How to say it: bahy-uh s skurt
- fabric is cut using the bias cutting method (pattern pieces are not cut on the straight grain, but are cut at a 45º angle to the grain)
- generally fits close to the body, accentuating the curve of the hips
- often has several seams that run around the body
…of the style: A Bias Skirt is a skirt whose pattern pieces are cut using the bias cut method, developed by Madeleine Vionnet in the 1920s. Pattern pieces are laid out and cut at a 45 degree angle to the grain of the fabric, allowing the garment to take advantage of the natural stretch of the fabric.
Madeleine Vionnet was an early 20th century French designer who opened her maison of couture in 1914, only to close it and flee to Rome at the outbreak of WWI. On her return to Paris in 1919 she reopened her maison and began creating dresses cut on the bias, the method of construction that was inspired by the Greek and Roman statues that Vionnet encountered while living in Rome. This new method of construction hugged the female figure whilst still allowing ease of movement; it changed the female silhouette of the time and ushered in a new, easy way of dressing that removed the constrictions on the body that had been popular before the war. The bias-cut silhouette soon characterised the fashions of the 1930s and became popular with women in Hollywood, with stars like Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn wearing her clothing.
Madeleine Vionnet left the fashion industry in 1939, again closing her doors with the outbreak of war, but this time she did not return. The bias cut silhouette that was so popular through the 1930s lost traction during WWII, and the post-war ‘New Look’ silhouette was so far away from the simple, sleek look of the bias cut, that the style did not really resurface as a trend until the 1990s, although the technique was undoubtably used in some degree during the intervening decades. John Galliano is said to be responsible for the revival of the 1930s bias cut silhouette which he redefined in his 1993 collection. Since then the bias cut ‘look’ as a whole has slipped into the background of fashion; the technique has become such a standard in the fashion industry that it isn’t really talked about anymore, but bias cut garments still abound in the modern marketplace.
As far as the bias cut skirt goes, I couldn’t find an exact date as to when it was introduced into fashion (Vionnet was most famous for her dresses and no one mentions if she made skirts as well), so all I can say is that they were invented sometime after the 1920s.
In the 21st century there are plenty of the hip hugging, sheath-like skirts available in various lengths, but designers are also using the bias technique on fabrics other than the slinky silks, satins and chiffons that Vionnet favoured. Fabrics like cotton, linen and polyester are also being cut on the bias to produce skirts that still follow the female form, but don’t hug it quite as tightly. The bias skirts ranges from very formal to very casual and remains a popular style in modern fashion.
…of the name: The word bias comes from the Middle French word biais, meaning oblique. The definition of oblique is ‘neither perpendicular nor parallel to a given line or surface. The line on which bias cut patterns are cut is neither perpendicular nor parallel to the normal grain line, hence it is on the bias.
- Madeleine Vionnet is also accredited with popularising the cowl neckline and the handkerchief hemline
21st Century Bias Skirts
Whether you prefer the slinky, hip-hugging version, or the looser but still figure flattering styles, the bias skirt is alive and well in the 21st century and available in all colours, shapes and fabrics for all occasions.
DKNY, Giorgio Armani
Preen, Jason Wu