The only thing more fun than vintage & retro novelty print dresses are circle skirts — you may know them as “poodle skirts,” even if the themes haven’t all gone to the dogs.
What you may not know is that the credit for the circle skirt, or at least its popularity, is attributed to one woman, Juli Lynne Charlot. A woman who described herself as “unable to sew” in an interview in a UP article, Girl Who Couldn’t Sew Booms Into Business With Circle Skirt, published in the Toledo Blade, February 25, 1953.
Five years before this article, in 1947, 25 year old Juli Lynne Charlot made a skirt to wear to a Los Angeles holiday party by cutting a big circle of felt with a hole in the middle to fit her own waist and appliqued “whimsical felt Christmas tress” to it to wear to a Los Angeles holiday party. According to that news article:
I cut it out of felt, because I didn’t know how to sew, and that was the only material I knew wide enough to cut a complete circle skirt without any seams.
(Also worth noting, I think, is Charlot’s description of her own appearance. As was the norm in newspapers, from fashion pieces to crime stories, the clothing, hairstyle & appearance of those featured in the stories were greatly detailed. In this case, the now 30 year old Charlot “counters” what the reporter sees with a visual description of her 25 year old self, saying she was “a big girl — I was just plain fat and frumpy when I made that first skirt.” Why is this worth noting? Well, for one it serves as a reminder to read old magazines and newspapers for clues to what was actually worn rather than trusting the ads; two, it suggests that circle skirts are flattering on any figure; and three, it shows Charlot as a rather self-deprecating woman — at least as a young designer.)
Anyway, just one week after the holiday party, Charlot sold her Christmas circle skirt because she needed the money. From there, demand grew. Charlot put herself in “designing school to learn how to sew” as well as managed to save enough money to start her own factory.
Charlot had orders, but her business struggled to pay the bills. “I can’t do arithmetic. Mother hocked her diamond ring three weeks in a row to help me meet the payroll,” she said in that 1953 interview. Charlot & her factory struggled until, the story goes, an unnamed New York dress manufacturer visited Charlot, found her in tears, and invested in Charlot’s factory, allowing the designer to more successfully continue to make her whimsical & constantly changing felt designs applied on felt (in winter) and poplin (in summer) skirts, like this stunning Parisian themed circle skirt.
Just one year prior to this 1953 newspaper article, Juli Lynne Charlot designs were so successful that one of them appeared in a national ad campaign for Maidenform bras.
Part of Maidenform’s famous & iconic “I Dreamed…” ad campaign, this 1952 ad shows a Juli Lynne Charlot race horse themed circle skirt on a model who has dreamed she was at the races.
Speaking with the lovely Deborah Burke, the owner of AntiqueDress.com, I confirmed that the iconic Juli Lynne Charlot horse racing circle skirt sold two years ago for $665. I can only imagine the delight of owing such a special skirt… It’s exactly this the sort of thing that keeps me searching for vintage fashions.
Come back, because I’ve got more to the story of circle skirts comin’ up next week!