Great Gingrich! Has Hollywood got that old-time religion? Given the plunge in celebrity hemlines, it certainly seems that fashion, like politics, has gone conservative. Wearing the latest knee-length style, Sandra Bullock
went under cover in a sleeveless black bodyskimmer last month on Late Show with David Letterman. Ellen Barkin shimmered at the March 27 Oscars in a thigh-shy black sheath. Both Rita Wilson and Jamie Lee Curtis attended February's Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles in kneecappers, while actress Kelly Preston, with hubby John Travolta at her side, has been caught decked out in a modest tailored suit-dress—complete with pinstripes. Says designer Pamela Barish, whose patella-length skirts have touched the celebrated knees of Rosanna Arquette, Laura Dern and ex-MTV veejay Karen Duffy: "Mid-length is my favorite because it is beautiful and grown-up."
De rigueur in the '50s and '60s, knee-length styles were resurrected last fall by retro-minded designers; after several seasons spent plugging the ubiquitous micromini, Richard Tyler, Nicole Miller and others all but banned it from their runways. And as recently as New York City's fall fashion shows last month, the top stylemakers showed no signs of abandoning conservative chic. "When girls wear short, short skirts, it looks sexy," explains designer Marc Jacobs, whose cocktail-length dresses are worn by Kate Moss
, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell
. "But when they wear them too much, they lose their appeal." Said designer Miuccia Prada: "It's more striking to see a young woman dressed demurely than when it's all hanging out there."
Not that the new length—which can hover above or below the knee, give or take a couple of inches—doesn't have its detractors. Scorned as frumpy for its neither-here-nor-there blandness, the style has left fashion pundits hemming and hawing. "It is not a youthful look, so baby boomers may like it," says Mary Stephens, 55, a professor at L.A.'s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. "But it doesn't have that smart, pert feeling you get when you show your knee. I put one on and immediately wanted to shorten it." Not that that really presents a problem. "The good thing is that you can always trim 14 inches off next season," says Jacobs, "and have a miniskirt again."