Full skirts – all sweeping pleats, bouncy layered petticoats and yards of material – have had a chequered history. Fathered by Christian Dior and born in the august shadow of haute couture, they became a fashion cliché in the 1950s, when they were worn by young women trying to follow the joyous freedom of Bardot and Seberg who, dressed in gingham and check, twirled through the fashion like animated beds of sweet peas.
But trends moved on and things changed. What had been seen as fresh, young and lovely slipped down the social scale and became Blackpool Tower Ballroom dancing competition. As the circumference of the skirts increased, so hair became more extravagant and make-up more strident, until only girls wanting to look like Bet Lynch’s kid sister would be seen dead in a full skirt.
After all, by the beginning of the 1960s, Mary Quant and the mini were on the horizon, ready to give cool young women their own sexy look – rather than a watered-down version of what their mothers wore – for the first time since the 1920s.
Although the copies were so cheap and naff that they deserved to die, the original full-skirted, tightly waisted afternoon dress, the template for all the downmarket stuff, was – as you would expect from a designer as skilled and refined as Dior – a beautiful, classic design. The 1950s revival in 2006 was spearheaded by Miuccia Prada, and quickly revisited by designers such as Alexander McQueen, whose autumn/winter collection featured several big skirts.
Women who give it a whirl will realise why the full skirt is so popular, even with those who don’t do ballroom dancing. After all, the swishy skirt is far more romantic and feminine than anything we’ve seen in fashion for some time.
(First published January 2006)
Picture; 1950s Fashion Design Lace Gown.