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    

Vintage 50s Original Three Piece Set- Bodice Skirt And Wrap 6 8 S Vtg 80s Chic Jaeger Striped Cotton 3-pc Crop Top + High Waist Skirt Ensemble SetVintage 50s Border Santas Sleigh Extremely Full Novelty Christmas Skirt Lucy Day1pc Antique Victorian Walking Green Skirt Gothic Steampunk Highwaist Skirt MVintage 50s Full Circle Skirt Holiday Christmas Charms Novelty Iowa DistressedVintage 50s Original Novelty Print Cotton Skirt By Sportaville 6 8 Xs S Vintage Hand Painted Mexican Circle Skirt 1950s La Moda Al Dia Donkeys & VillageVintage 50s Border Playing Puppies Novelty Full Christmas Skirt Holiday Lucy DayVintage Women's 1940's-1950's Corduroy Midi Skirt Flap Pockets WorkwearVintage 50s Original Red Velvet Skirt By Valentine London Alpine Pockets 10 S Vtg 30s Brown Nubby Wool Tweed 2-pc Skirt Suit Jacket Faux-curly Lamb Trim Xs/sVintage Skirt, Must Have Been For A Dance Party! Perfect ShapeVintage 50s Novelty Border Print Christmas Fireplace Scene Full Skirt Lucy DayVintage Burberry Classic 100% Wool Nova Plaid Pleated Skirt Lined~6~vg~redesignVintage 50s Original Novelty Print Panelled Cotton Skirt 6 8 Xs SVintage 50s Look Cute Puppies In Santa Hat Novelty Full Skirt Repro Lucy DayChristina Dior Womens Skirt Suit Sz. 12 Purple Velvet TweedNasty Gal Vintage Tommy Hilfiger High Waist Jean A Line Skirt Celebrity HadidGreat Retro 1950s 60s Womens Grey Yellow Polka Dot Rockabilly Full SkirtBurberry Vintage Nove Wool Pleated Skirt/ Kilt Size 14 Chanel Vintage Black-wool Lining & Cc Bag Buttons Altered Skirt For Parts Sz XsBeautiful Vintage 40's 50's Black Wool Gabardine Flared SkirtVintage 70s Original Wallis Black And White Maxi Skirt 8 S Gaultier Vintage 1990s Striped 2 Piece Ensemble Body Con Top Skirt Small-mediumVtg Wet Look Silk Satin St Michael Half Slip Sheer Lacy Lingerie Petticoat SkirtVintage 40s 1940s 3 Piece Novelty Printed Cinch Waist Blazer & Two Skirts Suit MVintage 1950s Pinup Pink Rose Border Print Full Cotton Skirt - 26 Inch Waist Vintage Kuchi Collectible Rabari Banjara Tribal Boho Belly Dance Mirror SkirtLot Of 9 Vintage Dresses, 1950s-1970s, Silk, Chiffon, Cotton Blends, Boho SkirtClearance Vintage Gray Plaid Large 10 / 12 Pleated Lined Wool Skirt PendletonVintage Rundholz Houndstooth Knit Skirt LBlue Fish Clothing Vintage Usa 100% Cotton Button Shirt Skirt Set Size 2Vint Western Skirt W/white Leather Fringe & Beltloops & Rhinestones Waist 24"Vintage Kuchi Collectible Rabari Boho Banjara Tribal Ethnic Belly Dance SkirtVtg 40s Pinstripe 2 Pcs Shoulder Pad Peplum Belt Blazer Jacket Pencil Skirt MRed Plaid Wool Pleated Skirt Size 12 Vintage Classic Quality Great Britain KiltLadies Vintage 2 Piece 100% Cashmere Knit Skirt & Sweater By Ballantyne/scotlandVintage 1960s 70s Womens Yellow Mutli Color Flowers Rockabilly Full Skirt W NetVintage 59's Black Quilted Velvet Circle Skirt - SmalkVtg Red Lacy Frilly Ruffled Pleated Silky Smooth Nylon Half Slip Skirt 28-50"Vintage 60s Skirt Suit Set Metallic Silver Green Blouse Jacket Knit Holiday ModVintage Kuchi Collectible Rabari Boho Banjara Tribal Ethnic Belly Dance SkirtAntique Skirt. 1925-1930 Year. Fabric Crepe De Chine.Michael Hoban For North Beach Vintage Leather Pencil Skirt Cobalt Blue/black 5/6Vintage Vassarette Silky Nylon Full Skirt Nightgown Vtg. Gold Label Miss Elaine Long Teal Nylon Full Skirt Nightgown! SLong Skirt - Red, Green, White Tartan Plaid - Selfridge's - 100% Wool W/ Fringe Vintage 1950s 60s Womens Pink Orange Yellow Flowers Rockabilly Full SkirtVintage (50s/60s ) Mexican Embroidered Long Skirt, Sz M/l (very Nice Condition)1pc Victorian Lady Vintage Skirt Steampunk Gothic Asymmetrical Ruffled SkirtBlack Victorian Edwardian Vintage Pleated Midi Skirt Steampunk Costume V K036 LVintage Rundholz Black Architectural Skirt Vtg Gianni Versace Leather Layered Ruffles Skirt Size 461950's Womens Vinatge Skirt Black Floral Circle SkirtVintage 1940's Brown Two Piece Women's Skirt Jacket Set SmallVintage 1950s Green Poodle Skirt Circle By Casual Time Of CaliforniaEuc Lularoe Vintage Cassie Skirt Large Black White Tribal Swirl Fall WinterVintage Black Full Round Skirt Rockabilly Swing 28" WaistVintage Moschino Multicolor Chains Clover Pattern A Line Cotton Skirt Size 12Vintage 1960s 70s Womens Blue Black Plaid Vest + Full Skirt Set Rockabilly