Portrait of Kono San at a Movietone event on board SS SIERRA

Some pieces are timeless, such as: a crisp white oxford button-up, a sharp black blazer, a flirty pair of summer sandals and a feminine dress or skirt. With spring just around the corner, there are many new trends affecting each of these classics. However, the handkerchief hem’s return is one of the most creative styles that has been seen on runways this season. A handkerchief hemline, or a hanky hem, is a piece, usually a skirt or a dress, which uses fabric and drapery to create an asymmetrical hem that hang down at different points. Hanky hem looks vary greatly and are found on all sorts of articles of clothing.

Compared to some of the other styles I have written about, the handkerchief hem is a relatively recent design. Madeleine Vionnet, a masterful designer known for her elegant and intricate draping, is credited with creating the hanky hem in the 1910s. Vionnet, who also earned praise for her cowl neck and halter neck designs, would order an extra two yards of fabric than was required and use the extra to experiment with draping. Her designs were modern yet elegant, and her customers included Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn. The handkerchief hem initially gained popularity as it allowed women to maintain some modesty while simultaneously (and subtly) raising their hemlines. In the 1920s, Jean Patou, who had helped popularize shorter flapper looks, took control of the hanky hem to lengthen his popular designs through the 1930s. Since the flapper-era, hanky hem designs have remained relatively popular, never fully fading from the limelight. However, in the early 2000s, handkerchief hemline designs returned, finding power in the bohemian craze. Personally, I find some of hanky hem the looks from this time to be slightly terrible (Christina Aguilera at the 2004 Grammy’s, anyone?), but there were some great designs as well. It was undeniably a time of experimentalism for the handkerchief hem, which was spotted on just about any type of clothing, including tops and accessories.

Since 2005, hanky hems haven’t returned to fashion with a strong force – until Spring 2014. Handkerchief hems were all over the Roberto Cavalli runway, and was also featured in other Spring/Summer 2014 collections by Donna Karan, Salvatore Ferragamo, Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta, John Galliano, and Topshop Unique. Handkerchief hemline skirts and dresses can look cheap and childish, but this season’s designs are feminine, elegant and divinely constructed, as exhibited by this Céline skirt. Handkerchief skirts are easily incorporated into a spring outfit as they can often be styled like many other spring skirts you probably already own. The outfit is very dependant on the colour of the skirt, but a chic, classic, neutral t-shirt, button-up or tank are relatively safe bets. Hanky hem dresses are even easier to style since the top is picked out for you, like most dresses. Since many handkerchief hemline skirts and dresses are A-line, they are also universally flattering. However, as with any skirt of a longer length, a heel will help to elongate your leg if the hem is knee-length.

Handkerchief hems aren’t in every store yet, but they will be soon enough. If you want to check some available pieces out, these are some great looks:

LBD | Heavy Metal | Pretty in Pink | Flapper | Plum | Boho


This piece was written by Rebecca MacDonald, Fashion Columnist at Rhetoric Magazine. Come back for more every Thursday!