The Fascinating True Story Behind 1950s Poodle Skirts Few People Have Ever Heard

by Laura Caseley
Laura is a writer, illustrator, and artist living in New York City.

The 1950s brought us a lot of things that we still love today. There’s classic cars, UFO-inspired architecture and furniture (fun fact: that style is called “Googie” design — really), and plenty of great music.

And if you were a girl during those times, you might remember the full, swinging skirts with cute appliqués, popularly known as poodle skirts.

The cinched waist and full skirt was the silhouette of the era, and the skirts and dresses came in all kinds of styles and patterns. The poodle skirt became iconic, so much so that it’s become the standard image when we imagine a quintessential ’50s gal.

These circle skirts were decorated cloth cutouts that were sewn or ironed on.

They could be simple silhouettes or complex designs, and sometimes even letters.

The skirts were a favorite with teen girls, who paired them with sweaters. Appliquéd skirts also became popular with adult women, but usually with more subtle, less cutesy designs.

But where did the fashion statement come from? Why is it the one we remember so well today? And if you’re a fan, is there a way to rock a poodle patch in the 21st century? (Short answer: yes.)

Take a walk back through time and see how the poodle skirt came to be, and how it’s evolved over time!

[H/T: Vintage Everyday, The Poodle (and dog) Blog, The Vintage Traveler]

The poodle skirt started way back in 1947 — and didn’t actually start with a poodle.

Actress and singer Juli Lynne Charlot, then 25, was invited to a Christmas party, but had nothing festive to wear, no materials, and no sewing skills.

Luckily, her mother owned a factory that used felt, which gave her an idea.

I cut the circle out of felt, which allowed me to cut a complete circle skirt without having any seams,” Charlot later said.

“I added some whimsical Christmas motif appliqués and the result was so attractive that I received many compliments at the party.”

And soon, she was fielding orders for more skirts like it. Charlot would go on to start her own fashion company, which stayed in business through the 1980s. Today, she lives in Mexico.

Meanwhile, the style became a classic, and you can still find tutorials online to make your own circle skirts, which conveniently don’t require any seams and don’t need to be hemmed. They’re also simple enough that you don’t need a lot of sewing expertise to make one.

And you can personalize them with whatever you want!


So why poodles? The design started because in the 1950s, fashionable women were often seen walking cute little dogs on leashes. And that gave Charlot an idea.

The above photo shows Charlot today with a replica of her original poodle design, which showed three poodles.

The poodle design was one of the most popular, and soon teens across the U.S. were wearing poodle skirts to school dances and other social events.

By this time, Charlot owned her own clothing factory with 50 employees, and was expanding her fashion designing skills. And yes, she’d learned to sew by this point!

Poodles weren’t the only thing people stuck on their skirts, though. Other appliqué designs were also popular, and could reflect just about anything. Their placement on the skirts also varied.

And just like Charlot’s Christmas-themed prototype had been a hit, seasonal designs were popular, too.

As the trend took off, the appliqués became more complex as Charlot, as well as other designers, kept pushing themselves to come up with new ideas.

Women at home were making them, too, thanks to skirt patterns that even come with little appliqué patterns included.

Poodle skirts, whether or not they had poodles, were both high fashion and creative DIY projects, and girls could express themselves with their own unique designs.

And things could also get pretty silly.

In 1953, designer Bettie Morrie, who loved both big skirts and backgammon, combined her two loves to create board game skirts, which included board games stitched right into the felt.

Game pieces were kept in a special decorative pocket.

So if there was a lull at a social function, there was always something to do!

And while younger girls and teens opted for cute designs like poodles, records, and youthful things, older women opted for more elegant and abstract patterns and designs.

That way, they could partake in the trend without looking too kiddish.

Some of the appliqués for women got really fancy, and included rhinestones, sequins, and fringe.

In a way, they’re almost like a precursor to the complex patterns that would adorn clothing in the 1960s.

And the appliqués didn’t always have to lie flat. This skirt has fluffy rosettes that bloom right off the fabric.

And they weren’t just for skirts, either! This stunning green gown is perfect for a spring party.

Do you remember poodle skirts, or are they a little past your time? Is this a style you’d like to see come back?

Let us know in the comments, and please SHARE with anyone who loves looking into the past!