Earlier this week I put a post up in two Facebook groups about petticoats and was a bit stunned by the many questions I received.
It seems there’s a fair few ladies out there either considering their first petti and not sure where to start, to those who want to know how to care and store them, and everything in between.
I’m no expert by an means, but I’ve been buying, amending and most importantly wearing my petticoats for 24 years and currently have a collection of 26 with 22 that I wear on a regular basis.
I’ve incorporated more and more 1950s vintage/repro into my wardrobe over the last 13 years and now don’t own any muggle clothing anymore having switched full time to it almost two years ago. As I prefer circle skirts and dresses rather than the pencil styles, I always wear them with a petti, even if I’m sat indoors.
Lockdown in the UK has given me the time and opportunity to really enjoy my clothing so I said I’d blog about this as I’m happy to share and assist any info where I can. There’s a fair bit to get through so you may want to grab a cuppa and get comfy!
I will say now that all the petticoats I talk about I have bought, tried, experienced and either got rid of or kept in my collection.
I’ll also put as many links as I can at the end, to avoid cluttering the page xx
Where do I start?
If you’ve never worn a petticoat before it’s best to keep things simple to work out if it’s right for you.
4 key things to think about are
Use – is this for your day dress (off to the supermarket, the office,) or for a party
Length – do you want your petticoat to show below your dress? (It’s a personal thing – I never do but others love that look)
Heat – what’s the weather like, do you have sensitive skin?
Confidence – Do you give a damn about what others think or is your confidence sky high?
Most petticoats have a flat panel at the waist below the elastic, with another two tiered sections below that. They’ll have this in two layers.
The big dance floor numbers will have tons of fabric in the tiers and less so in your day to day ones.
Really good petticoats will have another single short flat layer, closest to your skin which is like a polyester slip which stops your petticoat clinging to you and keeps your modesty when twirling on the dance floor. I’ve bought petticoats from brands where they don’t have this extra layer. Nine times out of ten it’s an issue especially if the main part of the petticoat is starchy feeling rather than soft polyester. You can buy yourself a little slip to tackle this but I don’t as it’s yet one more thing to dress in. Some women swear by using cycle shorts – again that may work for you but isn’t something I would wear myself under a dress.
If you’re off to a special occasion and have a full on party circle dress then you may want a full flouncy poofed up one to lift that special dress. It’s a no holds barred give me room kinda look.
If you’re working in an office or climbing in and out of a car all day I’ve found that’s not practical (I’ve lost count of the number of wine glasses I’ve caught with my dress/petti and smashed as I’ve swept past my coffee table in the evening!) In which case you’ll want one that gives you some poof but not dance floor swirl.
Also if you need to be more conservative in your look but still want a petti then a really good choice is a one layer cotton with lace edge. This gives you a nice flounce but not too much and is comfortable. It’s also a great one to wear if you live in hot climates. Like all petticoats you can layer this too.
You can buy petticoats in every colour of the rainbow and shades in between. Whichever style you go for I’d advise starting with one white and one black. These will get you through most outfits and events. As your budget increases and your confidence grows you can add more colours in.
Good petticoats have a baby-soft feel from their polyester. If you scrunched it up in your hand it should feel soft and warm and whilst it may crease a little, will generally fall back into shape super easy. Avoid scratchy, stiff or hard ones. Also beware cheap tulle petticoats. I’ve bought these from ebay and Amazon, from cheap importers thinking the tulle would help give it structure. They’re a nightmare for making you feel uncomfortable. They trap heat, stick to your clothes and legs and ride up, crease badly, don’t have a natural flow or sway when you walk and when you sit down can embarassingly raise your skirt up .
Unless money is no hindrance to your petticoat fantasies you will want to get the most use out of the ones you purchase so I’d suggest measuring from the waist down, the dresses and skirts you want to wear the most. If your petti is going to be hidden you’ll want it to be about an inch less than the length or it can be the same if you have a wider frame as that will lift it on your wider bits. (If you wear a belt this will pull your dress up so your petticoat may then be lower than your dress). If you want it on show then obviously go for longer than the clothing.
Most 1950s style petticoats are around 23, 25-26 and 28 inch long. Personally I wear a lot of 23” with my gathered skirts and 26” for my dresses and circle skirts. 28” or more is for my full summer dresses and party frocks.
I think I’ve only ever bought about five petticoats full price as I look out for sales. This is why I’m not afraid to take scissors to ones I think need adjusting for a day look. My most common adjustment usually involves removing just the fringe on the very bottom of the inner layer. This means I still have a poofy look but it’s a lot calmer and perfect for what I consider my day wear look. Not everyone will want to try this but it’s fine for me although I wouldn’t do it with a party petticoat or one of more expensive ones!
Often I’ll get asked why I have the same colour petticoat in two or three different lengths. It’s taken me years to be able to have this many, and it’s because if you wear a petticoat that’s too short your clothing develops a bell effect. This is where the side of the skirt meets the bottom of your petti and then drops below it rather than sticking out from it and you get an odd bell effect as if you were wearing something from Gone with the Wind. So I’d rather have the right length for the garment.
Some petticoats, like Hell Bunny, have two or three bands at the top so that you can move your elastic up or down, thereby shortening or lengthening your petticoat. The theory being that you only need to invest in one for different length clothing.
I’ve had several of these – and I’ve either removed them from my collection or always leave the elastic on one band. This is because I found the reality of moving elastic an unbelievable pain in the bum. If you decide you need it at a different band level it takes ages to remove and rethread the elastic especially if you’re in a rush. Also I cannot stand having lots of extra fabric bunched at my waist (if you’d moved the elastic to the lowest level you’d have about 2 inches of excess fabric above it). Life is too short but I’m sure there are people out there with more patience than me!!
Confidence plays a big part in what your wear. I’ve always been the odd one out regarding my clothing. As a ten year old child I wore ties and colour co-ordinated my outfits to the despair of my mother who told me I dressed like a granny!
When I was young I stopped worrying about what others thought of what I wore after realising we could never afford the latest fashions so I might as well just wear what I like. As an adult I’ve lived and worked in places where I’m the odd one out. Either because I was the only Black woman for miles around, youngest senior officer or head of department, only woman riding a motorcycle, or dressed in 1950s heading out to the supermarket etc.
I’ve been stared at and whispered about too – and it doesn’t faze me because I’m happy and that makes me smile. More often than not people will actually come up and talk to me.
I’ve been asked to give a twirl by elderly folk who reminisce about their youth, been gasped at by a lovely little girl who thought I looked like a Disney princess, and complimented by women who want to know where I got my coat, shoes, dress etc.
So if you want to wear a petticoat then just do it!
Where can I buy them and which brands?
Often this depends on which country you’re in. I’m in the UK so can only really advise here because it’s fairly easy and cost effective from within the EU (at least until Brexit is finalised!). I understand that if you’re in places like the USA customs and delivery charges can be astronomical but hopefully this will help you choose ones close to home.
Petticoats between 21” and 28” are fairly standard. Longer and you’ll need true vintage, custom made or adjust them yourself if you’re handy with a needle.
Luckily these days custom made doesn’t have to be astronomical in price and there are several places on eBay and Etsy where you can make purchases.
But to begin with, how much? You can easily spend £80 or more on a petticoat – but personally I think it would have to be something I was either getting married in or buried in at that price.
My petticoats vary between £18 for a one layer cotton up to £60 for a full-on-move-aside-people-cos-I’m-coming-thru party one. Keep an eye out for sales!
My cotton ones are from an ebay seller called Blusher1UK – she has 100% positive feedback, was recommended to me by vintage friends and I’ve personally had excellent customer service. She’ll also make them to any length you want. These are particularly good if you don’t want too much poof.
I wear quite big petticoats under my Caterina and Dolores dresses from Collectif, but in the Summer in the UK and when I go abroad and it’s hot I always wear these ones.
Other day wear – Dolly and Dotty is one of my favourites. Their soft fluffy petticoats are brilliant. These have a good weight. They do have a button to adjust the waistband but it’s thick elastic and sewed in. I particularly like these when I’ve decided to wear a corset as I can make a little adjust for a better fit.
Top tip – they come up big. I’m a size 14 (uk) but need the 6-12.
Priced around £32, in the sales you can get these for as low as £12-15 (which is why I don’t mind cutting them). Do not get the one described as polyester flared – I’ve tried it and sent it to a charity shop.
For full circle dresses and party dresses I like Sams and Banned Apparel. My two Sams were one of the first I bought 13 years ago and sadly I’ve never been able to find another since. I’ve bought several of the Banned online from Amazon and also full ones from Vivien of Holloway along with her dresses. Hers are just under £50. I’ve tried Hell Bunny as they have a lot of colours but the waistbands have the issues I refer to below. Collectif used to do their own which I’ll admit I didn’t find comfortable as they had no inner slip. Fortunately they’ve stuck to what they do best which is making great dresses and now stock the Banned Apparel retro petticoat. Remember to check the length as you may need to search on google for the right length you want.
I’ve also spent more when buying petticoats on my travels through Paris and Rome in beautiful small artisan shops which is where I picked up my 30” long ones. And as I’m handy with a sewing machine I’ve adjusted some of my petticoats and added deeper waistbands to get the longer length I needed.
Maintenance, storage and travel
There’s nothing as pretty as a row of coloured petticoats hanging up but it’s just not practical.
To start with most of us don’t have the room. But the main reason is it’s not good for your petticoats. The weight will drag them down and affect their flounce.
The best way to store them is to roll them up. It’s important to avoid scrunching your petticoats- always roll them. Otherwise you create creases that are hard to shake out.
Step 1: Turn them inside out. Lay flat.
Step 2: Take the bottom frilly end on both sides and fold into the middle. Do this again.
Step 3 and 4: Then roll them from the bottom frill to the waistband.
Step 5: Tuck into waistband of the inner slip.
Step 6: Store them away (If you’re using shoe boxes like these then be careful of the Velcro edge).
You can then store them. I’ve heard you can try the legs of old tights – useful so you can see the colours. This doesn’t appeal to me as I like elegant solutions.
Bigger petticoats are harder to roll small so I do the best I can and then tuck them into canvas pull bags. My favourite way to store the rest is in shoe boxes from Ikea’s Skubb range. As mentioned you have to be very careful when tucking them into the box not to catch on the Velcro which is why it’s important to have rolled them into the slip so this doesn’t happen. I keep mine all in colour order so I can easily get hold of what I want.
When you want to wear one, shake it out and hang it up. You can do this in the bathroom so the steam helps. Or use a handheld steamer. Some people are good at steaming delicates with an iron – I’m not one of them. I always use a purpose made steamer on my clothing (and never go on holiday or a weekend away without one in my hand luggage!).
You won’t need to wash it after each wear unless you really want to but I’d say always, always, always, air it. Put it over the back of a chair and just leave it. It doesn’t do any harm.
To wash them you can do this by hand if you like. Otherwise if you have a big net bag then shove it in that and the washing machine. My preferred method is to put one loose, by itself, into my washer for 15 mins on refresh, 30degrees, 1000 spin. I use a detergent capsule like Bold because I like my petticoats to have that softness.
I’ll then lay it flat across several rungs of the drying rack not hanging up by the waistband. And for pity’s sake DO NOT MIX YOUR COLOURS in the wash unless you are happy to replace your prized possession.
You may find that the waistband twists on your petticoats after wearing them all day. I’ve had this on several ones where the elastic isn’t deep. It may also bend in half.
This is also a problem for me where the elastic is a buttonhole type designed for you to be able to tighten or increase the waist size. Its weak point is the centre of the band where the buttonholes are so that’s where I find it bends. I’ve spent ages untwisting them but as soon as I wore them it happened again. The only solution I found was to replace the elastic with a thicker more heavyweight piece with no buttonholes. Where I wanted to retain my ability to change the waistband size I either created just a few new buttonholes or added a row of Kam Snaps.
When travelling to an event I wear my petticoat – I am not one to rock up and then be trying to get dressed in a car park unless it’s been a five hour drive – and if that’s the case I want a hotel room! If you’re the driver you need to fold the skirt out to your sides and under your bum or between your legs. As a passenger you can take up as much space as you like. Of course if you want to then don’t wear it, arrive early and complete your outfit when you get there.
On a ten day holiday I take about four petticoats wrapped in clingfilm to minimise luggage space, plus the one I travel in. (Yes I always fly in full regalia as I find it more comfortable than my high waisted trousers).
So I think that’s just about it. I really hope that’s been helpful to anyone interested in trying out petticoats.
If you’ve got any questions please do drop a line and I’ll try to answer them. Like I said, I’m not an expert by any means – this is just my own observations and what works for me.
Whatever you do be sure to wear your petticoat with pride and a smile on your face.
Cotton petticoats: blusher1uk on eBay.