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.