Why Were Skirts Invented (When, Where & How)?

Woman wearing skirt

Skirts are so associated with the women’s wardrobe that a woman can actually be called a skirt. But in ancient times, everybody wore skirts. From Egyptian loincloths to tough-guy Roman soldiers in knee-length skirts to Scottish warriors in kilts, skirts are downright masculine. So why were skirts invented, when did they become associated with female fashion and how are modern men re-claiming their own history of skirt-wearing through the ages? Let’s find out.

Related: Types of Skirts

Ancient History

The skirt was probably one of the very first pieces of clothing ever invented. The oldest one ever found dates to 3,000 B.C.E. It was hand-woven out of straw. Back then, skirts were worn just as much by men as by women. After all, they’re a cool, comfortable garment to wear and very easy to make. They were loose and flowing and moved easily with the body, which made them an ideal garment.

Depictions of skirts in artwork show that skirts were worn as far back as 20,000 years ago. Skirts are truly ancient garments.

Skirts and dress-like garments, such as togas, were worn throughout the ancient world. In fact, it wasn’t until horses were domesticated that pants became commonly worn by men. The oldest trousers ever found are made of leather and they’re about 3,000 years old, dating to around 1,000 B.C.E.

Cold northern European temperatures and the more widespread use of the horse made pants more popular. During the Iron Age, they began to spread as a popular fashion choice. However, they didn’t replace skirts. Both men and women continued to wear skirts through the classical age.

Middle Ages Fashion

After the fall of the Roman Empire, European fashion began to take on some of the more traditional roles associated with men, women, skirts and pants. Men wore tight-fitting hose or breeches under long tunics that typically ended at or above the knee, while women began wearing longer, floor-length skirts and dresses as part of their daily wear. Skirts and trousers were still commonly worn by men and women in Eastern fashions.

Men’s tunics became more shapely in the 15th century, becoming shorter and more close-fitting. It became the fashion to wear hose on the legs that others could see. This ultimately became pants and pants ultimately became associated with men’s fashion, particularly in Europe and the emerging Western world.

Skirts Take a Turn

Once skirts were firmly associated with female fashion, things started to get…kind of weird. The long, simple tunic styles of the middle ages became much more ornate in the Renaissance, where clothing was highly stiff, embellished, embroidered and decorated. The corset came onto the scene and dresses became much more structured. Very long, voluminous skirts became the fashion. Odd embellishments and strange silhouettes, such as the wide panniers worn over the hips to spread skirts out, appeared on the fashion scene in the late 1500s.

Woman wearing pink skirt

Things got even more strange in the 1800s, when big bell shapes and hoop skirt styles became trendy thanks to crinoline, wire cages and other fashion innovations. The extremely huge hoop skirts of the early Victorian period were so big they were actually dangerous to be around. In those days before electricity, open flames were utterly everywhere. Pair open flames with enormous, fluttering skirts made with delicate fabrics that were highly flammable and you’re just asking for trouble. There are numerous reports from the era that speak of deadly fires caused by the day’s fashion.

Women wised up and shifted the wide, bulky skirts, pushing the fabric to their backsides. The bustle was born in the late 1800s, a look that can only be chalked up as odd. The back-heavy bustle did not remain a part of popular fashion long but it lingers as a popular option for wedding dresses.

Women started wearing pants at the end of the 1800s thanks to early pioneers like Amelia Jenks Bloomer, who wore the voluminous trousers known as bloomers that were named for her. However, despite Amelia Bloomer, it didn’t become common for women to wear pants as daily wear until the 1970s, though they would wear pants on a limited basis for work, athletics and to buck the fashion stereotypes of the day.

Slimming and Shortening the Skirt

Up until the early 1900s, women’s fashion remained centered on full and long skirts. From the early Middle Ages to the early 1900s, it was unseemly for women to wear short skirts. They were ankle-length at the shortest and floor-length at many points throughout fashion history. But in the 1920s, that started to change. Skirts experienced a revolution.

Slim denim skirt

In fact, they got a whole heck of a lot shorter. The petticoat and extra layers that had been the norm for centuries disappeared and the short skirt displayed a shocking amount of skin. Women were exposing their legs…sometimes, a whole lot of leg. It was the 1920s and the flapper look was born.

Skirts would never be the same.

Modern Skirts

Skirts were for ever changed. Though hemlines got a little longer again the 1930s, commonly falling about calf-length, Pandora’s box was open. The lines of style were no longer contained by length. The 1940s and 1950s saw the rise of the full silhouette with flared, full skirt skirts, like the poodle skirt. Fashion began playing with frills, ruffles, tulle, fabrics and silhouettes.

Woman wearing modern skirt

And in the 1960s, an idea came along that changed the fashionable skirts game again. It was, of course, the miniskirt. Created by designer Mary Quant, the tiny miniskirt showed more leg than ever before and quickly became the standout fashion item of the decade. A new women’s movement was being ushered in during this decade and the miniskirt was a perfect symbol of fashion freedom. Women stopped wearing gloves, stockings, hats and all the prim and proper accessories and styles that were so popular in the 1950s.

It was a brand-new decade. Hippie counter-culture was born, women’s liberation was everywhere and women were ditching the girdles, bras and fashion constraints that had dictated style for so long.

Shocking that a skirt can do so much!

Skirt style continues to change and evolve as designers continue to experiment with fashion. The skirt is still a style staple and in more recent years, all of its boundaries are starting to fall away.

Real Men Wear Skirts

Modern men have decided to turn fashion on its head, with many high-profile celebrity males appearing at events and on red carpets wearing skirts. Many believe that fashion has no gender roles and many trendsetters throughout history have style have had fun blurring gender lines and experimenting with their own unique looks. What’s fun about fashion is that it’s constantly changing and constantly reinventing itself. There’s no way of knowing where the future will take skirts next, but it’s definitely going to be fun to watch.

Bride and groom where groom is wearing a skirt

FAQs

Skirts have been around since humans were living in caves and creating tools out of stone. Wearing skirts is an even older practice than shaping metal, which is pretty impressive. Through the ages, fashion has been created for practical reasons and worn to showcase style, status, wealth, rank and prestige. It’s been used to express individual style, to buck authority openly, to challenge gender norms and even to make social or political statements. Fashion can do a whole lot and skirts have had a more interesting history than most garments.

So if you’ve still got questions, it’s no wonder! We’ve got the answers to the most commonly asked questions about skirts. Soon, you’ll know all the stuff that true skirt experts already know!

What’s the difference between a skirt and a dress?

Skirt. Dress. Ball gown. Frock. There are lots of words used to describe different styles of clothing and frankly, it can get pretty confusing. So what exactly is the difference between a skirt and a dress?

By strict definition, a dress is a one-piece garment that consists of a bodice and a skirt. A skirt, by definition, is a free-hanging garment that extends downward from the waist when it is a garden that it worn on a human body. In other words, the skirt is the part of the dress that hangs down from the waist. A skirt can also be a stand-alone garment that is worn by itself with a blouse or top of any kind…or no top at all. [Source: Merriam-Webster]

Are skirts business casual?

Many types of skirts are highly suitable to a business casual look. However, material, length and fit play a huge role in whether or not a skirt is appropriate for the workplace. Skirts should be kept at knee-length or lower. Wool, cotton, polyester and knit fabrics are generally acceptable. Wear a lined skirt or a slip at all times when you’re in the workplace. A close fit, such as a sheath or a pencil skirt, is perfectly acceptable. An extremely tight fit, however, is not. [Source: The Balance Careers]

Denim skirts of all kinds are pretty much off the table, as are mini skirts, see-through skirts and many other types of skirts. If you have to ask yourself if it’s appropriate for a workplace, then it probably isn’t. Denim is a bit too casual for most office and work environments. If your place of business doesn’t allow blue jeans, you probably can’t get away with a denim skirt. [Source: Land’s End]

Can skirts be formal?

Skirts can be a great way to stand out at formal occasions when many other women will be wearing gowns. A skirt in a longer length, such as a maxi skirt, can look amazing when paired with the right top and styled with the right accessories. [Source: Love To Know]

Can both genders wear skirts?

Both men and women have been wearing skirts since they were first invented more than 20,000 years ago. Great warriors and amazing thinkers of the past wore skirts, including the likes of Alexander the Great, Socrates, Julius Caesar and Ramses the Great. That’s not bad company. All the knightly heroes of Europe wore long tunics that looked a heck of a lot like skirts. And in the more modern era, many trendsetting men are wearing skirts and dresses to show off their flair for style.

In short, yes! Anyone and everyone can wear skirts, because fashion is meant to be for everyone to enjoy and experiment with. If fashion history teaches us anything, it’s that clothing rules are definitely made to be broken.

Can you wear skirts in winter?

There might be lots of reasons why you want to wear a skirt in winter. After all, there may be a gala event or party you want to attend wearing a skirt or you may frequently wear skirts for work. You can wear skirts in winter but you need to take some extra steps to make sure you’re keeping yourself safe and warm. Even if you plan on being in a vehicle or being indoors most of the time, anything can happen. You can always end up in a situation where you’re stuck outside or you’re stuck somewhere with a broken heating system when you didn’t expect it. That means you need to keep yourself prepared and keep yourself appropriately dressed for the weather outside.

First, consider wearing longer skirts. They will give you more coverage, which gives you more warmth. Also consider the fabric. A wool skirt is going to provide insulation and keep you much warmer than a skirt made of silk. Stick to heavier skirts made with more insulating fabrics to keep your lower half warmer in winter weather.

Keep your legs warm and protected from the cold with leggings or thick tights. Wool tights or leggings provide a protective layer against your skin. Whatever you do, don’t wear bare legs in winter. Cover your legs somehow, even if you’re only using thin hose.

You can also add more warmth with a pair of long boots. Knee-length or thigh-high boots will help protect your legs and complement the skirt in a stylish way.

Make sure the rest of your body is dressed warm. Keeping the core of your body warm will help you feel warmer all over, even if your legs are rather exposed to the cold. Wear a thick sweater or extra layers to hold in your natural body heat. [Source: WikiHow]

Should skirts be hung or folded?

Knowing how to store skirts is not easy. Should they be hung? Folded? How do you do either? Only an expert can answer, so we turned to Martha Stewart.

According to the goddess of all things domestic, skirts should be stored according to their fabric and not to their style. Skirts made from cotton, linen and rayon will stay wrinkle-free if they are hung on hangers. Use clips or clothespins to attach skirts to hangers so the skirt is hanging straight down. Do not fold skirts if you can help it. Try to find enough room in your closet to allow longer skirts to hang straight down, too.

Skirts that are knit should not be hung up but folded. Skirts that have a lot of ornament and decoration should also be folded, because hanging them up could distort their shape. If you have a skirt that is heavy in any way due to design or fabric, keep it folded. Silk skirts tend to wrinkle, so you want to keep those hanging…though you’ll probably have to iron them before wear anyway.

Where did mini skirts originate from?

Though designer Mary Quant is credited with designing the modern miniskirt and ushering in a hemline revolution, short skirts are as old as style itself. Roman men wore incredibly short skirts, particularly on the battlefield where freedom of movement was essential. Egyptian men wore skirts that were even shorter, as depicted in ancient artwork.

The idea of a super-short skirt wasn’t exactly new but Mary Quant did reinvent the idea and make it popular in modern fashion, which is why she’s credited as the inventor of the mini skirt.

Why are skirts and dresses still used in so many school uniforms?

School uniforms have become a bit of a controversial topic. One school was taken to court for a rule that required female students to wear skirts. When a parent fought back, it made national news. In many schools that require uniforms, it is still the norm to issue skirts and dresses to female students and give shorts and pants to the males. Modern discussions of fashion and gender roles have questioned this traditional practice and some have spoken out against the practice as being sexist or gender-defining. [Source: Teen Vogue]

The topic is still a bit of a controversial one that is being debated around dinner tables and in courtrooms around the world.

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