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Fashion: The long and short of it

The ups and downs of the A-listers' private lives have long been public fodder; and at the New York Costume Institute's annual gala last week, the red carpet was awash with celebrity highs and lows – but this time, it was hemlines.

This season's nod to the 1980s has crept into even the most formal of arenas as full-length gowns take inspiration from the likes of Joan Collins or Sloaney debs at Hunt Balls, with a resurgence of mini-skirts backed with trailing fishtails or bustles. It's the sartorial equivalent of a mullet: business at the front and a party behind, and looks not dissimilar in profile.

It's a tricky style, requiring not only the flimsy upper thighs of a girl-band member, but also the gravitas of an Old Hollywood heroine. And it's a mathematical operation, whereby the height of your mini needs to be directly proportional to the length of your train. If either gets too short, you can end up looking like Starlight Barbie; too long and it's all a bit Strictly Come Dancing.

Sometime Marc Jacobs muse Victoria Beckham sported a dotty, one-shouldered number at the Met Ball, while Jessica Biel wore a bespoke red-satin gown from William Rast – for whom her boyfriend Justin Timberlake designs – with a flamenco-inspired swirled train. And Anna Wintour's daughter Bee Shaffer chose a navy Nina Ricci version of the style, from designer Olivier Theyskens' final collection for the label.

It's hard to imagine any mother, let alone Wintour, not overseeing their daughter's attire to such an event, so presumably the mullet maid look gets the thumbs up from American Vogue.