This post started off as simple history of the most amazing piece in anyone’s wardrobe, the skort. It became is post about skorts, culottes and other fashion items that made you cringe as a child. While I will always tell you that I love all things fashion history, learning about the feminist history skort made me smile all day!

The skort is a design born out of a necessity to preserve modesty and the need for freedom while getting around. For centuries, laws and customs forbade women from wearing “men’s” clothes. However, traditional ladies fashions (long skirts and a tightly laced corset) were not suited for athletic women. As women became more active in sports, and later as they ventured from the home into the workforce, they also were drawn to the practicality of alternatives to simple skirts. Riding astride a horse, bicycling and tennis all had a hand in changing the way one dressed and allowed a new type freedom for women everywhere. The many options presented below were born of the need develop an outfit that remained in fashion and maintained the safety of the wearer.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Bifurcated Skirts

Bifurcated skirts are pants constructed to maintain the illusion that they are still a skirt. Panels or ruffles help to conceal the split in the skirt allowing women to ride a bicycle or astride a horse and still stay in fashion. Concern for the safety of women wearing long skirts and the unsanitary conditions of long trailing skirts in contact with dirty streets made a split skit a viable option.  By the 1890s, outfits dedicated to bicycle activities were being produced. The bifurcated skirts opened the door for women to engage in biking and allowed them to gain their independence from strict societal rules.

Bloomers

Also called “reform dress”,  “Turkish dress”, or  “American dress”

Amelia Bloomer, the creator of the temperance newspaper The Lily, advocated both the women’s suffrage movement and women’s dress reform. Women of her day typically wore corsets and numerous petticoats under their dresses. Bloomer suggested that women adopt a simpler outfit of a loose-fitting blouse, a knee-length skirt, and baggy pants. Bloomer wanted an outfit that would allow her to bike and that would adhere to the fashion of her day. Historians still disagree on the exact style of Amelia’s bloomers costume.

 

Photo courtesy of McCall’s

Culottes

Women’s culottes hang like a skirt, but have the functionality of pants. 

While today the term culottes refers to women’s wear, they were originally pants for men. During the Renaissance, upper class men wore breeches, which in French translated to “culottes.”  (Mind Blown!) The culottes of the Renaissance era were well cut pants that ended just below the knee worn with leggings or stockings. In the 18th Century, Culottes were a common part of men’s military uniforms. An early 20th century French law forbade women from wearing trousers unless “the woman is holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse.”

 

Courtesy of Schiaparelli

Elsa Schiaparelli

Schiaparelli is the mother of the modern day culottes. During a 1931 fabric shopping trip in London, The Daily Mail reported Schiaparelli walked about the city in culottes “undisguised by panels or a wraparound skirt.” The same year Schiaparelli designed a skort for Wimbledon contender Lili de Alvarez.

 

And Finally the Skort

While athletic activities created the need for the skort, in the end it was dancing that helped moved the skort into the fashion mainstream. in the Victorian era silent movie stars Irene & Vernon Castle were ballroom dancers known for their fancy footwork. Irene found it difficult to do her dances in Victorian era gowns and sought an alternative to the cumbersome outfits. She often wore a stylish dress over a pair of pants. Her popularity influenced other fashionable women to wear pants under their dresses. Thus a trend was born.  Thanks Irene!

In the 1960’s Leon Levin created the “Q” skort for women. Designed for golfers who wanted the lines of a skirt and the freedom of shorts. According to their website,

“Leon Levin, along with his designer Lulu Roody, developed the skorts with an element of whimsy and fun. Leon Levin prominently promoted Lulu’s creations with clever illustrated advertisements in the New Yorker and other regional publications. The Q-skirt became an immediate favorite on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour.”

Courtesy of Farfetch

So, what have we learned?

The skort, is a simple garment with has a long athletic history. From its humble beginnings the skort has allowed women to participate in the activities they love. It’s fascinating to think we would not have this amazing piece in our wardrobe if women hadn’t wanted to ride astride a horse, ride a bike or play tennis. The trendy skort is still showing up on fashion runways, dare I say this trend isn’t going anywhere.

 

 

Want to learn more? The history I have included is a brief overview of interesting facts. I encourage you to read the awesome articles below that go in depth on this subject.

Skort

How the Skort Went From Rebellious Garment to Athleisure Staple

Today, the skort-a portmanteau of skirt and shorts-is most often associated with female tennis players dodging across a tennis court, Spandex-like bike shorts beneath an A-line mini fluttering in the wind serving two purposes: modesty so a woman can spread her legs without flashing the world while retaining a sense of traditional femininity.

Skirts, Shorts, Skorts and the Spork (the history and evolution of women’s golf apparel, thank God!)

SKIRTS, SHORTS, SKORTS and the SPORK (and the evolution of women’s golf apparel) THANK GOD! by Constance Lord O’Sullivan If you are a woman golfer, you will know immediately which one of the words in the title of this column is NOT a part of a lady golfer’s outfit.

Culottes

History Lesson: Culottes

I remember learning the word “bifurcated” in 10th grade English: “to divide into two branches or forks” (or pant legs, more on that in a second). This class inspired my passion for words and literature, and after going to college for a degree in English lit, (read: personal enrichment) realizing I needed a tangible…

The History Of Culottes Goes Beyond Those Weird Stretchy Capris You Wore In High School

What are culottes and where on earth did they come from? Over the past few years, they’ve become about the coolest pants trend ever, but the history of culottes goes way back before those spandex versions we wore in the ’90s. Recently, I found myself

Bicycle

The Feminist History Of Bicycles

Tinkle your bells and fasten your helmet – it’s National Bike Month, which means it’s time to delve into the history of this most feminist of machines. Yes, you read that correctly. In ways both explicit and subtle, the invention and popularization o…

Bicycling 1890’s Style for Ladies

Bicycling became almost a cult in the 1890s. The development of the pneumatic tyre and the mass production of machines meant that cycling was now comfortable and affordable, and as Queen Victoria Herself had purchased tricycles for her daughters (Starley’s), it also became acceptable.

Bike Week – Historic Bicycle Fashion

Today, Bike Week continues with a look at historic bicycle fashion. But first, I want to welcome any new readers who have come over from The Vintage Traveler. Hello! I met Lizzie, who blogs at The Vintage Traveler, in Atlanta at the Costume Society of America symposium.