Skirts around the point

There's no link between the economy and changing styles

Not unoccasionally at the moment, I get a call from a bewildered journalist wanting to know if there is any correlation between fashion and economy. I have no idea whatsoever why those clever folk that write about money and politics would want to dip a toe in the water of fashion, crucially important though I think la mode is, of course. But no, there isn't any connection at all.

Someone, somewhere, once said - apparently - that hemlines rise when the economy is strong and lengthen when the economy is weak. But no source for this can ever be found and even if it were found, there is no proof. To think that fashion is affected by such outside forces forgets something crucial: people will do their own thing. For every man who is forced into shorts because he's apparently depressed at the exchange rate for the pound, another will dress up in his sharpest suit. It just so happens that maxi dresses are in this season, but most women won't wear them.

I truly believe there is some weird wavelength that moves fashion along, and really in-tune designers and stylists pick up on this early. But it isn't determined by economics; fashion is driven by memory. True, when Christian Dior launched his Corolle line (now more commonly known as the New Look) in 1947 he was utterly fed up with fabric rationing, but he was well on his way to designing this big, long-skirted look when war broke out. War interrupted his penchant for swishy skirts; it didn't inform it. And what made him want to design such a range were memories of his mother's big dresses, which would fan out on the bed as she came to kiss him goodnight before going out for the evening. That such an extensive use of fabric made women feel joyous and indulgent was a happy bonus.

I wonder why people try to stitch together fashion and economics? Is it because maybe they think you can get warning that things are on the slide? Will they sell, sell, sell those shares when they see hemlines start to fall? Or buy as knees are once again displayed?

The only reason I may favour a longer skirt length is that as I get older, minis no longer do me favours. If I could get away with a short little skirt, or hot pants, believe me, I would, regardless of what was happening in the outside world. Instead, I make do with on-the-knee or just below it or calf-length. Maxi is just as hard to wear as mini. If you are tall, young and lithe let me tell you that Zara has the most exquisite maxi dress in store. It is vibrant and multicoloured, as if someone has zoomed in on a picture of abstract florals, and it fastens into a halter neck from mid-bust. Lucky is the girl who can wear this dress, whatever the financial weather.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Moral crisis?