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What Is a Circle Skirt?

By Robyn Clark
Updated May 21, 2024
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Circle skirts reached their height of popularity in the 1950s, and their classic flaring silhouette is an iconic image of fashion from that era. The skirt is named for its construction from a circular piece of fabric, with a cutout in the center for the waist. Classic photographs from the 1950s feature women sitting, viewed from above, with the full circle of their skirt spread out around them to showcase the design. Poodle skirts are one of the best known styles of the skirt, made from wool felt and decorated with appliqués, embroidery, and other embellishments. These skirts have remained popular both as vintage fashion apparel and as the inspiration for new fashion trends.

If the design of the skirt is an example of form following function, then the function of this skirt is dancing. The rise in popularity of the circle skirt coincided with the rise in popularity of rock and roll music. The skirts were particularly popular among teenagers, and the uniform of a typical teenage girl attending a sock hop dance in the 1950s was a sweater, a poodle skirt, bobby socks, and saddle shoes. Dances of that era were energetic, and the fullness of the skirt would be shown to its best advantage, twirling around the dancer as she moved. Teenagers typically wore petticoats under their skirts to show off the highly decorative designs.

Vintage designs often reflect the trends of an era. The fashion of the early 1950s was a reflection of the end of the restrictions on fabric imposed during World War II, and the skirts were fuller and had a lower hemline than the pencil skirts popular in the 1940s. There was also an increase in travel to exotic places, and Mexico became a popular tourist destination for travelers from the United States. Vintage Mexican circle skirts from the 1950s and 1960s later became very collectible fashion items.

The appeal of the circle skirt was not limited to the teenage set. These skirts have a broad appeal for women of all ages, as they are flattering to most figures and showcase a woman’s legs. Audrey Hepburn wore a simple circle skirt, without petticoats, in the movie Roman Holiday. These skirts have continued to appear periodically in popular trends, and designs have been made popular by designers such as Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, and Alexander McQueen.

In addition to the felt typically used for poodle skirts, cotton, silk, muslin, and organdy are common fabric choices for constructing a circle skirt. Cotton and felt are particularly easy to work with, while more expensive fabrics are popular for formal designs because they flow and move beautifully. There are many patterns and tutorials available for making a circle skirt, in books and online. A true circle skirt can be made from a single piece of fabric without any seams. Variations on the basic design include the 1/2 and 3/4 circle skirts.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Oct 05, 2014

Poodle skirts were sort of a regional fad. They were more popular in the Northeast. Here in the Southeast, circle skirts were usually reserved for dances and other such occasions when petticoats were necessary to make them stand out.

For more casual wear, Southern girls wore straight or A-line skirts with their sweaters and loafers. It was kind of like doo-wop music. Kids down here listened to country and rockabilly. Doo-wop was much more popular in the Northeast.

Poodle skirts in particular and circle skirts in general are iconic of 50s fashion, but it depended on where you were in the USA as to what the teen girls wore.

By Pippinwhite — On Oct 04, 2014

Circle skirts can be made from a single piece of material, but that's not easy to do, unless you have a pattern that allows you to fold the material in half, put the fold on he pattern line, and essentially, cut half a pattern, then when you unfold the skirt, it's a circle, with the hole already cut in the top.

If you can find a pattern like that, look for one that allows for elastic in the waist, since putting in a zipper is a pain in the neck. Hemming a circle skirt isn't easy, either. An A-line skirt is much easier to hem.

Circle skirts look great, but they aren't as easy to make as they look.

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