At its simplest, a skirt can be a draped garment made out of a single piece of material (such as pareos), but most skirts are fitted to the body at the waist and fuller below, with the fullness introduced by means of dart, gores, pleats, or panels. Modern skirts are usually made of light to mid-weight fabrics, such as denim, jersey, worsted, or poplin. Skirts of thin or clingy fabrics are often worn with slips to make the material of the skirt drape better and for modesty.
Some medieval upper-class women wore skirts over three metres in diameter at the bottom. At the other extreme, the miniskirts of the 1960s were minimal garments that may have barely covered the underwear when seated.
Costume historians[who?] typically use the word "petticoat" to describe skirt-like garments of the 18th century or earlier.
The earliest known culture to have females wear clothing resembling miniskirts were the Duan Qun Miao, which literally meant "short skirt Miao" in Chinese. This was in reference to the short miniskirts "that barely cover the buttocks" worn by women of the tribe, and which were "probably shocking" to observers in medieval and early modern times.
Skirts in the 19th century
During the nineteenth century the cut of women's dresses in western culture varied more widely than in any other century. Waistlines started just below the bust (the Empire silhouette) and gradually sank to the natural waist. Skirts started fairly narrow and increased dramatically to the hoopskirt and crinoline-supported styles of the 1860s; then fullness was draped and drawn to the back by means of bustles.
Beginning around 1915, hemlines for daytime dresses left the floor for good. For the next fifty years fashionable skirts became short (1920s), then long (1930s), then shorter (the War Years with their restrictions on fabric), then long (the "New Look"), then shortest of all from 1967 to 1970, when skirts became as short as possible while avoiding exposure of underwear, which was considered taboo.
Since the 1970s and the rise of pants/trousers for women as an option for all but the most formal of occasions, no one skirt length has dominated fashion for long, with short and ankle-length styles often appearing side-by-side in fashion magazines and catalogs.
Straight skirt or Pencil skirt, a tailored skirt hanging straight from the hips and fitted from the waist to the hips by means of darts or a yoke; may have a vent for ease of walking
Full skirt, a skirt with fullness gathered into the waistband
Rah-rah skirt, a short, tiered, and often colourful skirt fashionable in the early-mid-1980s.
Skater skirt, a short, high-waisted circle skirt with a hemline above the knee, often made of lighter materials to give the flowing effect that mimics the skirts of figure skaters.
Tiered skirt, made of several horizontal layers, each wider than the one above, and divided by stitching. Layers may look identical in solid-colored garments, or may differ when made of printed fabrics.
Prairie skirt (variant), a flared skirt with one or more flounces or tiers (1970s and on)
Trouser skirt or cullotte, a straight skirt with the part above the hips tailored like men's trousers, with belt loops, pockets, and fly front.
Scooter skirt or skort (variant), a skirt that has an attached pair of shorts underneath for modesty. Alternatively, but with similar effect, a pair of shorts incorporating a skirt-like flap across the front of the body.
T-skirt, made from a tee-shirt, the T-skirt is generally modified to result in a pencil skirt, with invisible zippers, full length two-way separating side zippers, as well as artful fabric overlays and yokes.
Wraparound skirt. Variants include:
Sarong, a square of fabric wrapped around the body and tied on one hip to make a skirt; worn as a skirt or as a cover-up over a bathing suit in tropical climates.
Kilt-skirt, a wrap-around skirt with overlapping aprons in front and pleated around the back. Though traditionally designed as women's wear, it is fashioned to mimic somewhat closely the general appearance of a (man's) kilt, including the usage of a plaid pattern more or less closely resembling those of recognized tartan patterns of Scotland.
There are a number of male garments which fall under the category of "skirt" or "dress." These go by a variety of names and form part of the traditional dress for men from various cultures. Usage varies - the dhoti is part of everyday dress on the Indian subcontinent while the kilt is more usually restricted to occasional wear and the foustanella is used almost exclusively as costume. Robes, which are a type of dress for men, have existed in many cultures, including the Japanese kimono, the Chinese cheongsam, the Arabic thobe, and the African Senegalese kaftan. Robes are also used in some religious orders, such as the cassock in Christianity and various robes and cloaks that may be used in pagan rituals. Examples of men's skirts and skirt like garments from various cultures include:
The kilt is a skirt of Gaelic and Celtic history, part of the Scottish national dress in particular, and is worn formally and to a lesser extent informally. Irish and Welsh kilts also exist but are not so much a part of national identity.
The foustanella is worn by men in Greece and other parts of the Balkans. By the mid-20th Century, it was relegated to ceremonial use and as period or traditional costume.
The gho is a knee-length robe worn by men in Bhutan. They are required to wear it every day as part of national dress in government offices, in schools and on formal occasions.
The sarong is a piece of cloth that may be wrapped around the waist to form a skirt-like garment. Sarongs exist in various cultures under various names, including the pareo and lavalava of the Hawaiian islands and Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, and Fiji), the Indian dhoti and lungi, and the South Indian and Maldivian mundu.
Aside from the wearing of kilts, in the Western world skirts, dresses and similar garments are considered primarily women's clothing. Historically, however, this was not the case. The wearing of skirts by men in Western cultures is generally seen as cross-dressing although some fashion designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Givenchy have produced skirts for men.