Skirts can be worn as separates or coordinated with suits, as Coco Chanel showed the world in the 1920s. Her wool jersey suits were paired with straight skirts, which did away with the petticoats and hoops of the Edwardian and Victorian eras that had forced skirts into enormous circles. Even though Chanel’s straight skirts were by far the favorites of the decade, the 1920s were also when pleated skirts came into fashion.

Skirts got shorter in the ’20s, but hemlines did not stay up for the duration. Before the stock market crash of 1929, skirts had crept up the leg until they almost reached the knee. After the crash, though, hemlines dropped precipitously, as if in sympathy.

The dominant cut of skirts in the 1930s was long and flowing, with more material at the hem than the waist—the short straight skirt of the 1920s was history, at least for the time being. Skirts on suits often featured kick pleats to make it easy to move in the garment and give it life as the wearer walked. Pleasant floral prints on lightweight materials were a tonic to the austere times, and soothing green was a favorite color for skirts during the decade.

With fabrics in short supply throughout World War II, skirts and clothing in general were designed for economy. That meant narrow skirts that fell to the knee to save material—style had little do with the decision to show off so much leg.

Then, in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, circle skirts came back. Unlike the boxy styles of the war years, circle skirts were loose and exuberant. Designed to flare to perfect circles when dancing, these longer skirts often featured appliqués of slogans and animals such as squirrels, kittens, and, of course, poodles. Very popular then, iconic 1950s poodle skirts are highly collectible today.

Other types of vintage 1950s circles skirts, in everything from cotton to Dacron, were beaded and then paired with coordinated and similarly decorated cashmere sweaters.

Rayon skirts were sometimes flocked with designs such as fish, with rhinestones placed at the eyes. And then there were the skirts made out of Lowenstein Signature Fine Art Fabrics, whose prints featured designs by contemporary artists. You might think that circle skirts made from such materials would have been sold only in exclusive boutiques, but, in fact, these arty skirts were sold in large numbers by outlets as mainstream as Sears...

A-line skirts of the 1950s were inspired by Christian Dior’s A-line dresses. These maxi skirts were usually quite long—in the hands of Yves Saint Laurent and other designers, they sometimes had buttons up the front. Coco Chanel liked the A-line so much, she ditched the straight skirt for them when she redesigned her famous suit in 1954.

Princess skirts were big billowy floor-length versions of A-line skirts. Gathered at the waist, princess skirts had been popular in the 19th century, but they made a big comeback in the 1950s when they became the preferred silhouette of wedding dresses. In the opulent 1980s, the princess skirt was a favorite of women attending fancy fundraisers and galas.

Other designers focused on making the skirt as maintenance-free as possible. Cotton blends from Clare McCardell and other designers gave skirts an easy-care dimension that fit active lifestyles. McCardell also put drawstrings in her skirts to make them comfortable regardless of a woman’s figure.

The 1960s are probably best remembered, or reviled, as the decade of the miniskirt. Miniskirts had always been around as athletic attire—in tennis, for example—but in the 1960s they stepped forward as fashion elements in their own right. British designer Mary Quant gave birth to the look, naming her skirt after her favorite car, the Mini Cooper.

French designer André Courrèges also championed the miniskirt, although his were not quite as form-fitting as Quant’s. Miniskirts soon came in everything from black leather to yellow “pleather” (patent leather) to blue Levi’s to plaid wool to a rainbow of revealing stretch fabrics.

Of course miniskirts were hardly the only game in town. Knee-length plaid skirts in mohair or wool offered the classic schoolgirl look. These skirts often had deep pleats to give them dimension and make them a bit more formal. Slim pencil skirts with zippers at the back also had hems that landed at or just below the knee.

Casual denim skirts and culottes were another look favored by schoolgirls. These skirts often came with a denim belt that tied at the front and they had jeans-like pockets.

In the 1970s, vintage ’50s skirts were rediscovered while customized tiered skirts were made at home. Tiered skirts often used those vintage ’50s skirts as a base, with a wide added band of a solid color near the hem.

By the 1980s, short skirts were no longer shocking or designed only to be worn to clubs and parties. In fact, short skirts became an important part of the new female corporate power suit, which allowed a woman to project an air of self-confidence. No one knows for sure if these suits were also designed to unnerve her less-self-assured male colleagues, but that was often their effect.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Large Vintage 50s Mexican Sequined Circle Skirt Handpaintd Adjustable Waist KentVtg 70s Cotton Boho Hippie Gypsy India Draped Sweeping Long Maxi Skirt Nos S/m/lLate Victorian Bodice And Skirt With Clover ButtonsVtg 80s Christian Dior Red Asymmetric Chevron Jacket + Skirt Office SuitVintage 50s Yellow Gingham Full Skirt Sundress Lace Insert Belt Lucy Day KellyVintage 90s Pleated Perfection Inky Black Formal Skirt Sz S Vintage 60s 70s Mr Dino Orange And Purple Floral Signed Maxi SkirtAlaia Vintage 80s Avant Garde Motorcycle Denim Jacket & Skirt Sz S Vtg 70s Cotton Gauze Boho Hippie India Gypsy Red Ivory Floral Bells Skirt S/m/lVintage Rockabilly 1960 50 Huge Sweep Skirt Jerell Jr New York Prom Swing StyleAntique Edwardian Victorian, Petticoat? Or Skirt? Embroidered W/ Ruffled HemSweet Set Feminine Nylon Lacy Frilly Panties Knickers Matching Skirt PetticoatVintage Suede Mini SkirtVintage Olga Nightgown Large Sweep Seafoam 92280 150" Skirt Sexy Formfit LVintage 50s Cute Print Full Circle SkirtVintage 90s Chestnut Leather Fringed Western Edge Wrap Skirt Sz XsVintage 1970s Silver Metallic Diamond Mosaic Maxi Skirt Sz LVintage 1980s Valentino Made In Italy Lime Green Textured Skirt Sz S Vtg 60s Mod Op-art Geometric Velvet Draped High Waist Boho Hippie Maxi Skirt S/mVintage Mid Century Modern Full Pleated Day Skirt 60sBlue Circle Skirt Vintage 1950's 19 50s Plus Size Mexican Patio Circle SkirtVintage 90s Plaid Wool Tartan Irish Edge Fringed Midi Skirt Sz M Vintage 90s Black On Black Leather Scallop Trim Gypsy Edge Skirt Sz S Miss Shaheen Vintage Wrap Skirt.szm.alfred Shaheen 50's Iconic Hawaiian DesignerLilly Pulitzer Vintage Skirt Pink, Yellow, Blue Floral.Vtg Van Raalte Half Slip/party Skirt Nylon Accordian Lace White 50s S/mVictorian Black Sequin Bead Detail Bodice & Full Maxi Skirt - Uk 12Finely Embroidered Vintage 90s India Low Rise Skirt Sz M Vintage Floral Kaleidoscope Print Lined Maxi Skirt Front Slash PocketsGap Vintage 90s Low Rise Leather Micro Mini Skirt Sz 8 Vintage "holly Harp" 3 Piece Black Lace Stretch Turtleneck Top/pant/skirt Petite1950s Skirt Mexican Circle Skirt Vintage Hand Painted Aztec Design MVintage 1950's Full Black Design Flower Pattern Collectible Circle Skirt Vintage Carefree Fashions Hippie Folk Patchwork Black Lace Print Maxi Skirt Vintage 90s Leather Taupe Western Edge Floral Cutout Wrap Skirt Sz M Vintage 60s 70s Mod Crazy Quilt Maxi Hippie Skirt Long Patchwork Cotton Gypsy osMoschino Couture Designer Italy Red Suit, 1980s, Jacket And Matching Mini SkirtVtg 90s Pink Black Floral Rayon Chiffon Flutter Pixie 30s Bias Boho Skirt S/mAuthentic Vintage Skirt-1950's - Cotton Skirt - Over 120" Around At Hem!!!!!Vtg 50's Full Circle Cotton Day Skirt XsVtg Rockabilly Ruffletulle Ruffle Square Dance Skirt TutuVintage 60s 1960s Lilly Pulitzer Colorful Signed Novelty Print Skirt LVintage 80s Does 40s Black Textured Two Piece Skirt Blazer Womens Suit Set S MVintage 70s Taupe Multi-color Abstract Floral Bird Print Maxi SkirtVtg 1990s Valentino Silk Sarong SkirtVintage 70s Taupe Plaid Thick Elastic Waist Maxi SkirtVintage 70s Bric A Brac Patchwork Color Block Maxi Skirt Sz L Genuine Vintage Brown 50s Midi Skirt Size SVintage 1970s Ethnic Edge Wrap Bollywood Maxi Skirt Sz XsVintage 90s Ivory Fringed Embroidered Eyelet Micro Mini Skirt Sz S Vtg Black Super Soft Sz 14 Half Slip Satin Wetlook Shiny Skirt 28-40"Vtg Skirt Kilt Kinloch Anderson 12 Wool Scotland Plaid Silver Pin Ethnic CostumeVintage 90s Vibrant Ethnic Turquoise Mirror Embellished Medallion Maxi Skirt O/s Vintage 1980s Sheer Blouse & Skirt Ensemble Sz Xs Vintage 1960s Quilted Damask Print High Waist Skirt Sz Xs Vintage 90s Made In Italy Floral Applique Embroidered Jacket & Skirt Set Sz M Vintage '60s '70s Emilio Pucci Silk Midi Skirt / Lord & Taylor / Womens S MVtg Betsey Johnson 2 Pc Suit Blazer Black Skirt Sweater Cardigan Set M Med Mod Vintage Style Bright Blue Button Down Mini Denim Skirt New Look 14 70s A-lineVtg 1990s Ysl Mini Skirt