A petticoat or underskirt is an article of clothing for women; specifically an undergarment to be worn under a skirt or a dress. The petticoat is a separate garment hanging from the waist (unlike the chemise).
The practice of wearing petticoats as undergarments was well established by 1585. Petticoats were worn throughout history by women who wanted to have the currently fashionable shape created by their clothing. The petticoat(s), if sufficiently full or stiff, would hold the overskirt out in a pleasingly domed shape and give the impression of a smaller waist than the wearer actually had. It would also complement the desired large bust.
Elaborately decorated petticoats were worn under open-fronted gowns and looped overskirts 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, which could be fashioned like a man's jacket with military details and trimmings. These ankle-length petticoats remained a rural fashion, especially in the UK, into the nineteenth century and are a part of Welsh national dress.
Elaborate, lacy petticoats were worn with elegant silk dresses in the eighteenth century in much of Europe and America, sometimes supported by whalebone frames. The Laurel and Hardy film adaptation of Auber's comic opera Fra Diavolo offers a glimpse of the intricate petticoats, corsets, and other underwear worn in the eighteenth century, especially in a scene where actress Thelma Todd prepares for bed, assisted by a maid. Colored pictures, called "fashion plates", were used to advertise the popular dresses and lingerie of the eighteenth century, a practice that continued through the nineteenth century until the introduction of photography around 1840.
In the early nineteenth century, dresses became narrower and simpler with much less lingerie. Then, as the waltz became popular in the 1820s, full-skirted gowns with petticoats were revived in Europe and the United States. By the mid nineteenth century, petticoats were worn over hoops, which were placed over other underwear, including a corset cover, a corset, and drawers. The popular novel Gone with the Wind provides considerable, detailed descriptions of these fashions. One scene in the 1939 film adaptation with actress Vivien Leigh gives a good idea of the layers of petticoats and underwear that were worn in the 1860s.
The sheer weight of the clothing, along with the tightness of the corsets, sometimes caused women to faint. The voluminous, layered Victorian petticoats were fashionable in the eras when "full-bodied" was associated with health, wealth, and belonging to a higher class in the social structure, while "skinny" was associated with sickness, poverty, and belonging to a lower class.
The use of multiple petticoats continued to be popular until the 1870s, when the bustle was introduced, resulting in a return of narrower skirts. Some full-skirted gowns with petticoats were revived in the 1890s into the early twentieth century, but most women continued to wear relatively narrow skirts. The "Gibson Girl" look with white blouses and long, narrow skirts was very popular during the late nineteenth and early 20th-century.
For the first two decades of the twentieth century, multiple petticoats fell out of fashion; narrow, sometimes tight, skirts became more common. Then, in the late 1920s, chiffon dresses with several sheer petticoats became fashionable. With the Great Depression in the 1930s, narrow skirts returned and petticoats again were unpopular until the end of the decade when revived for some evening, prom, and wedding gowns. World War II, with its rationing and general shortage of materials, brought an end to petticoats.
Petticoats were revived by Christian Dior in his full-skirted New Look of 1947 and tiered, ruffled, stiffened petticoats remained extremely popular during the 1950s, especially with teenage girls. Most of the petticoats were netlike crinoline, sometimes made of horsehair. Increasingly, nylon chiffon, taffeta, and organdy were used in petticoats. Many department stores carried an extensive variety of styles and colors of petticoats until the early 1960s. They were also available through the famous Sears and J.C. Penney catalogues. Typically, at least three single petticoats were worn, until manufacturers began making double and triple layer petticoats. A narrow slip was usually worn under the petticoats, especially the crinoline type, because they tended to be "scratchy".
Edith Head designed a number of gowns and dresses, supported by multiple layers of petticoats, for actresses such as Grace Kelly and Doris Day, who appeared in Alfred Hitchcock films in the 1950s. Dinah Shore frequently wore dresses with petticoats on her NBC television shows Actress Connie Stevens, who appeared in television series and movies, said she wore petticoats as long as possible because she had wide hips. Other entertainers who often wore petticoats were Brenda Lee, Connie Francis, and Patti Page.
By the middle of the 20th century, the full petticoat was somewhat rare, having been commonly replaced by simple, ungathered underskirts/waist slips (UK) or half slips (US). However, petticoats were still worn for proms and weddings.
Ruffled white or unbleached cotton petticoats were a brief fashion under Prairie skirts in the 1970s, and remain a component of Western wear. Short, full petticoats in the 1950s style are also commonly worn by squaredancers.
There was a major attempt to revive separate petticoats 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.
Lately the full, tiered petticoat has made a small comeback in the alternative subcultures, especially the gothic and Lolita subculture. They have also been popular with some cross-dressers. Various petticoats have also been used in films and musicals dealing with the 1950s, such as Grease, West Side Story, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Back to the Future, as well as occasional vintage rock music festivals, especially in Germany. Although the traditional purpose for the petticoat is no longer in fashion, the general design has stayed the same with minor alterations including ripping and/or the usage of bright or generally non-traditional colors.
Petticoats are also making a comeback due to recent trends towards lavish weddings and grandiose bridal attire. Petticoats are commonly worn under bridal gowns with full skirts as a means of maintaining the gown's intended silhouette.
Also, people who dress in period costumes have begun wearing petticoats for a more authentic look. A number of websites offer a great variety of petticoats for sale, while other websites show historic and modern photographs of petticoats, often worn by models.
The everyday use of petticoats in the 1950s and early 1960s appears to have passed. Most women today dress more simply and practically. Even dresses and skirts are not as popular as they once were, with many women regularly wearing jeans and shirts or pantsuits. However, there are women who still like the look of a dress or skirt with petticoats, as well as the use of corsets, girdles, or garter belts with nylon stockings instead of pantyhose. Comedian Amy Sedaris has appeared on television wearing a 1950s gown with multiple petticoats. Skirts are often lined now which is the equivalent of a sewn in Petticoat. Hence the demand of them as a separate item has dimished. In the 1970's in the height of the miniskirt era Petticoats were still worn and were very tiny.
A petticoat is the main undergarment worn with a sari. Sari petticoats usually match the color of the sari and are made of satin or cotton., A notable difference between the western petticoat and sari petticoat is that the sari petticoat is rarely shorter than ankle length.
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A petticoat is a woman's undergarment, shaped like a skirt or skirt+bodice. Think of it as a skirt underneath a regular skirt. The purpose is possibly insulation, and certainly to make the skirt fly out in an attractive way. Petticoats which are starched, with ruffles, or made with stiff fabric, serve to support a wider skirt. The ultimate in this trend is the crinoline, which is a petticoat structure which includes hoops of whalebone. Crinolines are not worn today, but petticoats sometimes are with ballgowns.
For most of the first half of the 20th century, with a few exceptions, petticoats were out of fashion. Certainly multiple petticoats were not needed for the narrow skirts and dresses which were fashionable. Some evening gowns needed petticoats, but they were finished off by WWII wartime rationing and shortages.
Petticoats were revived by Christian Dior in his full-skirted New Look of 1947. Tiered, ruffled, stiffened petticoats remained extremely popular during the 1950s, especially with teenage girls. Typically, at least three single petticoats were worn, until manufacturers began making double and triple layer petticoats. A narrow slip was usually worn under the petticoats, especially the crinoline type, because they tended to be 'scratchy'.
Dior continued this theme with his A-Line collection of Spring 1955, which featured the "most wanted silhouette in Paris". This was a "fingertip-length flared jacket worn over a dress with a very full, pleated skirt". Evening dresses at this time were always worn with petticoats.
Although an A-shape, this silhouette was not identical to what is now understood to embody the A-line idea. That idea was given its definitive expression and popularized by Dior’s successor, Yves Saint Laurent, with his Trapeze Line of Spring 1958, which featured dresses flaring out dramatically from a fitted shoulder line. A-line clothes remained popular in the 1960s and 70s.