Paris designers are fiddling with hemlines, and women are burning.

We pledged never to do a column on hemlines, letting them hang where they may. But because of the hoopla over hemlines in the recent Paris showings -- and the calls for help on the subject -- we figure it's time to raise the subject. And lower our views on it.

First off, wearing your clothes the length and width of your own choice is the best idea. But it takes a lot of confidence, chutzpah, whatever, to be on your own fashion wavelength. So a lot of women lean on the drift of trends.

In Washington, the longer hemline only recently has become generally established. And while some women have adopted the deeply slit skirt, it's clear that it -- often leaving the wearer fighting for decency -- is not the solution.

Even last spring skirts started inching up toward the knee. For good reason: The broad shoulder/narrow-torso silhouette looked better. Shades of Chanel and signs of the return to an elegant look. ("Women really don't mind shortening their hems," insists Janet Wallach, Garfinckel's fashion coordinator. "It is lowering them that they really have problems with.")

Now enter the Parisiennes, hellbent on a little publicity and change which they feel, after all, is their responsibility. "Not to change is boring. It is a sign of retirement," says Karl Lagerfeld. And for his customers, that may well be the case. Other Paris designers put the hem at its most graceful length, barely below the knee. (And when Lagerfeld actually starts shipping his news designs, that's where his will stop as well.)

In Milan, designers like Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace clearly tilted to a proportion of broad shoulders, marked waistlines and a short hem. Bermuda shorts, in fact.

Well, we don't think women want to tug at their hems, nor look "tarty," which is how Halston describes the current crop of minis. But we do think that when the weather gets warm women will like the ease and comfort of skirts cut off just below the knee. (The Chanel formula: Cover the kneecap with the palm of your hand. Stop your hem at the reach of your middle finger.)

A word, however, in behalf of short skirts: They're fun on the young at the beach, and not bad for discos.

And perhaps the last word on hemlines could come from Paris' Andre Courreges, who in the mid-1960s introduced the plumbline miniskirt, inspiration for many of the new designs. In his recent collection he showed skirts cut off at the knee, none shorter.

When asked about the miniskirt he shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his pink painters-suit, raised his eyebrows and asked, "The miniskirt? It just isn't time for the mini. For me, the mini is 'retro .'"