Bringing Back Low-Rise Miniskirts is Tone-Deaf and Anti-Feminist
In an increasingly body-positive atmosphere where women are encouraged to feel confident and secure in their own skins by brands like The Gap, Dove and Aerie, haute couture brands like Miu Miu’s protagonist low-rise miniskirts highlighted at the Paris Fashion Week runway seem out of place and tone-deaf.
When searching for the most toxic fashion trends in history, one encounters Chinese foot binding from the Song Dynasty, suffocating and rib-breaking corsets from the 16th century, fire-hazardous hoop skirts from the 19th century and Renaissance-era Italian women widening their pupils with poisonous belladonna plant droplets at the risk of going blind. However ludicrous these trends may seem, their toxicity primarily stems from their physical damage to the body.
But psychological damage, particularly to young women, is also incredibly harmful and can be found in more recent fashion trends. Upon seeing the Miu Miu low-rise miniskirt being flaunted as the next best thing at the Paris Fashion Week catwalk, many women who had experienced the early 2000’s mid-aughts fashion first-hand during their teenage years found themselves catapulted back into buried memories of low self-esteem and extreme eating habits that this trend symbolized at the time.
“The 'It' girls of that time period were defined by being underweight, wearing cartoonishly large sunglasses (which made them look even smaller), and low-slung jeans. Size 0, even 00, was considered the ideal body,” said Sophie Hanson, a writer for BODY + soul who was reminded of the effect that trend had on her as a teen. “Girls I went to school with went above and beyond to order illegal diet pills, likely laced with amphetamines, off the internet. Diet advice at the time was 'the symptoms for hunger and thirst are similar, so if you feel hungry just have a glass of water instead.’ We've made so much progress in body acceptance over the last few years, and the Miu Miu show felt like a complete backwards step.”
Miu Miu — a branch of Prada — is either oblivious to the social climate or, more realistically, has chosen to ignore it. Had there been one or two low-rise skirts featured among other items, I would have felt differently. That was not the case however, the skirts were explicitly leading the catwalk as a statement piece and consciously or not, telling women all over the world that 20-year-old heroin-chic was back.
Giovanna Pineda, a graphic designer based in Houston, felt her stomach turn when she first came across Miu Miu’s low-rise revival.
“My immediate reaction was,‘Why bring something back when everyone hates it?’ Then, of course, I thought about the only body types that could actually wear it comfortably, which made me notice that the fashion industry is still really clinging onto the use of ‘conventional’ body type models that can ‘wear anything’” There's no woman above a size two or four that could ever wear [those] skirts in public without being looked at by strangers,” Pineda said.
Pineda found the latest low-rise miniskirts to be especially disheartening after women of all sizes had just recently begun seeing women they could identify with when browsing fast-fashion ads and women-led body positivity movements on social media.“Fast fashion brands and Instagram make it look like being curvy, ‘thick’ or just larger than a size six is totally awesome and acceptable.” To her, to me and to thousands of other women who have been following the increasingly inclusive direction of fashion, Miu Miu’s statement piece felt like a stab in the back.
The discrepancy between more financially accessible clothing brands like The Gap or Aerie and upmarket designer fashion such as Prada is both evident and problematic. While the former seems on board with body positive movements, women’s self-confidence and empowerment, the latter not only shows no progress but has regressed. The reason behind this reluctance is multifold.
The skeletal bodies that fashion institutions such as Prada, Etro, Cavalli and Moschino idolized and sculpted their designs for back in the 1920’s — mind you, right after the Great Depression — are the same as those they place on a pedestal today. The issue here is not one of modesty or who can wear revealing clothing, what is problematic here is that their low-rise skirts are quite evidently tailored to flaunt one’s pelvic bone.
Another potential explanation may lie in a second common feature, their geographic origin. It is no coincidence that most of the luxury designers accused of archaic standards are Italian. As a woman born and raised in Italy, this comes as no surprise. Rich in art, cuisine, architecture, history and literature, my country has a tendency to let their pride for the outdated overpower their willingness to seek progress. Watching our satellite TV commercials featuring women cleaning, cooking or laying on mattresses semi-naked would be enough for most anyone from the West to sense the ever-present patriarchal mentality still normalized in Italy’s everyday life. Tradition, often interlaced with zealous religious principles, is being held onto.
Take Giorgio Armani for instance, the mastermind behind the men’s luxury brand “Emporio Armani.” In 2020 Armani criticized gay men for dressing too “homosexually” and said that “a man has to be a man”— despite being queer himself. Similarly, the founders of Dolce e Gabbana Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce have been causing a similar stir in the LGBTQ+ pot. Despite being romantic partners and Dolce openly declaring his orientation, Gabbana has repeatedly condemned gay couples’ adoption of children, declaring that “the only family is the traditional one” and going on to condemn the term “gay.” And that’s just vis à vis the queer community.
But back to Prada. The same Prada behind Miu Miu and its horrifyingly low-rise skirts was also under fire for blatantly racist blackface items displayed in their New York store’s windows in 2020. While they did publicly apologize, donate to civil rights groups and vow to equip their staff with racial training, it remains apparent that they either can’t read the room or just choose not to. These heroin-chic skirts are the latest evidence of luxury brands’ maladroit socio-political understanding.
Hanson had an immediate visceral reaction when she came across Miu Miu’s statement skirts paraded at the 2020 Paris Fashion Week. In fact, Hanson also felt compelled to write an article about the trend’s unfortunate revival as a first-hand survivor of the low self-esteem, body dysmorphia and eating disorders it triggered in her early teens.
When asked to expand on her personal experience, Hanson said that in hindsight she attributes the mid-aughts underweight fashion to her past unhealthy approach to food and body image. While she was fortunate enough to not fall too deep into the rabbit hole, she has vivid memories of other girls leaving school early to purchase illegal weight-loss pills. “I remember overhearing the popular girls celebrating each other for not eating all day. It was truly fucked,” Hanson said.
Today is no different — in fact, it may be worse. In Italy alone, the number of young adults diagnosed with eating disorders has increased by a staggering 30% during the pandemic. The stark rise was attributed to the COVID-19 lockdown, the subsequent isolation, the teens’ need to maintain control when confined with their families and hyper-consumption of social media. From a more global perspective, whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that the Facebook-owned platform Instagram filed internal reports indicating that 17% of teen girls believe that their social media content is worsening their eating disorders and that 32% reported feeling bad about their bodies as a result of social media consumption.
Australian photographer Lydia Smith, yet another woman horrified by Miu Miu’s gauche statement, remarked that she fears the low-rise trousers or skirts’ effect on young women now that social media is a part of their daily lives. In her tweens and early teens, Smith deeply struggled with her body image and, while she tried to stand up against the ridiculous skinny aspirations it had set, she could not shake off the feeling of inferiority when comparing herself with the skeletal women of magazine covers. For years, Smith battled with eating disorders, body dysmorphia and harsh self-critiques of her appearance. For her, the Paris Fashion Week runway revived both low-rise miniskirts and those feelings she had been trying her best to bury.
“I was a bit bulimic at one point and am still forever criticizing myself in the mirror even though I know so much better now,” Smith said. “With us being in the generation of social media at the moment, it really breaks my heart that young impressionable women are going to see even more of this than I did back then. It’s just such a damn shame.”