It is just over 100 years since hems started to scandalously stray above the ankle bone. The full length dress (or close to it) was once the fashion uniform for western women. Now, designer maxi dresses are a choice we make from our wardrobes of plenty, and a great one at that. Though they remained de rigour for evening wear and did appear in the decades of the first half of the century for day wear too, it seemed to take the progression up the leg to the mini dress or skirt in the 1960’s which finally brought about a subversive effect, bringing skirts back to earth in the bohemian age with maxi length dresses.
The 1960’s was a decade where many styles and aesthetics rubbed shoulders and while some aspired to geometric shapes and bold colours of the ‘London look’ others harked back to earlier eras to source their clothing and the concept of ‘Vintage’ fashion was born. Contemporary designers such as Thea Porter and Gina Fratini took inspiration from antique Edwardian sources to create romantic dresses and kaftans. Other designers such as Emilio Pucci and Ossie Clark with his wife Celia Birtwell were experimenting with psychedelic print and colour and nowhere could these have more impact than the full skirt of a maxi dress.
However, if there is a decade of the 20th century to which the maxi skirt belongs, it is surely the 1970’s. Carrying forward the riotous colour of the late 1960’s, designers such as Bill Gibb, Louis Féraud, Zandra Rhodes, Yuki London and Yves Saint Laurent (often with ensemble pieces) took up the mantel and played with shape and form. A long line was in with trouser suits and dinner suits becoming a very popular choice for many women. The elegance of this form matched a similar aesthetic shift in maxi dresses. With his silky, plunging and fluid creations, American designer Halstonbrought the full length dress to a wider, sleeker, more urban audience with dresses designed to wear from day to night. In his simple and minimalist designs, women could feel like goddesses and certainly his greatest fans such as Pat Cleveland and Bianca Jagger looked like minor deities in them. Today vintage maxi dresses or, what some might call retro maxi dresses, prove to be great style hits not just for the beach. A perfect choice for summer, worn with a great platform heel, a neat pair of trainers, a biker jacket and a belt, these dresses can take on a new life.