If you want further proof that women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t when it comes to fashion, look no further than the maxi coat of 1969. Women were on the tail end of a decade-long joke that focused on their mini skirts. “Mini Skirts Receive Minimum Acceptance,” “Mini Skirt Shiverers Truly Knock-Kneed,” “Leg-islators Find Short Skirts No Mini-Controversy” headlines had ribbed. But when the maxi coat was introduced—thanks to designers like Marc Bohan of Dior who were inspired by the military-tailored Cossack coats from the movie Doctor Zhivago—the joke shifted from leg-freezing minis to floor-sweeping maxis. But what, exactly, was the punch line? The public was concerned, in a tongue-in-cheek way, over whether or not a generation of women raised on miniskirts would injure themselves while wearing maxis.
“They’re everywhere, sweeping up the streets, getting caught in revolving doors, tripping its wearers or other people,” United Press International reported in 1969. Both the Greater New York Safety and National Safety councils released PSAs about maxi coats, warning women about the grave dangers of a longer length (although neither had recorded any serious accidents from the garments). The councils issued detailed instructions on how to lift the coat when jumping over puddles or stepping onto escalators, recommended coat checking the piece once entering a restaurant to avoid becoming a tripping hazard, and even gave detailed directions on how to sit down in and get out of a taxi. The maxi coat was the new advanced calculus.
Newspapers gave their own hot tips: “Don’t run for a taxi in a maxi. Don’t hang it on a low-slung coat rack, and don’t forget to dust your closet floors. Don’t carry it tossed over your arm, or its own arms will paddle along on the sidewalk beside you,” The Washington Post reported. And the same men who joked about women in minis elbowed each other over the now-controversial coats. One bus driver proudly told the New York Daily News how he kept his bus clean: “I wait for a group of maxi-coats to get aboard and then I make them all move way back to the rear.”
But many women tuned out the taunts, choosing to wear their fabulous coats for themselves. “Somehow, when I put my maxi on, I feel like a different person,” a young reporter wrote for the Shreveport Times in 1970. “It creates a feeling of elegance, an aura of glamour. And how grand it is to don the maxi, swoop into a room and just stand there, awaiting the reaction.”
By Marlen Komar
Photo: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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