Ad Campaign – Galanos for Nan Duskin, 1968

In 1968 the “midi” was thrust upon unsuspecting mini skirt lovers across the world.  It started in Paris, of course, but soon some American designers were showing the new length.   I was in the eight or ninth grade at the time, and all of us girls at Canton Junior High were dedicated mini wearers.  I remember seeing the new style in the fashion magazines and thinking it was so ugly.  Most of my classmates must have agreed because the only midi length items I recall at all, even through the early 70s, were coats.

I’ve been reading two books, and interestingly, both talked about the midi and how one publication, Women’s Wear Daily, attempted to force the popularity of the new length.  Both books were written in the 1970s and both agree that the publisher of WWD, John Fairchild, tried to use his influence with fashion designers, manufacturers and retailers to make and sell the length.

The first book is Minding the Store, the memoirs of  Stanley Marcus, president of Neiman-Marcus stores.  What a great read, full of fashion history tidbits.  This was a man who had been running one of the best womenswear stores in the country, and he knew pretty much everybody who was anybody in fashion.  And he seems to be a genuinely nice person, with seldom a negative word about anyone, that is until he got to John Fairchild.

He mentioned the fact that people who displeased Fairchild were ignored in the paper, and that included Marcus.  Marcus had this to say about the midi:

In 1969 Fairchild went on a one-paper crusade to force acceptance of the Paris-inspired midi length on Seventh Avenue and American retailers.  Those who dragged their feet were labeled old-fashioned…The campaign succeeded so far as manufacturers and stores were concerned, but the American buying public refused to accept the fashion, despite John Fairchild’s almost hysterical endorsement.  The fashion industry, makers and retailers alike, suffered colossal financial losses as customers, confused by the controversy on lengths, decided not to buy at all.  It proved to be the most disastrous season in the history of American fashion.  Chastened by his defeat and the criticism heaped on him, Fairchild abandoned his role as self ordained fashion dictator…

The second book is Fashion for Everybody: The Story of Ready-to-Wear 1870 – 1970 by Sandra Ley.   She tells pretty much the same story as Marcus:

In the late sixties Fairchild decided that the day of the short skirt, not to mention the mini, was over and that from now on only the “midi” (a word they coined) was to be worn.  Many manufacturers were thrown into a tizzy and most of them went along with it…Unfortunately, the majority of American women had never even heard of WWD, and even if they had, they did not consider its edicts relevant to their lives.  WWD showed endless pictures of midis and hammered out its message that nothing else could possibly be acceptable all through the year of 1970 while the manufacturers who had made them and the stores that were selling them soon realized that all the ballyhoo was having no effect on their customers.  In short time those manufacturers and retailers were blaming the whole midi debacle on Fairchild and WWD.

It was an interesting episode, partly because the outcome led to women beginning to realize that they could wear a variety of lengths, and not just those dictated by Paris or a fashion publication.  And according to many fashion historians, it hastened the acceptance of women wearing pants, which was the ultimate solution to ending the worry about skirt length.

To read more about midi-gate and the other nastiness of John Fairchild, there was an excellent profile of him a while back  in Vanity Fair.

38 Comments

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38 responses to “Ad Campaign – Galanos for Nan Duskin, 1968

  1. In 1971 in my high school there was one rather avant-garde girl who actually wore midi skirts. (She also wrote poetry and had it published in our school newspaper–we thought she was weird, of course LOL). That was the year we were also thrilled because girls were finally allowed to wear “nice” pant suits to school (the boys got to wear jeans, as usual).

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    • I believe it was 1972 when girls finally got to wear pants at my school. At first it was “pantsuits only” but by the end of the school year we were really pushing the limit. I very clearly the day I first wore jeans to school, in violation of the rule. My mother stood at the door and said something like “Don’t be surprised if you end up in the principal’s office.” But no one said a word about it.

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  2. Nan Duskin was THE place to shop if you were a lady of fashion in Philadelphia in the ’60s and ’70s. I never shopped there (too young and too poor in those days!), but my MIL did. I still have a Nan Duskin box which I use almost every Christmas for random gifts, but I refuse to give that box away! About the midi – am I correct that it probably paved the path for the “hostess” skirt so popular in the ’70s?

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    • I don’t think floor length skirts ever really when out of style for evening during the 60s, and I can remember wearing maxi length skirts to church, probably around 1969. We all had one in velveteen or plaid taffeta made with a gathered waist. Maxi dresses are pretty commonly found in thrifts and vintage stores, and at least in my corner of the world, were much more accepted than the midi.

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  3. I remember from that time that the moms were still basically in knee-length pencil skirts so they weren’t having any of it. I do remember my mom making a double-knit maxi-dress for entertaining, though, and I sewed up some gauchos for school, since for the first time we were allowed to wear “slacks”.

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    • The only women I remember as wearing anything like the midi length were the older ones who ever had raised their skirts to the knees to start with! But most of the women my mother’s age wore their skirts at or slightly above the knee.

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  4. I wore the midi around 1970 aged 15 and not very tall…..must have looked hideous! Mine was brown,wool type fabric with centre large metal buckle. Had to be worn with boots too as no shoes I had worked,so very short lived fashion item. Thank goodness we learn to pick and choose our own style as time goes on, and not just follow the herd. Thanks for stirring that memory!

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  5. For me, the most memorable ‘midi moment’ was that iconic Life magazine cover from August 1970 by John Dominis (young woman in a Pucci mini looking in a mirror and holding up a midi skirt). Clearly the baby boomers weren’t having any part of it, and went on to get as short as possible with ‘hot pants’ a year later! It certainly was a ‘do your own thang’ moment in fashion history.
    p.s. I associate Galanos with elegance and knowing what his own look is, so that makes me wonder why he was onboard with this fashion silhouette (?)

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  6. In all my travels, I have found only one zip-off mini/midi coat — the garment industry solution to the midi protest problem! (Although if memory serves, a lot of protest in the press was by men!)

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  7. We wore micro minis so short a coat had to be worn over them until 1975 when I was a college senior and the hemlines plummeted overnight. Interesting about the midis. Even my very fashionista mom, a former model, wore her skirts and dresses just above her knee and had no midis of her own. Even though she read Vogue endlessly looking for new style hints etc.

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    • It still amazes me that my parents let me out of the house with my skirts as short as they were in the early 70s. But I remember the coat I wore all through college (73-77) was a midi, for warmth, I suppose!

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      • Sarah Perry-Correia

        Yes well I do remember my dad once complaining to my mom that our skirts were way too short because he could see our underwear.In our house mom made all the teenage daughter fashion decisions so when she replied that he should shut up because our minis were in that was the end of it.Pretty much anything that appeared in Vogue with the exception of gogo boots we had. fishnet

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      • Sarah Perry-Correia

        But the real micro ones and the tawny velvet hot pants she bought me she told me to wear at college and not where dad could see.Loved trendy stuff.If it would look bad on her she bought it for me no Matter how minute.

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  8. I always associate the midi, and the maxi coats, with the Dr. Zhivago-inspired Russian look — this fur-trimmed coat jogged my memory. (The film, Dr. Zhivago, came out in 1965.) There were a lot of fake-fur trimmed coats around for a few years. I recall most midi/maxi skirts as having buttons down the front, so that you could let more leg show if you wanted to — a form of hedging your bets for the stores. And yes, boots were the only shoes that really looked good with these styles.

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    • Dr. Zhivago has been quoted as the inspiration of the midi coats that first showed up in the 1967 couture. Another movie that is sometimes credited (blamed?) for the midi was Bonnie and Clyde in 1967.

      Even today when women wear any length they want, skirts that hit below the knee look unbalanced to me without boots or interesting hosiery.

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  9. Fascinating stuff. The first few essays in Kennedy Fraser’s The Fashionable Mind date to the early 1970s and therefore show the impact of ‘midi gate’ (!), particularly in a 1971 piece called ‘Hot Pants’. Interestingly she argues the American market was different to Europe ‘where women welcomed longer skirts without a wisp of protest’. I’d like to know how truthful that statement is…

    Her conclusion also backs up the point about it being a watershed moment for women wearing trousers. She writes, ‘For the first time in the garment’s relatively brief history, trousers are completely epicene. They are no longer scandalous … ‘

    And finally, doesn’t this coincide with the period when Diana Vreeland was sacked from Vogue because she was telling readers to make it up themselves, rather than dictating fashion trends? Fairchild obviously took it to the other extreme.

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    • Maybe some European readers will weigh in on Fraser’s comments. It’s interesting that acceptance of the style would differ from country to country.

      I really think that the mini skirt also led to the acceptance of pants, but with all the confusion about skirt lengths, pants suddenly must have looked like a very practical solution to the issue.

      And yes, Vreeland’s star was dimming in the early 70s. Interesting observation!

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  10. QueensGirl

    The mini/midi controversy was just a little before my time, but I still remember the gauchos I had in grade school, loved them. The fur collar in the ad is gloriously rendered, such well controlled watercolor.

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  11. I had a youngish mother who was quite fashionable. She bought me a midi coat in 1970-71. It was a pretty violet and grey tweed with brushed gold buttons. It had a slit up the back so it wasn’t really that warm. I think it was military style double breasted. I wore it over a navy blue knit pant suit from Sears Jr. Bazaar. The pants were bell-bottomed and the top was a tunic. I wore a silver chain belt slung low on the hips. I use to also wear a long piece of violet yarn tied in a bow in my hair. My mother dressed me and I never balked because she was young enough to know what was hip. She did it on a shoestring too! Because of her, I’m passionate about clothes and I love thinking about those days.

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  12. Your post reminded me of an article I read in the counterculture magazine Rags published in 1970-71. Entitled “The Politics of Midi,” it explains how WWD influenced the big department stores who, saddled with nothing but midis, tried to force it on their customers. You can read the article here: http://tondro.com/RagsImages/Oct1970-18-19-20-21-22.pdf

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  13. Christina

    I would say that the fashion culture in the US was different than what was happening in Europe and in particular the UK. WWD certainly wielded heavy handed influence! Very interesting to read about John Fairchild. While the midi found its way into styles generated by Ossie Clark, BIBA and Laura Ashley the UK also had a youth culture influenced by music and art which sprouted other fashion styles. I was an art student in London at that time and I wasn’t aware of the midi creating the kind of reaction Kennedy Fraser refers to.

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  14. Being a southern/mid-western girl then (Oklahoma) we were all wearing our skirts as short as we could get away with in school. (Do you remember the “kneel test”, if you kneeled on the floor and your hem touched the floor it was okay?) I was in junior high about the same time as you and I do remember Midi’s coming out. Didn’t go over there either as most of the really churchy girls wore that style already and the rest of us weren’t about to! When I was in college in ’72 I had a Midi length coat I just loved, though, fake fur and warm as hell in our cold winters, especially over a short skirt. Very Zhivago-ish, but I loved it and wore it for years. I think as short a skirt as my modesty would permit was about an inch or two above the knee.

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  15. I just got this photo of a “protest” button from reader Karen. Cute!

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  16. I ordered Stanley Marcus’ Minding the Store from my local library and — thank you — it’s very readable and enjoyable! I would never have given it a second glance if you hadn’t mentioned it. I’m looking forward to following up on his chapter about WW II clothing restrictions, since he was on the War Production Board.

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