Short & Sweet

At times like these, we need a little distraction, like minis marching down the fashion runways and into stores

March 16, 2003|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

In the annals of fashion, the hemline has been one of the surest indicators of social unrest.

This much is true -- each time a hemline has risen drastically, the world has been filled with uncertainty, rebellion and the heady possibility of sweeping change. In the jazzy '20s, the newly empowered woman wore skirts at a shocking knee-length. And in the politically charged 1960s, hemlines dramatically raced up the leg and miniskirts became must-haves for any self-respecting, liberated woman.

Spring 2003 is turning out to be no different, for it's a season filled with miniskirts and mini-dresses galore.

In a moment packed with gloom, strife and never-ending talk of nuclear missiles, the fashion world appears to be collectively revolting. (Or at least, offering a diversion.)

Enough, we are telling the world, of anxiety, duct tape and deceptively bright and cheery colored Codes. We want fun, fuchsia and teeny little skirts, the shorter the better.

Escapism is in -- and so is the mini.

"One of the major trends is escape from the realities of war, of economy," said Sass Brown, professor of fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. "This certainly is a rebellion. ... This is our way of getting away from everything."

There is a glaring frivolity in the belief that fashion can be an antidote to fear, that a cute skirt and lots of leg can make up for the dismal reality of war and terrorism making headlines every day.

Surely, things can't be that simple.

But, then again, why not? Even if it's just for a moment.

"We need pretty more than ever now," eveningwear designer Donald Deal said. "I like to think that if I can extinguish the fear for five minutes when you try on a beautiful dress and you feel good, then that's great."

And designers have offered many different options for mini getaways this spring.

Seeking a classy, tailored look? Try Chanel and the girly, flared minis paired with structured blouses and jackets.

For something wild, Versace and Versus have mini-skirt suits and baby doll dresses in hot pinks, lime greens and lemon yellows.

Anna Sui offers sporty minis -- including a darling dress with a golfing-hole applique. Roberto Cavalli's silk, cheongsam-style minis have been such a hit that pop culture's It fashion-plate Jennifer Lopez already has made memorable appearances in them. And the look is back with such force that it's slated to last through fall.

In the '60s, the mini was associated with designers Andre Courreges and Mary Quant and their fan base comprised mostly young women. This season's mini resurgence, however, comes at a time when the skirt is likely to have a much broader appeal.

"The mini is ageless now," said Mary Jimenez, spokeswoman for eLuxury.com. "Women know they don't have to be 25 years old to wear a miniskirt. They take better care of themselves now. Women who are 35, 40, 45, they look great, they exercise. And when you take good care of yourself and you look great, you want to show off the results."

Gregg Andrews, Nordstrom's East Coast fashion director, said women shouldn't be intimidated by the mini.

"For mainstream women, the mini just means a trend toward shorter hemlines," Andrews said. "It might just mean hemming your skirt up to your kneecap. Just wear your hemline as short as you dare."

Some women may shy away because they feel the mini is too overtly sexy. But celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, who is dressing Halle Berry for next week's Academy Awards, pointed out that the look often conveys another message.

"It's more a power thing than just a sex thing," he observed. "It's more powerful-sexy rather than the (low-cut) 'Hi, I have breasts' look."

And, while toned -- and well-moisturized -- legs are a must for any woman putting on a mini, Bloch reminded women that "the legs are one of the last things to go."

Even if you're not up for trying the look, the mini should still be of some value this season.

"Men love to see women in it, and women love to see women in it because they can diss them or they can be envious," Bloch said. "Women like to go, 'Oh I could never wear that,' or 'Oh, she really shouldn't be wearing that thing!'

"It's fun and frivolous," he added. "That's why we love it again."

Pulling off the look

* Wear a length you're comfortable with. Just because minis are in, it doesn't mean you have to buy one that barely covers your behind. "If you feel like you constantly have to be pulling down your skirt, it's too short," Nordstrom's Gregg Andrews says.

* Keep it casual. Many women worry about looking too sexed-up in a mini. But that doesn't have to be the case. You can keep the look everyday by either wearing a denim mini or one with cargo pockets. Or, pair a mini with casual footwear instead of heels. "Great flats will tone down a mini and help it not be so aggressively sexual," Andrews says.

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