-wear day dress and find yourself staring back at a solid wall of fabric, like that magic trick with the floating head and the curtain.
But I’ve been working to conquer the awkward-length midi. Because I can’t live in heels and perilous platforms – or rather, I won’t. And actually, a small tweak or two can be all it takes to stop feeling so much like a costumed volunteer at a Victorian museum...
Never wear them with a shawl.
Take it up. Even a few inches can be the difference between dowdy and delightful. I committed sacrilege a few months ago when I managed to buy Marks & Spencer’s sold-out constellation print midi, and promptly cut a chunk off the skirt. This made it harder to subsequently flog on eBay, but so much easier to wear. And if you can’t face sewing, there’s always your old pal Wundaweb.
Add slits. Not Angelina Jolie at the 2012 Oscars slits, unless you fancy them, but just some knee-high splices to break up the monotony, create movement and remind the world you’re a human being, not a head on a plinth. You can do this either by unpicking the side seams and putting in a few stitches at your desired point, or cutting slits into the front of your skirt (getting them straight is the main challenge, hemming the split by hand or on a machine is pretty simple – this tutorial is helpfully thorough; this one is more realistic). Or if you’re wearing a shirt dress, just undo another button or two. Or three. Conduct a test by mimicking high wind conditions in front of the mirror, and you’re golden.
Take up the lining. For layered chiffon styles, you don’t even need to take up the whole thing – just leave the top layer long and take as much as you fancy off the opaque lining instead. You’ll still have the elegance of the long midi but without the swamping effect. Or if the skirt is lightweight enough, you could even try fashion YouTube’s favourite hack, tying a knot to make the hem asymmetric.
Layer over jeans. I know, adding more fabric feels counterintuitive – but it’s cold out there, and surprisingly a skinny jean poking out from the bottom of your billowing midi is an instant refresher. It says “schoolmarm by day, possible undercover crime-fighter by night". Not to mention giving your poor maligned skinny jeans an outing, and making your trainers look more deliberate. All the better to ride the mechanical bull in, my dear.