Vintage Sewing

It’s What’s Underneath The Poodle

April 15, 2012

I know, poodle skirts are cliche. I feel almost guilty posting something that borders as a halloween costume here. BUT. My local swing dance was having a retro night, and I really really wanted to wear a poodle skirt. Sure, I could have made a mad-men dress and been all sophisticated and what not. But I wanted to bounce around like a teenager at a sock hop in 1955.

So, I pose a question to all of you vintage experts – were poodle skirts a real trend in the 1950’s? What about sock hops? And if both are real, were poodle skirts worn at sock hops? Because I’ll tell you, swing dancing in this thing was really hard work!

Regardless, this outfit is less about the poodle, and way more about my crinoline.

I tried to do some research into whether or not poodle skirts were really worn during the 50’s, or if halloween costumes have just taught us false facts. From the information I could glean, crinolines underneath were part of the ensemble. And a crinoline was on my list for my 52 Weeks of Sewing project, so now seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The poodle skirt was made from felt and the applique was cut out and ironed on using double-sided fabric adhesive. The crinoline was based mostly on a 50’s petticoat pattern by elegant impressions (available for free from BurdaStyle here). They say don’t use tulle, but I did anyway. It’s cheap, what I can say?

For the bottom two tiers I used 6 inch wide rolls of tulle to eliminate the need for cutting, used my serger to gather the strips and then serged the gathered tulle together. It resulted in using a lot more yardage than the pattern called for, but I wanted extreme poof. I also made the second tier 10 inches wide to account for the slightly narrower 6 inch strips for the botton two tiers. The hem is a roll hem, also thanks to the wonderful hard work of my serger. It contains 54 yards of tulle strips.

My serger is brand new, so I figured now was the time to try and burn out the motor while I could still send it back 🙂 It was a champ, though!


  1. Too cute! Yes, poodle skirts were undoubtedly a fashion trend in the 50s! There are lots of pictures of both moms and daughters wearing circle skirts from felt, just like how the stereotypical poodle skirts are made today. Some reports say it was actually invented be a girl who didn’t know how to sew, hence the felt which required no seam finishing. Of course, most grown women would have worn a more simplified skirt than the highly embellished Halloween costumes of today, but then again she may have added some trim or an applique if she was in a happy mood. (Lucille Ball, for instance, wore tons of circle skirts as a housewife but never any with cutouts on them.)

    You’ve done a lovely job, and I’m sure it looked great at the dance!

    Happy sewing,


  2. Yes the invention of the poodle skirt is well documented, they were very popular and were made with wool felt. I have several vintage books and magazines that feature pictures and how to make them. The usual length was a bit longer than yours and also the petticoats were much fuller but to a younger modern eye may seem exaggerated – but that’s how they were then! For a decade dresses commonly used 5-6 yards of fabric – which is much more than we are used to and seems quite extravagant! Some of them have even more than a full circle of fabric in the skirt – and the end up being quite heavy too. So it’s a shock when I go to buy fabric to make up my vintage patterns! Modern mass produced clothes are very economical with fabric. That’s why some of the mass-produced retro-style clothes just don’t look authentic, they skimp on fabric. I know what you mean about burning out the serger! Doesn’t it seem like forever as you are sewing along those hems!

    1. Oh my, the never ending hems! I have such respect for people who sew these types of things all the time!

      Thanks so much for the info – it’s amazing how the era we live/grow up in influences how we see what we wear – it felt so long and full for me, and the inertia of the skirts even threw me off balance when I was dancing 🙂

  3. Following are some vintage patterns of genuine 1950s appliqued circle skirts, both the quick-n-dirty felt variety and slightly more grownup versions (note that not all are true circles, which as you’ve noticed can be hard to manage): (check out the sillhouette ideas on the back!) (heart-shaped pocket!)

    You can see what some of the other posters were talking about, with there being more poof – mostly at the hipline. Note the pattern with crinoline, which is not tiered but made by laying ruffles onto an A-line. This gives more volume at the top.

    Yours is very cute! But also very, very short – too short by ’50s standards. It should certainly cover the crinoline and end below the knee.

  4. I love the heart shaped pocket!

    I thought the length might be too short as I put it on – partly an oversight on my part for not realizing quite how high up my natural waist is and how far away my knees are from it! Evidently more than the 25 inches I cut it to 🙂

  5. Poodle skirts were typically made out of wool felt. They were most often circle skirts, that went past the knee (near mid calf). 50s skirts were a lot longer than most people realize.

    I’m curious, what is the trend with showing the crinoline beneath the skirt? That seems to be very modern, as you would typically only see the edges of a petticoat when you sat down or danced.

  6. Looks like a fun skirt. Love the themed applique.

    Interesting to know about the dancing issues (was thinking of making one for some swing dancing – although out of some silk haboutai).
    Maybe it would be easier with a less full petticoat?

    I have a wool calf length skirt which is not quite a circle skirt (has several panels) that I bought in a sale and I find that ok to dance in…although there’s a bit of weight to it.

    1. The dancing issues were less real problems and more just added exercise – the inertia of the petticoat meant I had to use more muscles in turns and swivels to stop the turn and get the skirt under control; and it also threw me a little bit off balance during turns.

      Also, the petticoat made it very warm under there 🙂

      I should mention that I do Lindy Hop, which is a pretty active bouncy spinny type of swing dance. I’m not sure it would have messed with me quite as much if I wore it for other styles of dance.

      1. I do lindy hop too. 🙂 Been going to weekly lessons since february. So much fun.
        At the moment I’m making a 20’s ‘tennis’ dress with pleated skirt for the next retro dance…but after that its 50’s outfit that was in my sights.
        I guess it would be easier doing a modern ballroom jive in the skirt.
        Coz I think doing something like a texas tommy in the circle skirt with petticoats would be quite tricky.

  7. My mom grew up in the 50s and I do (somewhere) have a photo of her wearing a poodle skirt – with an actual poodle appliqué. She is also wearing a twin set and saddle shoes. Maybe even pearls, can’t remember.

  8. How did you use the serger to gather the strips? I’m on the bottom row of one I’m making and have to gather 27 strips to fit the 9 above it.. o_O

  9. Hi! Late reply, I’m a bit behind at my blogreading… The skirt is lovely, I adore the dancers-applique! I think you may be on to something about the length, but that’s just my personal preference =)
    I’ve danced lindy hop for a few years now, and I have a goregeous fullcircle skirt. As pretty as it is when I spin, I find the disadvanteges outweigh the good. Here’s why:
    -The big, heavy skirt gets in the way on a crowded floor, and can smack my fellow dancers pretty good when they get in the way.
    -It demands a high attention to picking underwear that keeps spinning a decent activity ; )
    -The muscle power needed to counteract the weight of the skirt means I actually dance worse. I need to tense my body in a way that’s not ultimate for the loose and fluid lindy I want to dance.

    And if we’re talking period accuracy, at the height of poodle skirts and wiggle skirts, the popularity of lindy had declined. Somewhere towards the end of the 40s, lindy was transforming into more upright and “jumpier” dances, like boogie-woogie and later rock’n’roll. The heydays of lindy, from what I’ve understood, was the mid 30s to the mid 40s, an era of very dancefriendly A-line skirts =)

    Despite all of this, sometimes when I know the floor won’t be so crowded and I want to feel specialy dressed up, I don my fullcircle skirt and have a good time in it on the floor =) The rest of what I’ve said are just thoughts I’ve had while trying out different types of dance-wear, and my advice would be to sew poodle skirts for the fun of it, dance in them whenever you feel like it, but make a couple of A-lines for everyday dancing.

    Have fun! (and sorry for a long, rambling comment…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.