The Hemline Index was first presented to the world by economist George Taylor in 1926. The theory asserts that as hemlines rise, so does the stock market. While some “chicken vs. egg” types argue about which comes first, fashion types know that – of course – fashion comes first! When hemlines dropped in the late 1920s, the bottom fell out of the market in 1929. When the market was booming in the 1960s, hemlines shot up to shocking miniskirt lengths. In 1987, we went from miniskirt to maxiskirt virtually overnight for the Fall 1987 collections in September and the market collapsed on Black Monday in October, triggering a global recession.
Having just filed abysmally depressing tax returns for fiscal year 2011, many women are turning to the Spring 2012 offerings of American designers for an indication of where the stock market is headed. I looked to the designers favored by First Ladies – former and present – to see what their hemlines have to say about our economic future. Unfortunately, the message is mixed. Hemlines for Spring 2012 are both high and low – sometimes both in the same dress!
I first looked to Diane Von Furstenberg. Surely she, as President of the CFDA, would have insight as to our collective economic future. Although the colorful florals from her Spring 2012 collection evoke hope of a bright future, the asymmetrical hemline tells me that she might be somewhat unsure about our economy. On the other hand, her new design director, Yvan Mispelaere being French may still have been adjusting to living in America last summer and, thus, unable to make a definitive judgment about our markets.
Having struck out there, I looked to the collections most favored by First Ladies and political types. Bill Blass, long known for dressing ladies of a certain conservative political persuasion, provided no clear direction on our economy either. Ankle length dresses that are sheer to above the knee are difficult to interpret. Carolina Herrera seemed bearish on the markets overall, but her ankle bearing evening gown indicated that she might be harboring a little hope for market recovery. Oscar de la Renta took a similarly cautious take on our future. His floral evening gown recalled the infantas in Goya portraits, just barely revealing the wearer’s shoes. The consensus among these designers seems to be mild uncertainty with a dash of hope for a slight uptick in stock prices.
Pondering where else I should look, I recalled that I often see Deeda Blair – perhaps the most fashionable political type there is and wife of the once ambassador to the Philippines – at the Chado Ralph Rucci collections. For Spring 2012, Mr. Rucci also sent a message of economic uncertainty, but the mid-knee baring high portion of his high-low hemline evening gown seems to indicate even wilder fluctuation in our markets. I couldn’t help but recall the alternative moniker of the Hemline Index, the “Bare Knees, Bull Markets” theory. Clearly fans of Mr. Rucci harbor hopes of even higher market surges than their more conservative counterparts.
Wanting to balance the conservative forecasts of the East Coast – and specifically New York – designers, I turned to the West Coast for what I had hoped would be more liberal economic projections. I looked at the collection of Monique Lhullier, a fellow Californian and fellow Filipino, to see what she thinks our future holds. Her take was similar to Mr. Rucci’s – market uncertainty, but with higher highs than others predict.
Whatever you think of this season’s high-low hemline, know that economic uncertainty is in our future, at least for the time being. If you remain committed to investing in the short term, I suggest taking a cue from the predominance of yellow in the Spring 2012 collection and investing conservatively in gold. If like me, you choose to align your investment strategy with the more hopeful financial indicators of Mr. Rucci and Ms. Lhullier’s hemlines, then invest in perhaps the highest yielding investment there is: fashion. I have high hopes for the future of our economic markets – and for American hemlines!
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