As we begin to emerge from beneath the long dark nights of winter, our thoughts slowly turn to spring. As the saying goes, a change is as good as a rest, and that is what makes the transitioning seasons so appealing to me. Just as nature begins to renew and refresh itself, so may our wardrobe choices, starting with a few vintage skirts.
As the weather begins to warm, it feels refreshingly appropriate to peel-back the layers of clothing protecting us from the cooler temperatures, and opt for a skirt (if only to make ones mood feel more spring like, if the weather seems to lagging in its actions). There are a number of popular styles out this springtime that combine the whimsy and romance of the season with timeless styling of vintage eras gone by. Here I will talk you through a few different styles, and more importantly where to find them.
Florals and Butterflies Vintage Skirts
I think perhaps this is the most feminine and ‘spring like’ of all the season’s styles, so of course it is appropriate to talk about this style first of all. Florals have been a popular fashion choice of print and embellishment for centurie — from the lavish brocades and silks of the 18th century, to the delicate floral sprigs of the Regency period, flowers have been worn and adored by us for many years.
In the 1940s, floral prints were a popular choice for women’s dresses of jerseys and rayons, and this popularity continued into the next decade. In the 1950s, flowers were enlarged to great scales, blooming across full skirts and gowns. Another trend I have highlighted here is one of nature’s close cousins to flora – the butterfly. Inherently feminine, butterflies have inspired many a couturier over the years.
Perhaps the most popular image during this era is the 1942 Louise Dahl-Wolfe photograph in Harpers Bazaar; depicting a model languishing on a set of stairs wearing a beautifully full skirt ornamented with butterflies. This season, Modcloth is offering an array of skirts in both floral and butterfly prints to tempt us out of our winter cocoons. Miss Selfridge and the House of Foxy are also offering feminine styles, perfect for welcoming in the warmer weather.
Vintage Swing Skirts – Solid Colors
As the quality of light shifts and alters during the changing seasons, this in turn alters our chosen color choices. With the bright, joyful sunshine, we may find ourselves leaning towards a bolder color palette. Any of these skirts by Modcloth would look great either with a plain top, or equally combined with patterns. The versatility of a bold, plain color is practically endless. Accessories could be selected to match or contrast with the color of choice, to put those all important final finishing touches to the ensemble.
Stripes and Plaid Vintage Skirts
This is another popular fabric weave and print across the centuries. Stripes can be particularly versatile, as the fabric can be cleverly cut to either enhance the impact of the stripes (on the bias, cut diagonally), to add height and length, or width in the case of using a bold stripe at the hem. Some color combinations – particularly red and white, or navy and white — can recall a nautical style made so popular by Chanel in the early 20th century.
The diagonal positioning of the stripes on the central skirt by Modcloth has hints of the 1930s, whilst the colors and button-through placket evoke the playfulness of 1940s leisurewear. The bold stripes and fullness of the bottom right eShakti skirt perfectly suit a late 1940s look, or a feminine 1950s style. Larger checks, ginghams, and plaids bring to mind the larkish styles favored by the 1940s junior or youth, popular in pinafore skirts at this time. Pair with a plain blouse for warm sunny days, or a fitted sweater/cardigan for those cooler spring days.
Polka Dot Vintage Skirts
The popularity of the polka dot in the 20th century could be held accountable to a mouse – namely Disney’s Minnie Mouse. During the late 1920s in her early appearances, she wears a pale blue polka dot skirt (which later gets changed to red). Prior to this, polka dots were indeed worn by women, but were mostly reserved for children. Small polka dots were popular in the 1930s and 1940s, gradually increasing in size in the 1950s.
Indeed, I think the typical image one thinks of when recollecting polka dots is a knee-length, full skirt, fitted to the waist 1950s style. Polka dots are both feminine and playful. They can be subtle – small dots scattered evenly across the fabric — or in a similar hue to the background. Alternatively, they can be loud! Big, bold polka dots in a contrasting shade to the background that will certainly stand out. These skirts from Modcloth offer both a subtle polka dot, or a loud one, depending on which you prefer. The pastel green is a nice base to a subtle white dot if you are new to wearing patterns.
Novelty Print Vintage Skirts
Two words, once put together, cannot fail to bring a quiver of excitement to most vintage enthusiasts: Novelty print. The 1940s and 1950s saw many fabulous print designs across textiles and clothing. During the Second World War, British print designers such as Jacqmar were producing propaganda print scarves, with motifs and designs featuring slogans and Navy and Air Force motifs.
In America during this time, the humble cotton feedsack was transformed into wearable items of clothing by those handy with a needle and thread. These feedsacks began to feature highly desirable designs, some companies released collectible sets, making them even more covetable. The home seamstress may use a novelty print cotton to make bias bindings – one of my original 1940s patterns even mentions ‘bind edge of material with novelty bias’.
The joy of novelty print continues into the next decade, with the 1950s seeing joyful, carefree prints made to bring a smile to the wearer’s face. These skirts by Unique Vintage show a cheery concoction of flamingos, poodles, peacocks, and pin up girls – a fine mixture of novelty!