The New Look shape of 1947 carried over into the skirts worn in the ‘50s. They were tight at the natural waist and were either very full or very fitted. They are very figure flattering and really fun to wear which is why 1950s skirts are a must have items in any vintage fashion lover’s wardrobe.
1950’s Full Skirts
The fuller the skirt the better in the 1950’s! With the aid of multiple layers of stiff petticoats and a hoop skirt, 50’s skirts were as voluminous as the wearer could make them. The skirt was at least 4 or 5 yards of fabric draped using a few different techniques. These skirts usually start with a 3 inch wide waistband at just above the natural waist. The band fasted on the side or back with a zipper and button. In order to get the most fullness with the neatest gathers, the fabric of choice was cotton broadcloth in a range of pastel solid colors (pink, lavender, turquoise) or big plaids. This is what most women wore on a daily basis. To be really in fashion, the skirt had to be made out of wool. Extremely heavy and difficult to keep full even with hoops AND petticoat underneath, they were only for the bravest of women or those willing to wear them without a stiff petticoat.
The full skirt was popular because it was flattering. The fullness hid big hips and made waists look smaller. The fuller the skirt the more magic it had on slimming waistlines. Adding a wide cinch belt over the skirt band created an even more “wasp waist” look. Leather and plastic cinch belts were very popular, but they were prone to tearing and bunching up blouses. The elastic cinch belt was the best at both keeping blouses tucked and waists thin.
Skirts came in long or mid shin lengths. Floor length skirts were the most popular for lounging at home or in formal wear settings. The mid shin length was the most common length for anything from housework to dancing.
The three full skirt styles:
The circle skirt was the least bulky of the full skirts. The pattern was cut form one very large square piece in the shape of a doughnut. The inside circle was the waist measurement and the outside circle created the fullness. The skirts hang beautifully in drapes that swing with movement. You can understand why they were so popular with the teen dancing set. They are also very easy to make.
While cotton and wool were used in circle skirts, felt was the best choice. It was thick yet light which made it cover the hoop skirt ridges easily. It also didn’t need hemming since the edges never raveled. Add some rick rack and the skirt was really styling! Even more decorations came in the form of the large applique poodle, cat, squirrel, guitar, or catchy phrases like “See you Later Alligator.”
The poodle skirt was a ‘50s favorite, often in white, standing at the hem of the skirt, complete with a curly embroidered or sequin leash. The poodle skirt became a lasting icon of the 1950s especially for teenagers but women wore them too with more mature appliques such as the Eiffel tower, telephone, and Martini pictured on the left.
A gathered skirt is made from a giant rectangle piece of fabric and is gathered in at a waistband so that it’s fitted at the waist and full at the bottom. They were especially becoming on women without much natural hip since the bulky band gave instant curves.
Pleated skirts were also popular in the ‘50s, especially with Dior. They could be large pleats or tiny accordion ones, as long as there was plenty of fabric! The gathered and pleated skirt was fuller at the waist band then the other styles.
Gored skirts feature panels of triangles sewn together with the points coming into the waistband, once again making the skirt much wider at the bottom.
Lastly, tiered skirts, made from layers of fabric that get wider and wider towards the bottom, allowed for fullness and added an extra little touch to the look. Tiered skirts were usually gathered at the top, but had more flounce than a regular gathered skirt. They were a style that came from the big trend for all things Western or ethic clothing.
1950’s Pencil Skirt
1950’s fashion was a time of opposites and nothing makes that point as much as the drastic difference between full and sheath skirts. Fitted sheath skirts were called hobble or pencil skirts during the ‘50s because they were so tight that they were difficult to walk in. Skirts that ended at the knee were a bit easier to walk in. Mid shin length skirts were much harder. Some had a back vent or kick-pleat up the thigh to allow for movement. Some longer skirts only had a decorative kick pleat that went up to the knee- a useless ornament.
Sheath skirts started at a waistband at the natural waist and curved tightly over the hips and then tapered in with the legs just below the knee or a bit longer. The straighter the fit the better for most of the 50’s. The later part of the decade favored a rounded, fuller hip, that often required models to wear hip pads to achieve the perfect silhouette. For women with naturally round hips the sheath skirt was perfect. What was hidden in full skirts was revealed in pencil skirts. They were sexy especially when they were worn with a pair of high heel pumps. Together they made a woman wiggle her walk hence the common name now as wiggle skirts.
Fitted skirts were usually plain colors or in a plaid or houndstooth pattern. They also sometimes had decorative buttons down the center or on one side or had large patch pockets on the front. They were a style of skirt for the mature women. Teens were encouraged to stay clear of the sheath skirt- they were too sexy for “children.” Teens didn’t pay attention to those rules and bought sheath skirts anyways. They were not very good for dancing except while doing the twist. Latin inspired fringe skirts were a short lived fad. They were fun to dance in but impractical for most other occasions.