Photo: Filippo Fior / Gorunway.com
Life is Short: The Micro Miniskirt in the Age of Irony
It’s a culture confused about its message and shocked by its message’s reception.
By Sarah norcross hough
A skirt the size of a belt. Heroin chic. Bimbofication. Y2K. If any of those phrases ring a bell, then you already know that the trending micro miniskirt is as much a meme as it is a fashion statement. And you know a micro miniskirt when you see one—a practical piece of fabric with a hemline no further down than the upper thigh. This single article of clothing catapults you back in time to the early 2000s.
But the micro mini isn’t just a meme or fashion trend alone. It’s a regurgitation of an old idea. It’s the return of a trend that, five to ten years ago, would have made you cringe. It was reborn out of memes and irony. Why now? What is the irony inherent in wearing a micro miniskirt saying?
Previously, a decade making a comeback has come with the idealization of the era. The general attitude is that in “those days,” we were more cultured, had better values, and enjoyed more freedoms. But that doesn’t seem to be the ideology regarding the return of early 2000s fashion. Instead, the return of the micro miniskirt is steeped in irony. People wear them to make fun of a mindless, sexualized culture while participating in behaviors that exemplify that culture. Plus, we can trace the current trend back to three sources, all of which blew up on social media and exemplify modern sarcasm, irony, and parody.
At this point, we’re all familiar with the concept that what once felt dated becomes cool again in an endless cycle of recycled ideas. However, for the past twenty or so years, that cycle has been moving faster and getting more jumbled, with multiple decades occurring at once. Cultural theorist Mark Fisher put forth, “The ‘jumbling up of time,’ the montaging of earlier eras, has ceased to be worthy of comment; it is now so prevalent that it is no longer even noticed.” It’s the 60s, it’s the 70s, it’s the 80s, it’s the 90s, all at once.
Clearly, our culture suffers from a “...reliance of current artists on styles that were established long ago [that] suggests that the current moment is in the grip of a formal nostalgia.” There seems to be an overall acceptance of the falsehood that “there are no new ideas,” which ultimately stifles creativity and creates a culture of nihilistic depression among artists. But there’s something even more telling and emblematic of our internet-driven culture when it comes to the return of the fashion of the early 2000s.
The first source we can trace the micro miniskirt trend back to is a Paris Hilton video from 2017 for W Magazine. The once coked-up, socialite icon of the early 2000s is now older and wiser as she moves about her mansion lazily and dictates early 2000s fashion trends. Of skirts, she says, “skirts should be the size of a belt; life’s short, take risks.” But this is not the “real” Paris Hilton speaking (whoever that may be). This isn’t even the persona that we know from the early 2000s. What is presented in this video is a parody of the celebrity persona that she curated for the world at the height of her fame. A double mask is worn. She has created a doubly ironic caricature of a person.
Paris Hilton, V Magazine
The video alone wasn’t enough to bring back the micro miniskirt though. It didn’t really start to reemerge until early 2022. The success of this video is not only in Hilton’s ironic portrayal of herself but in the video content’s ability to be memed. Specifically, the sound blew up on TikTok, and like any other TikTok sound, it not only trended on the app but entered the daily lexicon of our personal lives.
Fashion tends to come from two directions: up from the street to high fashion or down from the runways to mass markets. The current micro miniskirt trend offers a glimpse into when those two directions happen at once. While some fashionistas were already experimenting with the micro mini from their thrift shop adventures (no doubt influenced by Paris Hilton), Miu Miu was experimenting with their own with the daring micro miniskirt named “Prince of Wales.”
Miu Miu Spring 2022, Imaxtree / Nicole Kidman, Vanity Fair
This particular micro miniskirt did not receive its spotlight just because it’s about as short as a skirt can get. It’s also incredibly easy to dupe. The high-profile influencers may have bought the skirt after seeing it in editorials such as Nicole Kidman’s Vanity Fair cover to show it (and their legs) off on social media, but even those not involved in that side of social media started to see recreations in their feeds. All content creators needed to do to “try it out” was to go to the nearest thrift store, buy a pair of men’s trousers, and cut them to pieces. And “trying it out” was what it was all about. Whether or not you were actually interested in wearing a skirt that short, you could jump on the trend and get more exposure by putting it on for a video.
There’s one more meme that was crucial in bringing the micro miniskirt into the spotlight. As the controversial show’s second season began airing in early 2022, a trend on TikTok showed people leaving for the school bus before realizing that they attended the “Euphoria High School”. They’d then return on camera in their most revealing, over-the-top outfits. The teens of Euphoria are frequently shown at school wearing articles of clothing that even the most liberal of parents would have objections over. While not every video features a micro miniskirt, many of them do, and the general scantily clad nature of the videos contributes to the prevalence of Y2K and hyperpop aesthetics.
As you see these trends over and over, your eyes become desensitized to what was, at first, a shocking look. The skirt becomes so normalized that you want to try it yourself. You forget that a skirt that short does send a message (not an invitation, but a message). You don’t stop and wonder exactly what Paris Hilton is saying when she parodies herself. What is she making fun of? You don’t wonder why you’ve never seen someone actually wear the Miu Miu skirt or a dupe outside. You don’t wonder why a show specifically about underaged teens has brought this trend to the forefront. That’s the power of a meme. A new one can make you call something into question. An overused and under-scrutinized one desensitizes you out of questioning at all.
When you wear a micro miniskirt in a niche online space, you’re taking part in the meme. You are helping to recycle the idea and increase its viewership, but you aren’t developing the idea or challenging it. You’re also trusting in an algorithm to give it to the people most likely to want to see it—often people of a similar demographic to you. These algorithms are smart and they do a good job, but the illusion of protection that they give you quickly vanishes the moment you step outside your door. Now the message isn’t for other young people who want to try a daring fashion look. It’s for whatever spectators you may encounter in the real world. Those people don’t have the same meme context that you received in your echo chamber. What message does it give to people who don’t speak the same language as you?
Before long, most of our fashion trends will come from a mindset of “doing it for the meme” rather than from a sincere urge to express something through the art of fashion. It isn’t as if the micro miniskirt is the only example of a fashion trend birthed from memes and ironic mindsets. Just look at cottagecore, which was born out of the irony of the intensely domestic role that was forced upon us during the COVID-19 pandemic. The only option will be to say the opposite of our intentions through parody. In Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace writes, “[We] won’t (can’t) dare try to use serious art to advance ideologies. We will, of course, without hesitation use art to parody, ridicule, debunk, or criticize ideologies—but this is very different.” Irony is a strong rhetorical tool. It allows us to flip things on their heads and view them from a new perspective with enough humor to get through even the most challenging of times (and we are living in those). To knowingly wear something ironically in order to comment on an ideology or culture you wish to criticize would be a strong statement worth making.
However, that isn’t necessarily what is happening. Social media doesn’t encourage interrogation of the reason a trend is coming in popularity. As a result, people put on the skirt and are shocked or offended that the reaction to a skirt that always threatens indecent exposure is sexualization in the form of catcalls or assumptions about your sexual behavior. They make an ironic image of a bimbo (such as Paris Hilton) while lacking the desire to criticize or satirize the bimbo. One shouldn’t make fun of someone for being less intelligent, right? But god forbid someone assume your intelligence is lower for what you wear. Is it or is it not okay to be dumb? The micro miniskirt begs the question and then dodges the answer. It’s a culture confused about its message and shocked by its message’s reception.
If we’ve moved into a world where art is all irony, then the art that most directly reflects and impacts our culture (fashion) will be ironic too. And you better figure out what exactly it is you’re satirizing if you want to thrive in it.
Paris Hilton by Jean-Paul Aussenard / WireImage
Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Zero Books, 2014.
Wallace, David Foster. Consider the Lobster. Ascensius Press, 2011.