Just when it seemed appropriate to wear hemlines at the point they felt most comfortable, the hemline issue has been raised, and lowered, again at the fall ready-to-wear collections in Milan.

Many designers, including Gianfranco Ferre, Krizia, Fendi and the Missonis, inched their hems way above the knee, often with narrow skirts. They undoubtedly were responding to the endorsement of the designer-clad women shopping on the Via Monte Napoleone who were happy in their above-the-knee shorts and skirts. Few skirts, on the runway or on the streets, retreated to the old mini length, though that may well be in stores as the weather gets warmer.

The short length may seem opposed to the way a lot of women feel about themselves today, but on a hot day at the beach, or even on a weekend in Georgetown, young women who have never worn this look before might find it amusing.

In the past it has taken seasons for hemlines to move, but this year the bottom line is both up and down. There are long coats over skirts in the Karl Lagerfeld designs for Fendi and long prairie skirts and dresses in leather and suede in the Giorgio Armani- designed Mario Valentino collection. Even pants bottom out at all lengths.

Washington women knew long before the collections were shown that wearing hems where they look most attractive for the individual is the best rule of any season. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Missoni tops the knee with a sparkly knit; the cape collar is separate.

Right, Mariucca Mandelli for Krizia achieves a slick look with long pants of eel, which she teams with a mohair topper over a sweater with a cat motif.; Pictures 3 and 4, Karl Lagerfeld for Fendi likes the contrast of the short skirt and the longer coat.

Left, the suede mid-leg skirt, which borrows the proportions of our popular prairie style, is by Armani for Mario Valentino; it is teamed with a embroidered-looking suede blouse, which is really woven ribbons of leather and suede.; Pictures 5 and 6, Gianfranco Ferre underscores the clean, architectural look of his new silhouette in color blocks of red, black and white.

Right, pants cut off above the knee in the Erreuno collection by Armani are teamed with his signature blouson top and his blouson-shaped long coat.