The skirt may be a mainstay in the closet of any fashion girl, but the essential wardrobe piece has one of the longest histories in the category of clothing. After the loincloth, the skirt is the second-oldest garment known to mankind. In ancient times, both men and women wore what we recognize today as a skirt, but over the years, it became predominantly a women's garment in Western cultures. While its endless iterations can be traced back to the first days that humans decided to dress by tying cloths around themselves, the past hundred or so years are rife with dramatic changes to the skirt from decade to decade.
The history of the skirt can be measured in transforming silhouettes, vacillating hemlines, and a musical chairs game of materials. While sartorial sensibilities and trends are constantly shifting, today we have a gamut of skirt styles to choose from, each design pulled from the archives to serve present-day appreciation for the classic, vintage, and downright retro pieces from our past. In our abridged history of the skirt, we trace back every decade from the last century to see how the wardrobe staple has taken on new shapes to reflect the changing times and cultural sentiments.
Head below for an abridged history of the skirt over the last century, from crinoline to denim minis.
The early 1900s, much like the decades before it, saw modest hemlines that hit the floor. As opposed to donning full-length dresses that dominated the Victorian era, it became popular in the Edwardian era to wear skirts and blouses as separates.
The 1910s bid adieu to some of the more somber styles before it, maintaining a floor-length hemline (that toward the latter half of the decade would be on the rise) but adopting softer, more fluid silhouettes.
Hemlines began to rise during the Roaring Twenties with the emergence of the flapper, redefining the modern look for women of the Western world.
With the Great Depression came a return to more modest fashion sensibilities. Mid-calf to floor-lenth hemlines were revisited, as were less expensive fabrics during the difficult economic time.
Utility fashion was the look du jour in the 1940s, with skirts adopting a straighter suiting or slightly A-line silhouette and hitting right at the knee.
After World War II, fashion returned to its more indulgent roots with Dior's "New Look" that made a statement (and certainly did not ration fabric). By the 1950s, billowy skirts with closely defined waistlines were en vogue.
The 1960s witnessed a dramatic shift in hemlines, with mod miniskirts and minidresses coming into style.
The hippies of the 1970s popularized folk and bohemian styles, which called for peasant skirts with longer hemlines.
The 1980s turned fashion on its head with bold new silhouettes, flashy materials, and an outrageous decadence unlike anything that preceded it. Ruffles, tulle, and bright colors were in favor, especially on skirts and dresses.
Super-short hemlines were certainly favored in the 1990s, whether they were pleated plaid like the one Britney Spears wore in her "...Baby One More Time" video, tight cotton spandex blends immortalized on Saved By the Bell, paired with suspenders or bicycle shorts in tune with the grunge movement, or streamlined miniskirt-suits à la Ally McBeal. Thanks to Cher Horowitz of Clueless, the yellow plaid schoolgirl skirt has become something of a signifier of '90s sartorial sensibilities and an enduring pop culture icon of the era.