The History and Evolution of Petticoats

Petticoats also referred to as full-length slips, are skirts worn under women’s apparel. They are usually made of cotton, silk, or tulle. These garments created the signature ‘floof’ of the skirts in the 1950s.

The Origin

The earlier reference of petticoats appeared in the 15th-century French literature as menswear. It was defined as a padded waistcoat or undercoat worn for warmth by men. Later during the end of the Middle Ages, petticoats started being developed as women’s apparel- a skirt worn under a gown.

By the 16th century, petticoats were a decorated wardrobe staple piece for women. Now visible from an inverted ‘V’ opening in the over-gown, these petticoats were brocaded or embroidered.

Full-length slips were worn extensively by Victorian women, and it formed an integral undergarment along with chemise, drawers, corsets.

During the 17th and 18th century petticoats were shown prominently by either looping up the skirt or opening of the dress. During this time, women often wore multiple petticoats to enhance the volume of the skirt. Ankle-length petticoats were usually made of wool or silk for warmth and worn under short gowns or jackets.

During the 19th century, these ankle-length petticoats remained a rural fashion garment and are a part of Welsh National Dress in the UK.

The Nineteenth Century

Like many fashion revolutions, petticoats also underwent a significant identity and design change during the nineteenth century. By this time, petticoats gained a structure and were used to give shape to a silhouette. It was also used to a modest appearance to a woman by hiding the profile of the legs.

During the slimmer cut fashion era of the 1920s and bias cut of the 1930s, petticoats were dissected into different kinds of underwear like French knickers and bias-cut slips.

Petticoats came back with Christian Dior in 1947 with his New Look full skirt collection. The 50s petticoats were net-like crinoline or made from nylon, chiffon taffeta.

The look Corolle Line that revived petticoats showed the 50s teenage culture. It showed young women incorporating petticoats with sugar-starched net and paper nylon. The particular look was associated with rock and roll vibes, and stiffening petticoats were a way to protect a woman’s modesty while twirling. Some of the 50s and 60s dresses had an attached petticoat with a smooth top panel and lots of extra flare at the bottom. This style of petticoats gives an illusion of a tiny waist.

Petticoats made a couple of comebacks during the 1970s and 1980s. With the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, and her memorable crinoline-skirted wedding gown by David and Elizabeth Emmanuel, contemporary petticoats came back in style. By the late 80s, women who wore full-skirt gowns, proms, and weddings started buying crinoline-inspired dresses.

Types of Petticoats Worn Throughout the History

As fashion evolved over time, multiple variations of petticoats were invented to serve many purposes. Here are the top four popular ones:

Spanish Farthingale or Verdugado (1460-1500)

These are the earliest version of petticoats, as we know. These featured hoops made of wood and attached to the gown of noblewomen. They created an exaggerated A-line silhouette which was favourable at that time. These influenced Tudor fashion and later were embellished with intricate fabric works.

French or Wheel Farthingale (1545-1620)

Primarily worn by the French court women, this type of petticoat had a round wheel shape used to sit on the waist. The dress/skirt was then draped over and fell downwards. These petticoats had a padded bum-roll encircling the waist and panels of stiff materials radiating outwards around the hip.

Crinoline (1800)

The most popular type of petticoats was made from “crin” or horsehair. Women often wore five to six layers of petticoats to be decently attired!

Horse-hair petticoats used to restrict the movement; therefore, it was replaced by metal hoops attached to cotton skirts which gave more freedom to women. You can find references to these petticoats in the classic film adaptation of Gone with The Wind.

Bustle or Tournure (1860-1900)

As fashion evolved to a narrower skirt, the bustle was invented. The bustle was introduced to keep heavy ornated skirts from falling flat in the back over the petticoats. Bustles were used to support the fabric with the help of a small hoop or a padded pillow of cloth attached to an underskirt.

Petticoats are an important garment of vintage fashion. Newer modern petticoats are lighter and easier to wear. Petticoats are still worn by women to recreate a particular look or for retro fashion. If you are looking for authentic retro looks, visit Banned Retro for amazing vintage fashion inspiration. You can find clothes, accessories, shoes- everything related to retro fashion!