From the Stone Age to 'Gossip Girl', why we all love the mini
As an Italian town bans miniskirts, Chrissie Russell looks at the history of this controversial little garment
If Silvio Berlusconi has taught us nothing else, it's that hot-blooded Italian men love a leggy bella donna. Which is why most people this week will have done a double take at the news that, of all the places in the world, a miniskirt ban is to be introduced in an Italian town.
Mayor Luigi Bobbio, from Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party, has decided that the seaside town of Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples, will be clamping down on revealing clothing. No more low-slung jeans, no plunging necklines and no more miniskirts.
In a bid to "raise the level of public decorum" in the town, Mayor Bobbio has ordered police to issue €300 fines to women deemed to be flouting the new law.
"They won't need to carry out checks up close," he warned. "One glance will be enough to judge."
Alas, it's nothing new for the poor beleaguered miniskirt, which since its inception has been wrapped in scandal and controversy. Few items of clothing, except perhaps the reviled hoodie, have had more written about them. Even the miniskirt's very invention is subject to debate.
Most credit is given to designer Mary Quant, who set about creating the mini in her King's Road Bazaar shop at the height of London's Swinging Sixties. Quant supposedly named the style after her favourite car but rival designers John Bates, also a major name in the London fashion scene, and Frenchman Andre Courreges also laid claim to the style.
Possibly it was all three. The simple fact is that hemlines had been rising since the flapper dresses of the 1920s and the dawn of the mini was simply fashion's evolution. The new way of dressing also symbolised a new era of youth and vitality.
Young women, no longer wanting to dress like their mothers, donned short skirts in an act of rebellion. The 1960s miniskirt was a product of its time and a new daring generation.
Quant herself confessed: "It wasn't me or Courreges who invented the miniskirt, it was the girls on the street who did it."
But actually it turns out that the miniskirt has been in and out of vogue since the stone age. Three years ago, archaeologists excavating in Siberia found stone figurines from 7,500 years ago that revealed our Stone-Age sisters knew a bit about showing some leg and accessorising.
Archaeologist on the dig Julka Zuzamovic-Cevetkovic explained: "According to the figurines we found, young women were beautifully dressed like today's girls in short tops and mini-skirts with bracelets on their arms."
Presumably the dig also uncovered some angry Stone-Age father statues and leering hunter-gatherers.
The fascinating thing is that, despite all its critics, the mini always manages to bounce back. Whether it's the high hemlines of the office as epitomised by Ally McBeal, the sexy schoolgirl preppy look honed by Gossip Girl or the leather-clad bottom of a 60-something Tina Turner strutting on stage -- the mini is a survivor.
It revels in notoriety and even after bad press it re-appears, better, stronger and shorter than before. It is the Madonna of the skirt world.
Madonna (52), coincidently, is still sporting her minis, which poses another perennial area of debate -- at what age is it time to hang up the short skirts?
Georgia Jagger reportedly confiscated all Jerry Hall's when her mother turned 50.
She says: "I did take all her miniskirts. I told her one night that her skirt was too short. She came down the stairs and I was like 'God mum, you are 50'."
Ten years ago, the average woman stopped wearing miniskirts at 36, and in the '80s most ladies over 33 wouldn't have dared an above-the-knee style.
Today the average age for women to stop buying miniskirts is 40.
A spokesperson for Debenhams, who carried out the research, says: "It shows that women now have an increasing confidence in their bodies and are happy to dress accordingly.
"If this trend continues, there's no doubt that, within the next decade, women in their mid-40s and early 50s will rightly regard a mini-skirt as an essential part of their everyday wardrobe."
It's said that a good mini skirt should be like a good conversation -- short enough to pertain interest but long enough to cover the subject.
A glance at shop rails illustrates how a mini can be anything from a knee-grazing 42cm to a bottom-skimming pelmet.
"To gauge the perfect length for the mini, I'd reference the original and the best -- Mary Quant's minidresses and skirts," says Jan Brierton, Dublin-based fashion stylist for Morgan the Agency.
'Skirts set six or seven inches above the knee is a perfect length. The classic 60s mini is also A-lined and in a variety of heavy fabrics to give a better structure and shape compared to many of today's denim or filled ra-ra styles which are a tackier version of an iconic trend."
Jan reckons the secret of why we keep returning to the mini is simple. "It's to do with women's -- and men's! -- love affair with legs," she says.
"It's also a seasonally adaptable piece of clothing that can be worn in summer with bare, tanned legs or in winter with opaque tights and boots."
But she adds: "Lithe young things with toned svelte legs can undoubtedly wear a miniskirt all the year round but I think its best for anyone blessed by the cellulite fairy to steer clear, unless they're wearing very opaque tights. I also don't think it's an appropriate look for the corporate world."
The latter is a sentiment shared by bosses at Southampton City Council who earlier this year banned members of staff in children's services from wearing miniskirts, on the grounds that the skirts are disrespectful.
And Brazilian student Geisy Arruda (20) was last year kicked out of her Sao Paulo university after the institution decided her miniskirt was inappropriately short.
But despite its detractors, some feel the mini can be a force for good.
Ebay believes in 'miniskirt meteorology' and revealed that earlier this year sales of miniskirts rose by 200% a full week before weather forecasters even predicted rising temperatures.
While John L Costi, author of Mood Matters: From Rising Skirt Lengths To The Collapse Of World Powers reckons shorter hemlines signal an optimistic nation and a blossoming economy.
Points that might make Mayor Bobbio think twice about the merits of banning minis from his seaside town that's dependent on sunshine and plenty of tourist euros.