The iconic trend of the very recognizable and adored poodle skirt started way back in 1947 — and didn’t actually start with a poodle, although that would have been a very cute way for this fashion trend to begin.
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. This adorable version comes in baby blue and features an angel and a decorated Christmas tree.
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. What fun to have plenty of new designs emerging all the time!
Women at home were making them, too, thanks to easy-to-sew skirt patterns that even come with little appliqué patterns included. This sweet and fanciful umbrella version is so cute and quirky!
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. Think it’s time to bring back the trend?
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! What an ingenious and multi-functional design element!
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. We love a fanciful textured option like this!
And the fun applique designs, well they weren’t just for skirts, either! This stunning Kelly green gown is perfect for a spring cocktail party. Not only is the design a bit kooky, but it’s flattering as well!
Do you remember poodle skirts, or are they a little past your time? Is this a style you’d like to see come back?
We’d be happy to see a resurgence of this fun and festive design!