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The Remarkable Journey of Slits in Fashion

The Remarkable Journey of Slits in Fashion

In the intricacies of fashion's history, unexpected connections often weave together the most remarkable narratives. Today, we unravel a story that spans epochs, linking Ancient Mesopotamia's sands, the glamour of Hollywood's Golden Age, and the swift courts of tennis—bound together by a singular element: the slit.

Elizabeth Hurley creating history with the Versace Safety Pin slit dress.


In ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, artisans crafted tunics and robes with practical slits. These seemingly modest incisions held a profound purpose—welding freedom of movement with cultural identity.

Mesopotamian seals showing wraparound skirts and tunics with slits.

In the meantime, women's garments and fashion had become increasingly restrictive, dictated by societal norms. The prevalent fashion trends imposed long hemlines, corsets, and rigid silhouettes, limiting women's mobility and self-expression. The societal expectation was rooted in the idea of preserving a certain image of femininity, often at the cost of comfort and freedom. Women were confined to elaborate and cumbersome attire, which, in turn, became symbolic of the prevailing cultural norms of the time.

Fast forward to the opulent splendor of Hollywood's Golden Age during the 1930s, the slit assumed a role of transformative significance. The visionary designer Elsa Schiaparelli fearlessly introduced high-slit skirts, challenging societal norms of femininity and modesty. These captivating designs commanded attention and sparked vital discussions regarding women's empowerment and self-expression through their attire.

Elsa Schiaparelli with Salvador Dalí
© Archives Schiaparelli

This bold sartorial shift coincided with a significant societal moment in 1928—the trial of British author Radclyffe Hall for her novel, 'The Well of Loneliness.' Hall's portrayal of a homosexual protagonist led to the book's banning and ignited a cultural shift. Pre-trial, women's choice to wear trousers had been considered an artistic inclination. However, after the trial, any attire perceived as masculine, including divided skirts, faced backlash, being labeled as anti-feminine and linked to connotations of lesbianism.

Pulp cover for 'Well of Loneliness' by Perma Publications.

Yet, the surprise lies not just in the glamour of these fabrics but in an unexpected link to the world of tennis. Amidst the refined courts of Wimbledon, tennis player Lili de Alvarez made an audacious statement by sporting Schiaparelli's split skirts, causing ripples that extended far beyond the court's confines. A seemingly trivial act that echoed the winds of change, resonating through societal norms.

Lili de Alvarez flaunting Schiaparelli's split-skirt.

Enter the swinging 1960s, the era of revolutionizing fashion. Mary Quant emerged as a trailblazer, liberating women's legs from the constraints of tradition with the iconic miniskirt. While the miniskirt didn't hinge on slits, it reimagined these openings as a stylistic choice. The slit, with its roots in practicality, transformed into a symbol of liberation, ushering in the era of the 'new liberated woman.'

Mary Quant and her design on a British postage stamp.

Today, amidst the ever-evolving landscape of fashion, the slit remains an enduring legacy—a quiet yet potent emblem of rebellion, heritage, and personal expression. From ancient origins to modern catwalks, the slit embodies the essence of a continuously unfolding fashion saga—a testament to the timeless evolution of style.

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