The Lowdown on the High-Low Hemline

The Lowdown on the High-Low Hemline

The high-low hemline, with its distinctive asymmetrical cut, is actually not some designer's modern innovation, but a design element that has evolved over time. In fact, the design has been around for centuries, through changes in fashion trends, social norms, and cultural influences. Here's a (very) brief look at the journey of the high-low hemline from its origins to its modern-day popularity in contemprary fashion.


Early Inspirations and Regal Beginnings

A photo taken of an illustration of ISabau of Bavaria from the British LibraryThe concept of varying hem lengths can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when garments with trains were popular among royalty and the aristocracy. Historically, the dresses of the era consisted of (at least) two pieces: a weightier top layer called a "houppelande", layered over the top of a slimmer, thinner "cotehardie." These gowns have become widely referred to as a "Burgundian dress", and they typically had a longer back hem (train), which over time evolved into a symbol of wealth and status, designed to sweep the ground as the wearer walked and provide a bit of drama and status (and who doesn't love a bit of drama and status?) This early form of high-low styling set the stage for future fashion innovations, as shown in this depiction of Isabeau of Bavaria and her ladies in waiting from British Library MS Harley.

Victorian and Edwardian Eras

 In the Victorian era (1837-1901), high-low elements appeared in dresses with bustles. The back of these dresses was often extended and adorned with elaborate decorations, creating a pronounced difference between the front and back hems. This style continued into the Edwardian era (1901-1910), where the focus on ornate and flowing fabrics emphasized the elegance and sophistication of asymmetrical designs, accentuating the female form. These dramatic contrasts in shape were accentuated by corseted waists and highly-constructed internal skirts with wire and boning, upholding a historical demand for an entire niche furniture market in settees, more commonly known as "fainting couches" - a broad topic perhaps best saved for another post.


 Mid-20th Century Resurgence

The high-low hemline saw a resurgence in the mid-20th century. During the 1950s, iconic designers like Christian Dior played with varying hem lengths in their haute couture collections. These designs combined elegance with a modern twist, capturing the imagination of fashion-forward women. The high-low hemline was embraced for its ability to highlight shoes and create a dramatic silhouette.

The trend was widely embraced, and soon not just for those with access to haute couture. The illustration pictured is a vintage McCalls sewing pattern - one of the ways women with everyday budgets were able to access the latest trends.




The 1980s and 1990s: Bold & Experimental

The 1980s and 90s brought a wave of bold and experimental punk-era fashion trends, and the high-low hemline was a key player in many designers' street urchin-inspired looks. Designers like Vivienne Westwood and Jean-Paul Gaultier incorporated high-low elements into their avant-garde haute couture collections, pushing the boundaries of conventional high-end fashion. The asymmetrical hem became a symbol of rebellion and individuality, aligning with the 80s and 90s emphasis on self-expression.

There is probably no better example of this sentiment that Vivienne Westwood's irreverent tartan pieces from the 90s, which are not only highly-collectible, but still wear well today!



Contemporary & Western Fashion 

In the 21st century, the high-low hemline has experienced a significant revival. Modern designers have reinterpreted this classic style for contemporary audiences, making it a staple in both high fashion and ready-to-wear collections. The versatility of the high-low hemline allows it to be adapted for various occasions, from casual daywear to glamorous evening gowns.

The high-low hemline is also a tried and true staple in Western fashion, offering style enthusiasts a means to dress up, be comfortable, and showcase a favorite pair of boots! Celebrities and influencers have further propelled the trend, showcasing high-low designs on red carpets and social media platforms, ensuring the trend lives on...and long may it endure!


A woman wearing a high-low maxi skirt, a denim shirt and Western belt and boots
 The Soñora floral High-Low Maxi Skirt • $24 •. Shop Skirts

Read more about high-low hemlines on the Highland Fashionista Blog

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