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

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

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    

Vintage 1950's Jean's Of California Atomic Print Bustier & Skirt50s Cotton Full Skirt Novelty Print Festive African Jungle Theme 23w SmVintage Yves Saint Laurent Paris Wool Laine Jacket & Skirt Set Sz 44Vintage 1950s Novelty Print Skirt Picasson / Matisse Style PrintVintage Hand Painted Mexican Circle Skirt - Astrology Signs-29" Waistx25" LongVintage Emilio Pucci Half Slip Mini Skirt Abstract Print Green Pink Purple WhiteVintage 1980s Jet Black Tulle Crinoline Skirt Sz XsVintage 90s Does 70s Brown Leather Suede Skirt Sz LVintage 90s Glittering Golden Crochet Sheer Panel Skirt Sz S Vintage 50's Reversible Quilted Full Circle Midi SkirtVintage 1950s Rust Copper Pleat Circle Skirt Diamond Geometric Damask Silk 261970s Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Long SkirtVintage 90s Espresso Suedette Fringe Knife Pleat Skirt Sz MVintage 90s Made In India Ethnic Hippie Wrap Skirt Sz L Vintage 90s Bali Edge Metallic Mosaic Paisley Ethnic Maxi Skirt Sz SWomen's Lou Schneider Hoot Lass Bonnie Vintage Wool Pin-up Pinup Skirt Suit 6Vintage 70s Sage & Pumpkin Plaid Saks Fifth Avenue France Skirt Sz S Antique Victorian - Turn Of Century Quilted Full-length Skirt SlipVintage 1950s Strawberry €Vintage 90s Ralph Lauren Ebony & Ivory Houndstooth Pleated Silk Maxi Skirt Sz M Vintage 90s Parrot Orange Starburst Ethnic Bali Embellished Maxi Skirt Sz MStunning Oscar De La Renta Vintage Maxi Skirt & Suede Halter Top Ensemble-size 6Greta Garbo Estate! Amazing Handmade Turkish Skirt C.1924Antique Victorian Black & Purple Bodice & Skirt Outfit W/lace60s Quilted Satin Asian Inspired Peony Floral Print Maxi SkirtVtg 90s Darkest Blue Near Black Rayon Velvet Burnout Sheer Boho Gypsy Skirt LVintage 90s Jet Black Leather Studded Mini Skirt Sz XsVintage 90s Sparkling Midnight Sequined Pencil Skirt Sz S 1940's Style Vintage Skirt Suit Brown Wool Nardis Dallas Botany Vtg 50s Felt Full Circle Sock Hop Rockabilly Poodle SkirtBnwt Zara Leopard Animal Printed Skirt With Front Split Size M Seen On BloggersVintage Lemon Silky Knee Length Pleated Rockabilly Skirt Elasticated Waist S-m-lVintage 90s Sleek Black Leather Hot Bod Skirt Sz S Vintage Acetate Taffeta Black Tiered Net Ruffled 100" Sweep Petticoat Skirt M/lVintage 90s Plaid Skirt Cutoff Grunge Skater Goth Clueless BabeVintage Escada Jacket And Skirt.Vintage 80s Harvest Hued Plaid Boucle Walking Coat Skirt Set Sz S Vintage 90s Does 20s Bright White Fringed Flapper Fantasy Skirt Sz XsDarling Vtg 70s Nos Vested Gentress Angry Owl Crisp Maxi Skirt 10 S M NewVintage 80s Sienna Suede Genuine Leather Side Pockets Volume Full Midi Skirt M/lVtg Pendleton Wool Pleated Taratan Skirt Reversible Red Green Cream 27" WaistM/l Clearance Gypsy Hippie Boho Funky Tie Dye Maxi Skirt New Long Skirt BohemainVtg 60s Pinup Darling Pinstripes Sheer Chiffon Full Skirt Shirtwaist + Belt L XlMalia Honolulu Size 12 Vintage Red White Plumeria Nwt Cotton Sateen 1970s SkirtVintage 90s Marshmallow White Crochet Skirt Sz Xs Vintage 90s Granite & Ruby Red Mini Plaid Wool Skirt Sz Xs Vintage 1970 Leather Paneled Skirt Winter White Side Zipper Size Small80's Vintage Designer Leather Skirt Nwt Deadstock $440.00 Ethnic Batik Rare Vintage 1960’s Skirt Sz XsVintage 90s Soft Raven Black Leather Wiggle Skirt Sz XsVintage 90s Nutmeg Brown Suede Wiggle Skirt Sz S Vintage 1980s Heavy Wool Full Skirt 28 Waist1960''s Vintage Baby Blue Bobbie Brooks Aline SkirtFab Vtg Pantyhose Great Package Laying Down Girl In Mini Skirt Gold Avg Nip!!!Vtg Rockabilly 2p Blue Print Square Dance Circle Skirt Corset Belt Peasant TopRetro Vintage Plaid Original Miss Pat Skirt Knee Length Fully Lined Halloween Vtg Midi Skirt M Sz 12 14 Green 70s 80s Indie Long Boho Autumn Full EmbroideredVintage Pendleton Teal Blue Red Brown Plaid Virgin Wool Pleated Skirt SmallVintage Western Black Rayon Wool Blend Fringed Tulip SkirtVintage 90s Autumn Weave Corporate Blazer Jacket & Skirt Sz Xs