Wishing a higher hemline in New Year
``Women adorn and beautify for women, don’t be conceited about it, silly turkeys,” so wrote K. Connie Kang in her ``Seoul Carousel” column of The Korea Times. We liked her column, but were puzzled about her account then as we turkeys thought women dress for men.
That was in the late 1960s and when the Seoul metropolitan police, armed with rulers, tried to measure the hemlines of strutting avant-garde girls in the flourishing streets of Myeong-dong.
Some girls, when whistled down, crouched a little in an effort to lower the length of their skirts. The police somehow didn’t care about the other lines; neckline, waistline and the overall contour lines.
The Park Chung-hee government was concerned about that the vertical distance between the knees and the hemlines of ``the modern girls” was getting too distant and it might have a harmful effect upon the ``beautiful tradition and fine customs” of the country.
I hazily remember the length limit set by Army generals was 8 centimeters (about 3 inches) from the knee measured up. Young policemen at Myeong-dong police box were the envy of the force in the city.
In spite of the military regime’s campaign effort to pull the hemlines down, however, the altitude kept climbing as citizens’ wallets kept getting thicker.
The female hemline is perhaps the most sensitive and mysterious in fashion. An economist named George Taylor introduced a ``theory” called the Hemline Index. It says that hemlines on women’s dresses fluctuate with the economy, measured by stock prices or the gross domestic product. When the economy is flourishing, hemlines increase, meaning one would see more miniskirts, and vice versa.
On a Gulf Air flight to Riyadh many years later, I happened to sit next to a young Saudi Arabian woman. She was wearing a burqa exposing only her eyes and eyebrows but unveiling a strong aroma of perfume. Her crimson manicured finger and toenails peeked out of her long sleeves and floor sweeping burqa hemline.
I knew I should be very careful not to offend Islamic ladies in any way with my own Oriental courtesy, so I cordially bowed and held my tongue and squeezed myself so that my elbow won’t touch her dress. She was reluctant to pull over her black silk fabric that was creeping into my seat over the armrest.
She had a beautiful combination of eyes and eyebrows that spoke and expressed more than mouth and hemline together couldn’t transmit. I thought women are far perplexingly beautiful when they mysteriously hide their bodies. And at the same time I noticed the burqa was a fitting dress in the conflict-ridden Middle Eastern countries.
The Vietnamese traditional dress, Ao Dai, is one of the most elegant and beautiful dresses for women. Its hemline covers the instep of the feet and it’s very practical when their men fight in wars.
The North’s Kim Jong-il died and Cheong Wa Dae doesn’t know what will come next. Even the American CIA is not sure if a flood of refugees would overflow into the South or if it will start a new war in Korea.
Taylor’s Hemline Theory seems right but he overlooked to include in his observation that the hemline also foretells war and peace.
As the theory is clearly applicable in Korea, it should indicate the future of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) index in the New Year along with a sign as to whether the Korean Peninsula would be thrust into another round of chaos or not.
Then we should stop arguing about the FTA deal and rushing to buy ramyeon and toilet paper for now but wait till the weather gets warmer and hope for the hemlines to go up a little more.
The writer is a retired architect-specifications writer, who shuttles back and forth between Seoul and New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.