Fashion has changed exponentially over the last two centuries. In the 1860s women wore thickly boned corsets, multiple petticoats, steel hoop skirts and dresses, always dresses. But between the 1860s and 1960s, women’s fashion shifted from grand hoop skirts to short miniskirts.
The changes in the silhouette of women’s clothing did not occur overnight. It was a gradual shift. First the understructure of the circular hoop skirt of the 1860s moved to the back, morphing into bustles of various shapes and sizes during the 1870s and 1880s. After that, women discarded the bustle completely and turned to slimmer skirts, while changing the shape of the bodice from one sporting large leg-of-mutton sleeves in the 1890s to a more modest “pigeon puff” in the early 20th century. These changes occurred alongside women’s changing social roles. As women began to leave the house for education and slowly entered the work force, they needed clothing that would allow them to flourish. Although a long skirt and corset may seem prohibitive now, in comparison to the large hoops and bustles of earlier decades, they were surprisingly liberating.
In the 1910s everything continued to slim down, and skirts began to rise, increasing women’s mobility. From the mid-1910s through the 1920s skirts grew progressively shorter and a boyish silhouette became all the rage. By the 1930s, however, femininity again made its mark with skirts dropping to the ground and clothing clinging to the natural female form, now fully unrestricted by corsets. With the start of World War II, skirts shortened once again; partially due to war rationing of fabric. As rationing ended with the war, the shorter skirts of the 1940s grew fuller and more varied in the 1950s. Skirts finally reached their shortest point during the 1960s and its craze for miniskirts and even micro-mini skirts. Most people who grew up in the era remember the finger-tip rule, meaning that when you held your hands by your sides, your skirt was supposed to come down to your finger tips…but many miniskirts did not. The 1970s saw the return of longer skirts, with midi-skirts and maxi-skirts, but the short skirt was here to stay, no longer a passing fad.
Women’s fashion continues to change, even faster than it did in the past. If you are interested in seeing how fashion shifted over the years and looking at some examples of real garments, visit the Connecticut Historical Society, located at One Elizabeth Street, Hartford, CT. For more information, go to www.chs.org. Or, join us on June 14th for a Behind the Scenes tour entitled Hoop Skirts to Mini Skirts. For more information on the tour, click here.