Gallery: The New Pencil Skirt

There's a growing rift in traditional skirting

Look up, waaaaay up. That’s where the higher-than-high slits on this season’s pencil skirts are headed. Indeed, even the usual purveyors of ladylike modesty—Oscar de la Renta and Nina Ricci among them—have joined the mile-high club.

No stranger to leg-baring designs is Joseph Altuzarra, whose trademark cleft reached new heights in his prefall collection. “The slit has become quite the signature for me,” he says. “It represents a sense of sophisticated sexiness that is inherent in the Altuzarra woman.”

Pre-dating today’s come-hither versions, the pencil skirt was born out of necessity at the turn of the 20th century. The first-ever American woman to fly as a passenger in an airplane, Mrs. Hart O. Berg, cinched her shin-grazing skirt with a rope just above the ankle in an effort to remain decent during the open-air flight. More refined versions of the “hobble” (named for the challenge the design poses to mobility) cropped up in the late ’40s at Christian Dior before clinging to the enviable figures of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor in the ’50s and ’60s.

Lucky for 9-to-5ers, many of the new slit-pencil silhouettes are decidedly SFW, using tucked-under panels that show only a slice of leg as you move; others are hobble-proof thanks to lightweight wools and comfy stretch knits. Marrying comfort with appropriate sexiness, spring’s refined pencil is a stroke of genius.