It seems to be holding true.
A new survey by Taubman Centers Inc., which owns or manages 30 shopping centers in 13 states, queried 1,000 shoppers on where they think hemlines will go, based on their views on the economy.
Eighteen percent predicted good times are just around the corner, with hemlines headed for "cheesecake" levels while 30 percent predicted "light at the end of the tunnel," with hemlines stalling just above the knee. Twenty-eight percent were "cautiously optimistic," predicting hemlines just below the knee and 24 percent expect the economy to be in the dumpster with hemlines at ankle length.
"We were wondering if fashion designers have an even more positive outlook," said Karen MacDonald, director of communications for Taubman. "All the miniskirts are out there this spring."
Northwestern University economist Joel Mokyr said the real question is whether socks go down as hemlines go up, "or we gain nothing."
"My own prediction is much more strongly correlated with upper body than lower body. The upper body is much more sensitive to changes in nutrition. It's not so much hemline as decolletage," said Mokyr, a professor of economics and history.
Mokyr, whose wife's hemlines "are pretty short for people in our age bracket," said it's possible hemlines are driving the economy, not the other way around.
From a historical perspective, skirts were scandalously short in the Roaring '20s. Then there were the late '60s and early '70s where a young woman had to be careful about bending over. We won't even mention Ally McBeal, a product of the '90s.
The hemline assessment dovetails nicely with the latest economic forecast from Bank One.
"The stage is set for better first quarter growth but the wild card is the pending war with Iraq, which has added jitters to financial markets," writes economist Diane Swonk in the monthly newsletter, One View.
Mokyr said if the administration insists on cutting taxes and going to war, it is possible hemlines will soar to panty-line length and inflation will hit between 5 percent and 7 percent.
"Whether that will be an improvement in the living standard or not is a matter of individual taste," he said. "If inflation is going to reach 5 percent or 6 percent or 7 percent, then textile manufacturers are going to have a problem. A very little amount of cloth will go a long way."
MacDonald said her hemline hovers just above the knee but that has nothing to do with the economy.
"I don't think it's going much above that," she said.