In the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of women donned circle dresses with full skirts or circle skirts. These skirts were made from a single, circular piece of material, such as silk, muslin or cotton, with a hole carved out of the centre for the waist. Cheap circle skirts were made of two pieces of material with seams. While adult women preferred plain circle skirts for daily wear, teenagers decorated their full skirts with elaborate appliqués, embroidery and sequins.
The first circle skirts were seen in the 1890s, according to the Vintage Connection. These full-skirted Victorian dresses had trains that reached the floor and were covered with ruffles. In the late 1940s, circle skirts began to pop up in fashion magazines, such as Harper's Bazaar. The re-emergence of the full skirt coincided with the advent of rock 'n' roll. Swing dances, such as the Jitterbug and lindy hop, required billowing skirts for maximum freedom and effect. Circle skirts would snap and float in air, and expose flashy undergarments.
In the aftermath of World War II, Christian Dior wanted to change the spartan attire of the rationing years. He sought inspiration from the frocks his mother had worn 50 years earlier. Dior came up with full skirts buttressed by crinoline petticoats. Waists were squeezed by girdles. Actress-turned-designer Juli Lynn Charlot created a circle skirt with appliquéd Christmas trees that proved a fashion hit, according to the Vintage Fashion Guild. Banking on that success, Charlot designed circle skirts with other motifs. Her designs were seen in stores such as Lord & Taylor.
Made of wool felt, the poodle skirt was a type of circle skirt that was decorated with appliqués of poodles. These skirts were particularly popular among teenagers. Girls wore net petticoats and bouffant paper nylon beneath the skirts to make them lively and bouncy, according to the Vintage Connection. They adorned their skirts with various types of appliqués, ranging from shellfish to artists palettes. A new innovation on circle skirts were pleated skirts made of polyester. Girls would complement the skirts with cardigans and scoop neck blouses or snug polo necks.
Manufacturers and Sewing Pattern Companies
Kinneloa and Junior Milwaukee were a few of the manufacturers that sold poodle skirts to teenagers. Mail-order houses, such as the one Gene Burton operated, catered to the teen market and advertised off-the-rack poodle skirts in teen magazines. The sewing pattern companies, such as Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick and McCall's, put forth a variety of patterns for circle skirts, even though women did not need them to make a simple full skirt. Make-at-home kits for circle skirts were also sold in dime stores.