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 Full Circle Swing Party Club Cocktail Rockabilly Poodle Skirt W/clownsVintage 80's Long Olga Nightgown M/l 40 Teal Classic #92280 160" Sweeping SkirtVintage Dancing Party Prom Swing Jive Rockabilly Skirt 50s Red Cotton Dresses LVintage Mexican Mayan Wrap Flare Skirt--bull Fight, Dancers, Etc--size MVictorian 1880’s Double Layer Gray Polonaise Bustle Skirt W Draw StringsAntique Victorian Edwardian Black Brocaded Satin Skirt Ca. 1905 Size S-lVintage Full Circle Skirt In 1950s Spanish Inspired FabricVintage 50s 60s Ditzy Floral Skirt Gypsy Prairie Hippy Folk Boho Festival Uk 12Vintage 1950's Mexican Hand Painted Circle Skirt W Sequins Sz28 RockabillyVtg 80s Avant Garde Photographic Print Castle + Mountains Hi Waist Mini Skirt MVictorian Gay 1890’s Black Striped Silk Skirt W Taffeta Flounce BottomVintage Dandelion Summer Skirt Waist: 29"40's 50's Romper Playsuit Onesie Pin Up Rockabilly Bombshell Small W/skirtVtg, Sequined, Circle Skirt, Hand Painted Mexican Bull Riding Good Shape Sz14 Vtg 70s 80s Black Rayon Gauze Indian India Boho Hippie Gypsy Bells Skirt S/m/l/xPrinted Tribal Gypsy 20 25 Yard Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Sari Skirt L35" Rf391Vtg Tg 50s Rare Afro Carribean Print Cotton Pleated Swing Skirt Xs By FritziPlummy Maroon Polka Dot Gypsy 25 Yard Belly Dancing Tribal Cotton Ats Skirt Shaded White Lilac Purple Tribal Gypsy 25 Yard Belly Dancing Cotton Skirt Ats Vintage Madalyn Miller Circle Skirt 50s Rockabilly Xs Purple Black Tribal Gypsy 25 Yard Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Ats Skirt L38/39" Vintage Pale Pink Silky Flared Pleated Skirt Elasticated Waist Uk 18 (46-48)Vintage 1940s Wine Suit Jacket & Skirt From 1940 Wartime Homefront Landgirl 8/10Vtg Pin Up Skirt / Slip Front Panty Brief Nylon Mushroom Gusset White L 39/40Antique Edwardian White Cotton Embroidery Petticoat Slip SkirtBlue Green Tribal Gypsy 25 Yard Yards Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Ats Skirt L35"2pc Black Tribal Gypsy 25 Yard Belly Dance Cotton Costume Skirt & Top Uk 10-24Vintage French Alaia Sea Mist Color Asymetrical Wool Skirt Size MLovely Vintage 1960s Brown & White Suit Jacket & Skirt Space Age Mod Uk 6/8Laura Ashley Cotton Skirt - 50s Style Floral Print - Elasticated Waist - Size LVintage Laura Ashley English Country Rose Posy Spring Skirt 8/10Chanel Boutique Skirt Suit Size 46 In Black Wool Crepe With Gold Logo ZippersStunning Vintage Late 60,s Miss Feraud Maxi Skirt Suit,size 12Printed Tribal Gypsy 20 25 Yard Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Sari Skirt L35" Rf392Super Navy Ribbonwork Blouse & Skirt C. 1930 Black Polka Red Dots Gypsy 25 Yard Belly Dance Dancing Tribal Cotton Skirt L36"Vintage 1950s Gucci Black Suede Gold Buckle A-line Skirt Mint Condition L 50Vintage 70's Vested Gentress Sailboat Novelty Print Preppy Wrap SkirtPagan Wiccan Boho Patchwork Hippie Gypsy India Broomstick Skirt India Vtg 1980sRedy Orange Polka Dot Gypsy 25 Yard Belly Dancing Tribal Cotton Ats Skirt L35"1950's Black Nylon Circle Skirt Terri's Originals Waist 27"Printed Tribal Gypsy 20 25 Yard Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Sari Skirt L36" Rf383Multi Silky Satin Full Circle Belly Dance Dancing Skirt Uk Size 10-24 Rf 14Lovely Ats Tribal Gypsy 25 Yard Yards Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Skirt L34"Printed Tribal Gypsy 20 25 Yard Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Sari Skirt L38"Vintage 1950's Cotton Black Americana Pickaninny Print Skirt 28" WaistVtg 1970's Vested Gentress Hand Screened SkirtVintage 70s Black Jersey Jumpsuit Skort Skirt Panel Disco Gold Metallic Trim - SVintage 50's Style Turquoise Blue Ruffle Full Circle Square Dance Skirt Size M LStunning Psychelic Nylon Silky Knit Japanese Geisha Kimono Print Hippie Skirt MSheer Lace Satin & Frilly Lace Sissy Maid Adult Baby Swishy Petticoat Slip Skirt3 Shaded Tribal Gypsy 25 Yard Yards Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Skirt Skirts Ats Multi Silky Satin Full Circle Belly Dance Dancing Skirt Uk Size 10-24 Rf 151950s Vintage Retro Novelty Hawaiian Print Cotton Circle Skirt Xs Beautiful Red Tribal Gypsy 25 Yards Belly Dance Dancing Costume Skirt L35"Multi Silky Satin Full Circle Belly Dance Dancing Skirt Uk Size 10-24 Rf 18Mini Skirt Slip - Vintage - Nwt - Abstract Print - Great Condition - RetroPrinted Tribal Gypsy 20 25 Yard Belly Dance Dancing Cotton Sari Skirt L35" Rf394Vintage Laura Ashley Rare Floral Tiered Gypsy Boho Maxi Skirt, 10, 12, 14, 16Vintage/rockabilly/vlv 1950's Skirt, Size M/l