To Petticoat Or Not To Petticoat? That Is The Question...
When I was a little girl in the 1960s 70s, my mum used to say forgetting to wear a petticoat slip was like forgetting to put pants on! I can remember everyone used to go to Marks & Spencer or BHS and buy a full length or waist slip to suit whatever the fashionable hem line was at the time. I think the fear was that ones skirt fabric might be a bit see through or clingy without one. Nowadays skirts and dresses tend to be lined or lets face it we really just don’t care.
Petticoats have been worn throughout history by women who have wanted to achieve the currently fashionable shape created by their clothing. The practice of wearing petticoats as undergarments was established around 1585. Elaborately decorated petticoats were worn under open-fronted gowns and looped over skirts from the mid-sixteenth century. Eighteenth century petticoats of wool or silk were often quilted for additional warmth and were worn with matching short gowns or jackets. These ankle-length petticoats remained a rural fashion, especially in the UK, into the nineteenth century and are a part of Welsh National Dress.
Petticoats were revived by Christian Dior in 1947 with his full skirted New Look collection. They continued to be popular throughout the 1950s and early 60s. Most of the petticoats were net like crinoline or made from nylon chiffon, taffeta, and organdy. Some of our older customers enjoy reminiscing about the methods they used to improve the ‘crispness’ and holding power of their petticoats. Horse hair, sugar or spray starch have been mentioned. One lady told me she always used a bath of sugary water to douche her paper and lace petticoat. One day she came home to find her younger brother had found it and sucked it limp again! Her petticoat may not have looked it’s best that night but it can’t have done the little boys teeth much good either!
A lot of the 50s 60s dresses we get have attached petticoats but we do stock reproduction ones all the time in two different style and both available in white, red and black. They have a smooth top panel so they look nice and flat over the tummy. Personally I like to wear my 50s dresses without them but a lot of our customers like the fuller look, plus I guess they add extra swish if they are worn for dancing.
There have been a couple of attempted comebacks of the petticoat as a fashion garment since the fifties. There were white cotton ruffled hem ones worn under Laura Ashley type in the 1970s, often trimmed with broderie-anglais lace, this style is now often associated with Western clothing. There was also a major attempt to revive a similar look in 1987 however, by that time, most women who wanted very full skirts for proms, parties, or weddings bought dresses or skirts with attached crinoline petticoats.