Fashion: Up, Up & Away

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Rosy Badge of Courage. The higher the hems go, the better it gets for girl watchers, who are having the time of their lives. Boston Adman John Lamb recalls with relish the time he walked into a wall while watching a short-skirted secretary bend over to rummage through the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. Miami Model Mary Stewart knows all too well that the new fashions are registering when her husband, who works at Miami International Airport, interrupts his telephone conversation with her to whistle and exclaim: "Wow, there goes a real short one! You wouldn't believe it!"

Not all men find short skirts that attractive. Former Harvard Football Hero Bobby Leo, who now plays for the Boston Patriots, actually feels uncomfortable around them. "The other day I was walking behind a girl with a mini-skirt on, and I was embarrassed for six blocks," says Leo. Many husbands admit to liking them but not on their own wives. Still, most young men confess themselves riveted by the exposure. "Sure it's a distraction," says University of Miami Campus Editor Larry Mans, "but I can't think of a nicer one, and most of the professors feel the same way." As for the mini wearers themselves, most would rather freeze than quit. Helped along with warm panty hose and boots, they are accepting rosy kneecaps for this winter as today's badge of courage. "It's a mark of the new freedom," says University of Chicago's Dr. Martin Marty of the shorter styles. "Girls on the New Left wear them. Young Republican women wear them. Matrons wear them. If they're rebelling, they're in the majority already, so they've won the battle."

From Sack to Mod. The first shot was fired ironically by Balenciaga, the haughtiest couturier of them all way back in 1951, when he began loosening the waist with the semifitted free-form dress. Balenciaga followed up with the still looser tunic in 1955, eliminated the waist altogether with the "sack" in 1957. Once dresses began falling loosely from the shoulders, without a pinched-in waist, hemlines were free to rise without destroying the proportion of the line.

As early as 1958, London's Mary Quant was putting skirts above the knee, and by 1964, she and her fellow mod designers had made it fashionable to look like a short-skirted working girl. Temporarily losing her nerve, she lengthened skirts one year, but nobody paid the slightest attention. Says Quant: "The birds went on putting them up in spite of me." Also in 1964, Courrèges' space-age styles stamped mini lengths with the respectability of the Paris couture. For the short skirt, the transatlantic crossing to the U.S. was an instant ban voyage. In the same year, Gernreich showed his dresses three inches above the knee, and escalation was under way.

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