Handkerchief Skirt

AKA: hanky hem skirt, asymmetrical hem skirt, uneven hem skirt

How to say it:  hang-ker-cheef skurt

Traditional Features:

Handkerchief Skirt 

  • generally finishes between the knee and ankle
  • uneven hemline that falls in points resembling a handkerchief
  • usually made from light, floaty fabrics that will move well with the wearer


…of the style: The handkerchief style hemline is a flattering, feminine style that has been in use since the Ancient Greeks, but it was designer Madeleine Vionnet who introduced and popularised the style in modern fashion.

Vionnet is said to have created (re-created?) the handkerchief style hem in the 1910s, when she would order an extra 2 yards of fabric than what was required for a garment and use it to experiment with hem shapes. The style was popular in the pre-flapper years as women used the uneven shapes to surreptitiously raise their hemlines whilst maintaining some modesty.

Ironically, in the 1930s designer Jean Patou (famous for popularising the short flapper style) used the handkerchief hem to do the opposite – he utilised the hem style to transition his short skirt designs towards the longer lengths that were popular in this era.

As with many skirt styles of that period, the handkerchief skirt was removed from mainstream fashion by the 1940s thanks to the fabric rationing of WWII, but the style was not forgotten. Since the end of the War it has maintained a steady presence on the fashion landscape; never regaining the heights of its popularity in the 20s and 30s, but also never disappearing.

The hippies favoured it in the late 60s/early 70s and the Bohemian trend in the 1980s gave the style a boost; as did the Boho-chic trend of the early 2000s. The handkerchief skirt graced catwalks in the 2012 collections (Spring, Fall and Resort) and seems to be back again for 2014, but in a more subtle and refined version of the original.

…of the name: The hemline of this skirt falls in points, resembling the corners of a handkerchief. Hence the name.

For more info on Handkerchief Skirts try Wikipedia, Rhetoric Magazine  or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

21st Century Handkerchief Skirts

Handkerchief skirts in the 21st century run the gambit from fun Boho-chic to subtle and sophisticated. However you like them, it seems they are here to stay (at least for a couple of seasons) – lucky for us it is a flattering style that lets you go a little shorter or a little longer than you would normally dare with a straight-hemmed skirt.

Alice + Olivia Free People

Alice + Olivia, Free People

Michael Kors Opening Ceremony

Michael Kors, Opening Ceremony

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