When World War I (1914–18) ended, women adopted a new style: the knee-length hemline. The year 1919 was the first year that European and American women showed their legs in public. Between 1919 and 1929 women's legs were seen beneath day, sport, and evening dresses.
The most fashionable silhouette, or shape, for a woman's skirt from 1919 to 1929 was straight and knee length. The skirts of the decade hid women's feminine curves with loose waists and sashes hugging the hips. These dresses created a silhouette that was worn best by the boyish figures of the young, especially the trend setting flappers. The most fashionable shorter hemlines were worn most often by younger women, but some older, curvier women also adopted these fashions and began showing off their legs for the first time. More conservative, or reserved, women wore similar straight dresses with ankle-length hems.
Most dresses featured straight hemlines that neatly circled the upper calves. However, more flowing lines came into fashion later in the decade. The handkerchief hemline was created by circling the waist with an overskirt made of thin, transparent panels of fabric, which gave glimpses of the shorter straight hem of the tubular dress below. One corner of each fabric panel pointed toward the floor, giving the hemline an uneven look. Dresses and skirts with handkerchief hemlines hung below the knee.
The mid-1920s saw the introduction of the short formal dress. Throughout most of the 1920s, the hemlines of evening dresses were the same knee-length lines as day dresses. Evening dresses of the period also featured handkerchief hemlines. By the end of the decade evening dresses began to show hemlines that hung slightly below the knees in front and trailed to the floor in back. Ankle-length evening gowns came into fashion in 1929 and have never really gone out of style since. But the preferred hemline length for day dresses has remained short for women of all ages since this time.
Blackman, Cally. The 20s & 30s: Flappers & Vamps. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Incorporated, 2000.
Ewing, Elizabeth. History of 20th Century Fashion. Lanham, MD: Barnes and Noble, 1974.
Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. Vanity Rules: A History of American Fashion and Beauty. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books, 2000.
Murray, Maggie Pexton. Changing Styles in Fashion: Who, What, Why. New York: Fairchild, 1989.