1981: 'the year of the leg'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

This year may be the Chinese "Year of the Rooster," but in France, 1981 is definitely the "year of the leg." The comeback of the real mini and soaring sales of city shorts in the spring and summer ready-to-wear collections presented here last October are positive proof that perceptive French designers anticipate what professional buyers, and subsequently the public, are waiting for.

Minis have already been out on the streets this winter. Thigh-length knitted tubes worn with heavy textured woolen tights, low booties, and chunky fake fur jackets emerged as a veritable signature look of the season. Come spring, and it always does seem to roll around after seemingly endless cold gray winters, legs will reemerge on the fashion scene, even if it's just a question of chopping a few inches off an old skirt to skim the knees in a fanciful game of hide and seek.

But minis are certainly not an absolute dictate as they were back in the 1960 s, though skirt lengths are unquestionably on the rise. Girls who never wore minis and micros the first time around 20 years ago are having their inning.

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"Mother," however, who did get into the full-fledged act two decades ago, may not go all out for the same thing again, remembering the Courreges craze that bared the knobby knee and fatted calf of one and all (and "all' unfortunately often included too many matrons whose age was a big question mark).

But regardless of generation gaps and age groups the shorter hemline, which has gradually been gaining ground (or altitude, rather) for the past two years, appears timely and right this season. It is a new look, a new approach, a younger silhouette providing the overall proportions are right -- a quick "let- up" that is no further than one's own sewing box or the local seamstress.

Today's teen-agers and the generation under 40 are baring their knees as joyfully as the "girls" of the early '60s. But the mini no longer has the revolutionary concept which two internationally renowned designers on different sides of the English Channel simultaneously claimed credit for launching. in France, Andre Courreges was quoted as saying: "I was the man who invented the mini. Mary Quant only commercialized the idea." From london, Mary Quant replied: "That's how the French are. I don't mind but that's not how I remember it."

Bermudas and short culottes are out to rival the mini this spring with the same show of legs on parade in everyday life. Shorts are worn over sheer tights (and dark ones tend to slim the legs) with walking shoes for daytime and high-heeled pumps or sandals are dark.

These are all totally contemporary, nonshock looks in 1981. But imagine the original commotion back in the '60s when Andre Courreges and Yves Saint Laurent made shorts and pantsuits, until then strictly confined to active or spectator sportswear, a veritable way of life. Gradually they became acceptable in a brand new context, which was unbelievably daring at the time but which slowly and surely gained popular acceptance after the first startled headwaiters in the four-star hotels and restaurants turned away a few ultrachic avant-garde socialites garbed in pantsuits.

Today hardly anything shocks us. Nothing seems outrageous providing it is worn with some innate sense of discretion vis-a-vis time and place, providing it is worn with fun, flair, and one's own special panache.

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