The 1950s Circle Skirt

I have some events to attend in the next little while, and two of them have put me to thinking about the 1950s full skirt.  A nephew is getting married, and the instructions for attire say that cocktail dresses are appropriate for the occasion.  Naturally, I could not help but think of the above cocktail themed skirt from Juli Lynne Charlot.  Somehow, I don’t think that is quite what they had in mind.

The other occasion is a bit easier.  It’s a 1950s themed whodunit dinner party where the instructions for attire say “Poodle skirt optional.”  I don’t have a poodle skirt, and I think it is such a shame that people think “1950s skirt” and automatically an image of a skirt with an appliqued poodle pops into the brain.  Yes, there were poodle skirts in the 1950s, but the range of novelty skirts available was so much more interesting than one doggie motif.

The decorated circle skirt actually got its start in the late 1940s, with an actress-turned-designer named Juli Lynne Charlot.   After WWII ended, skirts began to get fuller and longer.   The dirndl, a lightly gathered style popular throughout the war gave way to  skirts that were fully gathered or pleated.   In 1947, Charlot designed some skirts for the Christmas holidays, made of a complete circle and decorated with felt appliques.   A local store bought them, and they quickly sold out.

For her next project, it was suggested that Charlot do a line featuring dogs.  The first design was of three dachshunds, but among the dog skirts she designed was the poodle, and the rest is fashion history.  The skirt was a huge hit, and soon it was being widely copied.

Because the skirt was so easy to make, many were made by home sewers.  The major pattern companies had a wide variety of designs, including the poodle, 45 rpm records, and decks of cards.

The decorated circle skirt really caught on with the teenage set, and was pretty much a young and casual fashion.  You are much more likely to see one featured in a 1950s Seventeen than in a Vogue of the same era.  Many of them have decorations that reflect teen interests of the times, such as Rock & Roll themes.  But not all of these great skirts were for kids, as they did sometimes feature mature motifs such as alcohol and cigarettes.

There were also novelty printed skirts that were similar in feel to the appliqued skirts, but they were lighter and more suited to warm weather.  Border prints of exotic locales, circus themes, dog and kitten prints and Western scenes were among the many fabrics available to make full skirts.

There was even special fabric with the skirt pieces printed on, and all the sewer had to do was cut the pieces out and sew them together – no pattern required.  To see my collection of special printed travel themed skirts, visit a page on my site, Novelty Print Skirts.  You might even suggest one that you think I ought to wear to the 50s dinner!

Some of the most spectacular circle skirts of the 1950s came from Mexico.  These were made primarily for the tourist trade, but they were also imported into the United states and sold through catalogs and mail order.  Many were hand painted or block printed, and then they were lavishly decorated with sequins.  Most had scenes of sterotypical Mexican life, but others had large colorful flowers, or scenes of the desert.



Filed under Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

34 responses to “The 1950s Circle Skirt



    • Me too! Lizzie those are lovely! I had a poodle skirt party for my daughter and hers had a kitty on it. Another friend did the Christmas tree skirt. But those print ones are amazing! I would buy those in a heartbeat!


  2. Okay, I am seriously DYING here! These are all so amazing! I’m a lover of circle skirts and novelty print, and I love it when the two are combined. I really understand what you’re saying about the cliche image of the 50s and poodle skirts, it gets old fast. The second from the bottom, is that a French scene? And does that man have a knife?


  3. They’re all fab, but I like the large floral best. Later this week I’m dressing my Cinco de Mayo window, it will include a tourist skirt set like what you mentioned……black velvet hand-painted circle skirt, with matching top. Mariachi Band theme on the skirt and Cock-Fight on the top! A woman walked into my store one day several months ago with it to sell—and I’ve been waiting all this time to put it on my mannequin. Will tweet you a pic.


  4. Jacqueline

    All these are great! We have one in the collection that a NDSU student made for a class project. She sewed and silk screened its design.


  5. Holly

    Fabulous!!! Love these, wish I had them to wear!!!


  6. I cant wait to see your skirt! I’m, planning on making one soon too!


  7. Thanks so much for sharing the history of the circle skirt. I really LOVE the blue one with Parisian scene that you’ve shown here. 🙂


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  9. Really intersting post. I just love the pink elephants!


  10. Lizzie, that is so interesting that skirts were decorated with alcohol & cigarette appliques! I’m appalled AND astounded! Could you imagine that being sold in stores today? Perhaps at a casino, LOL! Also I must ask my Grandmother (she is 88) if she ever purchased a circle skirt from Mexico over the course of her travels. She was a frequent cruise-taker. Thank you so much for this education!


  11. I consider myself fortunate that I’ll be wearing a bridesmaid’s dress at said occasion and don’t have to stress myself out finding an appropriate dress!

    I think it’d be hilarious if you showed up in that first skirt, though. 🙂


  12. The pink elephants are so cute!!


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  14. Mel

    I’m just catching up on my blog reading – I read your post, and then in another blog devoted to thrift-store shopping in my hometown, Melbourne, I saw someone had bought a sequined Mayan/Inca print skirt. Instantly I wondered if it was one of those Mexican souvenir skirts you mention – if so it’s a terrific example, and for just $3!


  15. ourdailydress

    I love a good circle skirt. I have one with scottie dogs on it and it was one of my best ever purchases. Thanks for this post- now I finally know where they originate from!


  16. Pingback: Interview with Juli Lynne Charlot | The Vintage Traveler

  17. I can tell from my stats that someone has linked to this page on Facebook, but I can’t tell whose page it is on. So someone please post and enlighten me!!


  18. Lizzie, I posted a link to your wonderful blog on my Facebook page bitter root vintage:! I’ve only recently discovered your blog & I just adore it – can’t wait to read more!

    Thanks so much & keep up the fine work!




    • Carole, Thanks so much! I could tell that there were a lot of hits to that page from facebook, I just couldn’t tell which fb page had posted the link. And thanks so much for the very kind words. Lizzie


  19. Sources:
    Reilly, Maureen
    California Casual. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001.

    Interview with Juli Lynne Charlot, March, 2010


  20. Rosie

    Hey there, I came across this page quite by accident, looking up vintage criniolines. I was wondering if any of you could help me as I am struggling to find out what a “real” vintage crinoline should look like. There are so many fakes out there I just can’t tell. Surely all the girls didn’t wear big fluffy “softies” under their dresses back in the day? Thanks so much and keep up the great work! Rose in Sydney


  21. Susan Grote

    I love the pink-elephant skirt! This blog is a real memory-jogger! I’m delighted that the link to the Eidelweiss site included the information that we used to “re-stiffen” our 50s crinolines by soaking them in a bathtub with unflavored gelatin! I’ve actually done that. Once. Magazines also gave helpful tips about storing our ‘crinolines’ when packing a suitcase or otherwise trying to make room for them: the advice was to cut the foot off an old nylon stocking, reach through, and pull the crinoline up into the stocking, waist first. This resulted in a sort of crinoline sausage — which did not improve its stiffness, but, as mentioned on the site, we wore more than one at a time. My cousin even wore a crinoline over a 50s hoopskirt — and when we sat in the pew at church on Sunday, the hoop flipped up right over her head! Luckily she used both arms to restrain it while everyone was still looking toward the altar. We were in our early teens. Very embarrassing. Prudent girls, or ones who hated the scratchy feeling, wore a straight slip under the crinoline or hoop.
    I can’t help mentioning that home-made circle skirts were often made entirely out of felt, because it didn’t need to be hemmed, just trimmed with scissors. Doing over 200 inches of rolled hem on mostly bias fabric was no fun for a novice stitcher.


    • Rosie

      Oh I am so enjoying this thread!
      Thanks for the advice on crinolines… I do have a “softie” as we’ll as a couple of reproduction crinolines – if anyone could post a picture of some real crinolines it would help. Also, wearing two crinolines?? For fullness?
      Thanks for your patience, I can’t wait to read more.
      Kind regards
      Rose in Sydney 🙂


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