One thing that is admirable about the well-attired man is that if he were to time travel, he would be at home in nearly any era. He may have to make some adjustments to better fit in (perhaps cast off the jacket and leave only the vest; or manipulate his tie into more of a cravat), but he will have the tools at his disposal that he needs to make a good impression on short notice. Sure, he might draw the odd glance from Henry VIII, but, on the whole, many of his items of clothing would be recognized as functional.
The same cannot be said of a woman, because “well-attired” has many nuances, especially in the summer months. Imagine a woman wearing a “hi-lo” skirt (which is the sartorial equivalent of the mullet, and perhaps can be best described as “party in the front and all business in the back”) and flip-flops hitching a ride in a time machine to 1860. Our poor time traveler will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, and her mission does not portend to end well.
One of the misfortunes of the hi-lo skirt, or any garment that reveals a woman’s knees, is that a woman’s knees are revealed. Women’s knees, as a whole, are not beautiful. I am sorry to be a bearer of bad news, especially as the temperatures are soaring and as the winter’s tights and woolens are being cast off, but this is an incontrovertible fact.
Part of the problem with the knee itself is the anatomy of a woman’s leg. The basic shape is an inverted triangle, with the point of the triangle buried somewhere in the region of the mid-calf. The knee, in real life, does not at all resemble that of a knee of a mannequin propped up in a store window. I have never been in a designer’s atelier, but I have seen dressmaker’s dummies, which are torso shapes affixed to some sort of pole—with no legs. Any fashion that can be dreamed up is going to look much better on a leg-less dummy than on a flesh-and-blood human being that has to make her way in the world hobbling around on a pair of inverted triangles.
The poets support this view. They are silent on the shining beauty of Cleopatra’s knees and they entirely mute when it comes to the lower limb joints of the fair Helen. Fortunately for them both, they had the sense to cover them up in mixed company, or at least in the presence of poets.
It took millennia for hemlines to rise to the level they are now. My mother, a daughter of the 1950s, was a firm believer that a proper hemline for the female of the species was “two inches below the knee”. And my mother was literal in her interpretation of “knee” in that it was the horizontal center of that particular joint. “Two inches below” fell, in my view, right below the knee, and to be “two inches below” would require an additional two inches.
In the space between my mother’s and mind accounting of the “two inches” there was still enough of the knee’s characteristics on display to make the legs look their unflattering worst.
As a result, I was perhaps the only teenager who cried to my mother to lower my hems. I felt, and still feel, that the most attractive hem for a female is mid-calf, just where the flesh swells.
Many women declare that they admire the style of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Lauren Bacall, but then they go to their closets and come out looking like a second-string actress heading for rehab.
The problem isn’t necessarily with the women themselves, but more with what’s on offer. The shop windows are full of skirts that can be characterized as “eight inches above the knee.” By not offering a variety of hemlines, manufacturers and retailers are doing a grave disservice to women who want to save an unsuspecting public from having to absorb the shock of having to look at their puckered, wrinkled, discolored, but otherwise very useful knees.*
*Please don’t mention that they should wear trousers. Trousers could prove problematic for time travel.