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”)



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

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [read review or visit site]



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

The Antique Corset Gallery

The Antique Corset Gallery

Take a deep breath, and check out this sparse, simple, and beautifully designed site showcasing 250 years of corset… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vtg 50s Black Quilted Minimalist High Waist Circle Swing Ballerina Midi Skirt XsVintage Fiesta Mexican Mariachi Folk Dance Circle SkirtAntique 1800s Victorian Gingham Check Wool Houndstooth Trained Loop Trim SkirtVintage Ornate Edwardian 2 Piece Walking Suit Bodice SkirtAntique Victorian Handmade Quilted Heavy Skirt For Study, Restoration, PatternAntique 1800s Civil War Era Victorian Sweeping Trained Red Silk SkirtRare White Swan Midi Skirt Fall Fashion 90s Balerina Vintage Boho M-lVintage Mexican Guadalajara Sequin Full Circle Swing SkirtVtg 90s Chic Agnes B Paris Polkadot Black + White Grunge Pockets Maxi Wrap SkirtVintage Riddella 1960's Turquoise Blue Crimplene Blazer Jacket & Skirt 12 - K01Vintage 50's Black Full Skirt Pogues Cincinnati 2 Piece Wool Suit Sz SVintage 1940's-50's Kamehameha Hawaiian Blouse & Matching SkirtVtg 80s Chic Paper Thin Gauze Tie Dyed Color Block Crop Top + Mini Skirt OutfitVintage 1940's Ww11 Tan Wool Jacket+skirt Suit..padded Shoulders..2 Pcs. LargeJacqueline De Ribes Vintage Couture Wool Jacket Skirt 2 Piece Suit 10Vintage 60s Atomic Swirl Full Skirt Lucy Pinup New With Tags SkirtVtg 90s Lilac + Plum Soft Knit Preppy Stripe Mini Skirt + Crop Sweater 2-pc Set50s Novelty Print Octoberfest Farm Scene Full Cotton Skirt Vintage Pink Blue W26Vintage Avoca Red Tartan Check Pure New Wool Skirt & Matching Coat Set - C25Vintage 1950s Novelty Rooster Textile Print Fabric Circle Skirt - Xs Original Vintage Chanel Boutique Purple Tweed Skirt Jacket Safari Style Suit 12Vintage 1960s Emerald Ruby & Sapphire Wool Boucle Skirt & Coat Set Sz SVintage 1950's Floral Quilted Circle Skirt, Size 11 JuniorVintage Tadashi Ultramarine Ruched Wiggle Skirt Sz S Black Cream Full Circle Swing Skirt Sz 10 Silver Sequin Trim Retro Vintage 50`s Sexy Stretch Metallic Body Con Vintage Style Mini Gold Skirt 22-42" Vintage 1950s Novelty Print Wine Jug Full Sweep Skirt Sz XxsVintage 90s Opulent Peacock Metallic Drama Skirt Suit Sz L Vtg Soft Tricot Nylon Vanity Fair S Mini Leopard Print Half Slip Skirt 22-36" Vintage Black Shiny Silky Pleated Rockabilly Skirt Elasticated Waist M40s Wwii Era Rose Red Rayon Pleated Skirt W/side Waist Buttons L 31 WaistVintage Apple Green High Waisted Pencil Skirt Sz12 Retro/mad Men Style 50s Victorian C.1900's Black Silk And Velvet Jacket,skirt,mantle 3 Piece MourningVintage Sunflower Tea Skirt 90's Grunge Goth XxsVintage Laura Ashley Welsh Country Autumn Beauty Marigold Maxi Skirt 12Vintage Boho Emerald Green Velvet Long Lined Skirt With High Back SlitVintage Lilac Polyester Pleated Rockabilly Skirt Elasticated Waist XlVintage 80s Pink Semi Sheer Box Accordion Pleat Skirt Size SmallNew Vtg Diane Freis Floral Silk Peplum Top W/skirt-belt Sz. M Gorgeous! Chanel Boutique Navy Blue A-line Pleated Gold Buttons Skirt Size 36 Castus Rockabilly Skirt 50's Cotton Western Waist 26"Vintage 90s Spring Green A Line Suede Skirt Sz M Vintage Pencil Skirt 1950s Wool Yellow Mustard Waist = 26" Post WwiiVintage 90s Inky Black Leather Midi Skirt Sz M Vintage Genuine Leather High Waisted Pencil Skirt Sz12 Retro 80sVintage 40s Davidow Fall Suit/jacket/skirt-42 Bust-30 W-bullocks Wilshire-swing!50s Sea Green Rayon Straight Skirt L 31 WaistPleated Skirt Size Medium Black Accordion Full Maxi Vintage 70s Long RetroVintage French Wool Pencil Skirt50's Vintage Crinoline Slip Petticoat Skirt Ruffled Layers White Cream FloralM/l Clearance Gypsy Hippie Boho Funky Tie Dye Maxi Skirt New Long Skirt BohemainVintage 90s Navy Blue Rambunctious Ruffle Sheer Organza Tutu Skirt Sz L Vintage 1950's Gingham Skirt Pleated Circle Black White Fancy Stitched HandmadeVintage 90s Violet & Ebony Romantic Goth Skirt One Size Vintage Jane Irwill 2 Piece Navy Blue Loomed Knit Sweater Set Flared SkirtAntique Victorian Skirt Sewing Scraps, 1800's, Civil War EraVintage Iconic 80s Tier Ruffle Lace Embroidered Material Girl Skirt PinkVintage 1980s Banana Republic Safari Black White Stripped Denim Jean Skirt Sz 8 D.turq Black Border Tribal Gypsy 25 Yard Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Skirt L35"$reduced$ Vintage 70's Suede Hippie Skirt Fringe Western Silver Threads Womens12