Continuing the story of the circle skirt… The story began with a simple skirt Juli Lynne Charlot made for a Christmas party (not the actual circle skirt shown here, but how cute is that?!) and the skirts were quickly transformed into a multitude of novelty themes.
1950s Christmas Themed Circle Skirt
Fashion legend says that at some point it was suggested to Charlot that she put animals, including poodles, onto her skirts and that when Charlot did so, the popularity of the circle skirts increased greatly — which has led to the skirts being called poodle skirts.
In fashion reality (or at least by my own personal definition), poodle skirts are different than novelty circle skirts… And fit a different market or fashion niche. As we shall see.
While adult women did wear novelty circle skirts, especially in the beginning,the heavily petticoated novelty skirts (what I call poodle skirts) quickly became not only de rigeur for girls, but seen mainly as a fashion trend for the youth.
The poodle skirt craze among teens is often attributed to those new rock n roll dances; teens found the big circle skirts enchanting while dancing. But it’s quite probable that mom & dad preferred their Kitten to wear a longer full skirt that hid at least part of her figure (especially when stuffed with crinolines and petticoats to prevent anything more being seen) to the more fitted along the hips structured fashions; watch Kitten’s skirt swing, not her hips sway. *wink*
(Of course, the irony was that fuller skirts looked like fuller, more womanly, hips and that boys dreamed of ladies’ underthings, so…)
But let’s not overlook the marketing machine in all of this either…
10 Year Old Girl Wearing Poodle Skirt, Christmas, 1954
During the 1950’s, companies began to court the youth market as they never had before. This shift in attention to teens had fashions, like the poodle skirts, forcefully marketed to young girls rather than the former long history of marketing fashions to adult women. The proof of this can be seen in the ephemera trail which shows that ads for poodle skirts in magazines published for teens clearly outnumbered those in publications for women (which focused on less voluminous circle skirts).
There were other factors for the popularity of poodle skirts for teens too.
In the 1950’s you also had less of an emphasis on sewing as a skill for women. More ready to wear, priced more affordably, began to edge out the need to know how to sew. Girls still took the sewing classes, but they knew far less & had less interest in sewing as their mothers did. (The difference between my grandmother & mother’s ability to sew may only seem anecdotal; but I assure you, it was happening all over the atomic 50’s suburbs!)
However, the ease of making a circle skirt, and the influx of printed novelty fabrics that allowed one to make a circle skirt without even having to sew on appliques, tempted those teen girls… She could save a few dollars by making her own skirt rather than buying one — do that a few times, and Kitten ends up with more skirts for the same amount of Daddy’s money. *wink*
Also, speaking contextually of women’s lives and fashion at the time, it’s easy to see how such full, un-tailored skirts would seem unfamiliar — perhaps even ill-fitting — to a woman wearing more traditional fashions at the time. Even the full skirted New Look fashions had a more tailored, refined look about the hips (and either had shorter crinolined skirt lengths, or longer skirts with voluminous folds or a softer “outness”), indicating the more mature woman’s sophistication and duties in life as compared to their whimsical, dancing daughters.
Mother & Daughter, Wearing Different Fashions, Waving Goodby To Daddy In The 1950s
Of course, this lack of tailored appearance was part of the design; if circle skirts had required more seams, Charlot never would have made one! (Nor would the idea of circle skirts have been so readily snapped up by the Mexican souvenir making market, which realized a full skirt with a simple waistband, zipper or no, was not only easier & cheaper to make, but required less actual sizes to be made than tailored or more accurately sized skirts — another reason why such souvenir circle skirts with novelty prints or details are still made today.)
1951 Wide Wool Skirt (And Jeresy Top) Ad
All of these things created a schism, of sorts, leaving poodle skirts and circle skirts with more flirtatious petticoats a far more fashionable dress for teens & young women than for their mothers & grandmothers.
In short, the poodle skirt was one of the very first “too young for you” fashions.
Of the authentic vintage circle novelty skirts that remain, the waists are typically smaller & hems shorter; percentage wise what’s left indicates that the fashion was a marketplace primarily for teens and younger women. What this means for vintage fashion collectors and the fashionistas who covet authentic 1950’s poodle skirts & vintage novelty circle skirts is that it’s slim pickings on the full skirts with novelty prints, appliques, embroidery & other details.
Vintage Embroidered Circle Skirt
But the good news remains that circle skirts are in fact very easy to make. You can purchase a circle skirt pattern, old or new — and don’t overlook making them in Charlot’s original manner either: Just cut a circle from fabric, make a hole in the waist, and decorate!
Still to come… How to wear circle skirts!
Vintage Butterick Circle Skirt Pattern