A Brief History of the Petticoat

Tania Marston

We all know what petticoats are and how they fit into our idea of modern/retro style, but do many of us really know the history behind the petticoat? When were they first worn and why did women want an article of clothing that made them appear larger than they really were? Wearing petticoats as an undergarment was first established around 1585. Women who wanted to achieve a fashionable shape with their clothing while accentuating their figures would wear petticoats under an overskirt. The idea was to complement the woman’s bust and make her waist appear smaller.

By the mid-17th century, women began to wear lacy petticoats under open fronted gowns showing them off. This helped increase the popularity of petticoats which led to innovations in petticoat design and construction. Woolen or silk petticoats were quilted for added warmth and worn with matching short gowns and were often supported by whalebone frames.

In the early nineteenth century, petticoat style began to slow down as women pushed for a more narrow, simple style in their clothing. This reprieve didn’t last long as the Waltz became a popular dance in the 1820s, which led to the revival of petticoats worn under full-skirted gowns throughout Europe. Women were wearing drawers, corsets, corset covers, hoops and petticoats and the extra weight and warmth of these garments would often lead to women fainting.

This, along with a return to more narrow skirts and the Gibson Girl look, saw the use of petticoats become less and less fashionable throughout the end of the 19th and the early to mid-20th centuries. That is, until the 1950’s when designer Christian Dior brought them back in a new way.

These new petticoats were much lighter, easier to wear and tended to be knee length in design. They were also made of tiered, ruffled or stiffened material such as nylon, chiffon taffeta or organdie. They were also more comfortable with designers including a narrow slip underneath to protect the wearer’s legs from the “scratchy” material.

Petticoats are still worn today by women wanting to recreate that retro look in weddings, celebrations and other events where an authentic retro look is needed. For the best in petticoats for your next event, contact Doris Designs Ltd today.

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