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

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

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Poodle Novelty Border Print Circle Skirt Poodles With Umbrellas1950s Vtg Kitty Cat Flannel Skirt 50s Deadstock Cotton Kitten Rockabilly 26 S Vtg 50s Kate Greenaway Scarecrow Novelty Border Print Cotton Full Skirt Xs-s 26w1950s 50s Black Velvet Wool Two Tone Suit Rockabilly New Look Jacket 40s Skirt 1950s Town & Country Mexican Figures Embroidered Applique Pleated Skirt Cotton Antique Crochet Victorian Bolero Jacket & Skirt Cleaned NrVintage 1950s Full Pleated Grand Canyon Collectible Circle SkirtVintage Cotton Skirt Poodle Swing Style Hand Printed Painted Falmingos RepairVictorian Antique Womens Clothing Silk Skirt And Lace BlouseVintage Antique Edwardian Green Silk Jacket And SkirtVintage Full Circle Skirt - Swing, Rockabilly, Americana, New LookVintage 90s Does 50s Under The Sea Botanical Babe Full Sweep Sequined Skirt Sz SVintage 50's Circle Skirt Ethnic Mexican Handpainted Horseman Good ConditionVintage Lilly Pulitzer Maxi Horse Print SkirtVintage Striped Midi Skirt A-line High Waisted Retro Skirt Calf Length PleatedVintage High Waisted Skirt Floral Midi Skirt Maxi Ankle Pastel Boho Hippie SmallVintage 60's Boho Indian Floral Goddess Gypsy High Waist Wrap Skirt One SzLot Six Edwardian White Petticoat Slips Skirt Lace Ruffles Reenactments TheaterRare Pristine Original Vintage 1950s Floral Novelty Print Cotton Full Skirt W25"Sunray Pleated Governess Skirt Shiny Satin Rock And Roll Circle Swishy Wet LookRare Vintage 1950's Womens Raffia Circle Skirt!Lot Of 10 Vintage 60s 70s Dresses Hawaiian Hibiscus Maxi Skirt Psychedelic Vtg 70s Paisley Floral Boho Hippie Gypsy Orange Blue Yellow Skirt XxsVintage 1990s Olive Green Embroidered Mosaic Floral Skirt Sz LVintage 80s Does 40s Circle Skirt Size S Mexican Rockabilly Red Blue MariachiVintage 1800's Victorian Darling Antique Purple Print Skirt W 24" Length 42"Vintage High Waisted Skirt Floral Midi Skirt Maxi Ankle Boho Hippie SmallVintage 90s Tiered Crochet Camouflage Pocketed Peasant Skirt Sz M Vintage 50s Blue Full Skirt Sundress Bow Belt Lucy Day Kelly AudreyPd Design Munich Vintage Softest Leather And Suede Mini Skirt 10Vintage Lilly Pulitzer Orange Pink Lined Poly Cotton A-line Skirt Sz 12 No ResThe Vested Gentress Vintage Maxi Skirt 19641940s Koret Of California Koradenim Skirt -mVintage 60s Burgundy Brown Silver Metallic Geometric Floral Print Pencil SkirtVintage 1980s Avant Garde Acid Wash Denim Lace Panel Structured Skirt Sz S Vintage 1980s Embossed Silk Brocade Lace Sequined Ivory Skirt Sz S1910s Edwardian Crisp White Tiered Handmade Lace Half Slip Skirt XxsBeautiful Karen Millen Mauve Jacket & Skirt Suit Uk 8/10Vintage 80s Navy And White Polka Dot Pleated Elastic Waist Polyester SkirtVintage 1950's Stunning Honeymoon Skirt/blouse Set Pristine Condition; Size S-mVintage 50s White Ruffle Lace Crinoline Pettie-coat Silp Skirt Xs Or Gilrs50s Circle SkirtVtg Kayser Petticoat Mini Slip Skirt W Stunning Lace Newoldstock W Tags SilkyRuffle Denim Vintage 1990s Fluid Sweep Skirt Sz M Jessica's Gunnies Xs Vintage Prairie Skirt Rose Calico Off-white Ruffled BohoVintage John Meyer Of Norwich Orange Ivory Wrap Long Skirt Large No ResLace Skirt Size Xsmall High Waisted Cloak Of Many Colors Vintage 80s Silk LinenOmbre Skirt Size Medium Boho Hippie Vintage 60s Sheer Stripe Maxi Long"jaguar" Vintage (?) Boho Hippy Ethnic Woven/fringed Skirt~guatemala~m~exc!Vintage 1970s Tie Dye Indian Wrap Skirt Sz S Vintage 60s 70s Bright Thick Patchwork Elastic Waist Maxi SkirtVintage 70's Rainbow Chevron Embroidered Circle Midi Skirt Hippie Boho SmallVintage 90s Ebony Gothic Lace Full Skirt Sz L Vtg Jantzen Bathing Suit Retro Pinup One Piece Black S/m 50s Ruche Skirt WowVintage Lilly Pulitzer Yellow Blue Poly Cotton Lined Skirt Size 14 No ResFrothy French Lace Petticoat Skirt In Blush Pink! Antique C1900Vintage Wrap Skirt Blue Green African Animals Cotton Lined One Size No ResVtg India Shisha Mirror Embroidered Traditional Dance Hippie Skirt Nice FullVintage Skirt Lot Tribal Gold Midi Purple Turquoise Belt Victorian Petticoat Or Skirt With Cutwork Embroidery