The History of Skirts

When it comes to fashion, skirts are among the most popular pieces of clothing for women. It is the lower part of a dress or another garment that is worn from the waist downwards. A skirt, at its simplest, can be a draped piece of clothing that is made out of a single piece of fabric. But most skirts today are fitted to the body at the waist or hips and fuller below. Its fullness is introduced by means of darts, pleats, or panels. 

Most modern skirts today are made of light to mid-weight fabrics like poplin, denim, and jersey. Also, in the present time, skirts are typically worn by women. But there are also other cultures in which men wear skirts. In fact, it is a traditional men’s garment in Ireland, Scotland, and sometimes England. 

If you are a fan of wearing skirts, have you ever wondered where it came from and how it started? If you’d like to learn about it, read on as we’re giving you the history of skirts.

History

man wearing a skirt called kilt

Since prehistoric times, skirts have been worn as the simplest way to cover the lower body. Figurines from the Vinca culture, which was from c.5700-4500 BC, located on the territory of present-day Serbia and neighboring Balkan nations from the start of the copper age, depict women in skirt-like clothing. 

In Armenia, a straw-woven skirt that dates back to 3.900 BC was found at the Areni-1 cave complex. In all ancient cultures in the Near East and Egypt, skirts were the standard attire for men and women. In Mesopotamia, the Sumerians wore kaunakes, which is a kind of skirt that is tied to a belt. Kaunakes used to refer to a sheep’s fleece. It also served as a symbol in religious iconography, like the fleecy cloak of St. John the Baptist.

Most of the garments in Ancient Egypt were made mainly of linen. Skirts for the upper classes were woven beautifully and were intricately pleated. During the Old Kingdom of Egypt, around 2,130 BC, men wore wraparound skirts or kilts, which were called the shendyt. They were made using a rectangular piece of cloth wrapped around the lower body and tied in front. 

Longer skirts that reach from the waist to ankles became fashionable in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. Kilts with a pleated triangular section became fashionable for men during the New Kingdom of Egypt. Under these skirts, a shente or triangular loincloth whose ends were fixed firmly using cord ties were worn. 

In the Bronze Age, wraparound dress-like pieces of clothing were worn in the Southern parts of Western and Central Europe. But in Northern Europe, people wore skirts and blouses. Men and women preferred dress-like garments in the Middle Ages. Men’s dresses were much shorter on the lower part compared to those for women. They were also wide cut and usually pleated or gored to make horse riding more comfortable. In fact, even a knight’s armor included a short metal skirt below the breastplate.

In the 13th to 15th century, technological advances in weaving, such as foot-treadle floor looms and scissors that have pivoted blades and handles helped improve tailoring tights and trousers. They started to become fashionable for men and henceforward became standard male attire while becoming taboo for women. But skirts are still worn by men from many cultures, like the sarong, kanga, lehnga, and lungi in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and as well as the kilt worn in Ireland and Scotland. 

One of the earliest cultures to have females wear clothing that resembles skirts were the Duan Qun Miao. Their skirts are in reference to miniskirts that barely cover the buttocks, which were worn by women of the tribe. These were probably shocking for observers in medieval and early modern times. 

Skirts in the 19th Century

illustration of men wearing skirts

The cut of women’s dresses during the 19th century in western culture varied more widely compared to other centuries. During these times, waistlines began just below the bust and slowly sank to the natural waist. Skirts also started fairly narrow and dramatically increased to the hoopskirt and crinoline-supported styles of the 1860s. 

The rainy-day skirt was introduced in the 1890s, which was used for walking or as sportswear. It had a suggestively shorter hemline that measures as much as six inches off the ground. It would eventually influence the wider introduction of shorter hemlines in the early 20th century. 

In the United States and the United Kingdom in the 19th century, there was a movement against skirts as part of the Victorian dress reform movement, and in the US, the National Dress Reform Association. 

Skirts in the 20th and 21st Centuries

woman wearing black skirt

Ankle-length skirts were no longer worn in the daytime after 1915. For the next 50years, fashionable skirts became short, which were in the 1920s, long in the 1930s, then shorter and long, and the shortest of all were from 1967 to 1970, when skirts were as short as possible while avoiding exposure of underwear which was considered taboo. 

With the rise of pants or trousers for women as an option for all but the most formal of occasions since the 1970s, no one skirt length has dominated fashion for long, with short ankle-length styles usually appearing side by side in fashion magazines and catalogs. 

The skirt is also a part of the uniform for girls and women in many schools around the world. Their lengths differ depending on the local culture. Since the early 20th century in the United Kingdom, the pleated tartan skirt has been a part of girls’ school uniforms. 

In the 21st century, the skirt has also become part of the Western dress code for women and is usually worn as business casual and office wear. But it can also be worn as sportswear like in tennis. Skirts may also be mandatory as formal wear, such as those for nurses, waitresses, air hostesses, and military women.

Conclusion

It is indeed amazing to learn that skirts have been around for thousands of years and that they were originally worn by men. In the present time, there are countless styles of skirts that you can find in stores and as well as online. They are made using different materials, too, and are mostly worn by women. We hope this helped you further understand the history of skirts. For other fashion facts, you can check out our list of Random Facts About Fashion.