AKA: poodle skirt, circular skirt
How to say it: sur-kyuh-ler skurt
- constructed from a full circle of fabric with a hole cut out in the middle for the body
- falls in folds around the body
- traditionally 3/4 length
- can have appliqués, embellishments or printed decorations
…of the style: The act of making a skirt from a circular piece of fabric apparently originated in the 1890s, but the circle skirt, as we know it today, rose to popularity in the late 1940s and 50s for 3 reasons – the relaxation of fabric rationing after WWII, the rising popularity of rock ‘n’ roll music and the introduction of the ‘Poodle Skirt’.
At the end of the war, the strict rules around skirt lengths and fabric usage relaxed and thanks to Dior’s New Look, skirts almost immediately got longer and fuller. In 1947, opera singer-come-designer Juli Lynne Charlot needed a skirt to wear to a Christmas party. She couldn’t sew, so cut a complete circle out of some wool felt fabric, cut a hole in the middle for her body and attached some Christmas appliqués to make it appropriate for the occasion. She was so happy with the result that she made 3 more and took them to a Beverly Hills boutique to sell. The skirts quickly sold out and the store placed another order.
After Christmas the store wanted non-holiday themed skirts and suggested Charlot do dog designs. The set of dog designs included the now iconic Poodle motif which as a massive hit, becoming the cornerstone of teenage fashion throughout the 1950s and launching Charlot’s career as a designer.
Not everyone could afford Charlot’s designers skirts, but because the circle skirt was so simple to make teenage girls were able to make them at home, utilising the new trend for appliqué and embellishment to create unique designs to wear to school and the sock hop dances.
These dances usually involved rock ‘n’ roll music which was becoming popular with teenagers and seemed to be made for the circle skirt. Dancing to the new style of music was very energetic, with lots of twirling and jumping, allowing the girls to show off their latest circle skirt creation to its best advantage as it twirled and moved with them on the dance floor.
Circle skirts fell out of fashion in the 60s with the introduction of the mini skirt and has never really come back with the force of popularity it had in the 50s. Having said that, the style did come back in the 1980s and the circle skirt is still made by designers in the 21st century. The modern offerings lack the appliqués of the past, and do tend to be shorter than the iconic ‘poodle skirts’, although the trend for midi-skirts over the last couple of seasons has seen the lengths of skirts in general creep closer to the floor.
…of the name: The skirt is made from a circle of fabric, hence the name.
- the first dog motif was of 3 dachshunds – a flirty girl dog, a stuck-up girl dog and a guy dog. The guy dog apparently liked the flirty girl dog, but all their leashes got tangled up and he could only get to the stuck-up girl dog. All of Charlot’s skirt designs had a story behind them, an approach which many teenagers copied, creating their own ‘storyline’ circle skirts.
21st Century Circle Skirts
In the 21st century marketplace there seems to be lots of skirts that claim the ‘circle skirt’ title, but aren’t cut from a full circle. To really harness the fun, flirty style of the 50s, look for the characteristic folds of fabric, and if all else fails, give it a twirl – if it doesn’t fly up in a circle, it isn’t a real circle skirt!
RED Valentino, ZAC Zac Posen
Maticevski, Hussein Chalayan