A staple of women’s fashion for hundreds of years has been the skirt. In its various forms, women have worn skirts for comfort, as a fashion statement of the trending times, and even to enhance their sex appeal. A reasonable alternative to shorts or slacks, skirts have been and continue to be many women’s go-to garment of choice. There are even women sports like golf and tennis that utilize sporty golf skirts.
There is an array of reasons women like skirts. They are feminine, and come in different lengths, styles, and fabrics, letting a woman express herself through fashion. Many women see suits with skirts as an expression of power, while others opt for the flowiness of maxi skirts for total comfort. The literal rise of the mini skirt helped to usher in new fashions in the 60’s and rocked the sexual revolution. No other piece of clothing has been so instrumental in the cultural changes women have gone through since its inception.
Dating back to the 1700’s, the long, petticoat and hoop skirt were all the rage with the rich elite women. Constructed with oversize hoops underneath the skirt to expand its size, these skirts were expensive, and indicated a woman’s stature in society. They were also made to appear very large on the bottom and tightly cinched at the waist, to make the wearer’s waist appear exceptionally small. This fashion was replaced in the late 1700’s by the bustle skirt, one where the back of the skirt exaggerated the wearer’s backside, so much so it looked as if there were another person in the back of the skirt crouched down! As with the hoop skirt trend, the larger the bustle, the more money the wearer was assumed to have. Bustles stayed in fashion, eventually giving way to the full-length, full skirt that looked more natural on its owner. About the 1840’s women began wearing crinolines under their skirts which provided a very feminine look. However, men seemed not to care for the huge crinoline look, since it made it difficult to get close to the woman to escort her. The women who wore these skirts started to encounter problems of the day, such as a difficulty getting into a carriage or walking through a doorway. Oftentimes, if they sat down, the crinoline would tilt upward, revealing the ladies’ undergarments. By the end of the 1800’s, the large skirt with crinoline lost its appeal, giving way to the s-shaped corset of the early 1900’s. This new corset pushed the chest forward and the hips backward, causing the woman to conform to an “s” shape. The skirts of the day where very frilly and tight at the waist but flared at the bottom, resembling a bell shape. Soon after, tailored blouses and skirts became the fashion sense, one that allowed women to golf and bicycle, even if it posed some hazards!
The 1920’s ushered in its own fashion and women started to wear skirts that were not full length. The era of flappers brought with it long column plaid skirts, as well as pleated mid knee skirts and handkerchief hem chiffon skirts. Beaded styles also came into fashion, and are often associated with the styles of the 1920’s flappers. Since these styles were all above the ankle, they were considered risqué for the times since exposing the ankles was a new fashion trend, making these skirts were a fashion risk in those times. The 1940’s brought World War II and many women had to take the place at work of the men sent to war. Skirts by this time were fitted in the waist, fell just below the knee and had a “swing” element to them, making them easy for women to maneuver in them. A-line and pleated skirts that helped accentuate a woman’s hourglass figure were also popular. Hollywood influence also crept into the dress of the day; glamourous fabrics and fitted styles defined the feminine form. Popular icons of the day like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Lauren Bacall set the glamourous standard that was emulated by women across the nation.
The 50’s, with the onset of rock and roll, brought popular poodle skirts into fashion for the younger generation, while tight pencil skirts were also a very popular choice for older women. The fuller skirts celebrated prints and colors that were not as apparent in previous years, with embroidery and the ever popular “poodle” appliques that resonate today with ‘50’s fashions.
The real turn in skirt styles occurred in the 1960’s, when the mini skirt burst onto the scene. Worn mainly by the younger generation, skirts continued to get shorter and shorter, with newer, bolder patterns. Tweed, plaid and denim miniskirts were all the rage with the teenagers. By the end of the 1960’s and beginning of the 1970’s, long, hippie or bohemian styles also gained popularity including fringe, and fabrics including suede and gauze. The punk rock movement in the late 70’s and early 80’s and the introduction of New Wave brought asymmetrical hemlines, leather and pleather skirts into clothing culture. Miniskirts made a huge comeback and were celebrated by all ages of women. Bright, neon colored skirts made their appearance and dominated most of the decade, especially for the younger girls. By the dawn of the 1990’s, long skirts made their resurgence, and the decade enjoyed styles of all lengths, shapes and fabrics. Denim skirts with appliques, tears, various washes, buttons, lengths and hemlines dominated the dress of young ladies in the 1990’s. The early 2000’s brought a new femininity to skirts with the introduction of ruffles to miniskirts. Denim, ruffled miniskirts and cotton skirts were the epitome of comfort and fashion.
Today’s skirts run the gamut and pretty much, anything goes. From full swing skirts, to vintage 40’s styles, to the return of crinoline to the miniskirt, women today wear essentially what they want. Where fashion goes from here is anyone’s guess, but designers continue to stretch the boundaries…and the fabrics…of the basic skirt. It is interesting to watch how the styles have changed with the decades and with the changes in women’s tastes.
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