Memories of the Fifties

The women who lived through that wonderful era of pettis and crinies look back!

LANA (Jan 01): "I was raised in Australia the 50's, and feel I need to put some things in perspective. In the 50's, we did not have the money to have lots of pettis like many have today. A really good petti cost a week's salary back then, especially nylon ones, because they were new and expensive. Like in today's magazines illustrating very slim models, and retouched beauty, 50's magazines featured models in extra full skirts, retouched waists, (I'm in that business), very slim models with pinned back dresses behind the waist etc. We did not wear excess petticoats: Look at many of the cars, buses, house seating of the era and you will see that we did have some trouble sitting and fitting in. Driving was impossible: The steering wheel got in the way and it messed up your dress!!!! I have had very recently four cars from the era with my ex, two were from the USA, and none of them could accommodate my rock n roll clothes ( I do competitive dancing). We didn't all do throws on the dance floor, because we were not always that fit and the guys were not as good at dancing as they like to think. 

Like today, more of us girls danced together than with guys, except when it 
was slow ;-)))). The other thing is, most of us did not have cameras then, photography was very expensive, and 99 percent was black and white and in the old 110 format (once again my "trade").  I would love to wear those fashions now always, but it is not practical. Look at 50's magaziness (and I have heaps) and you will see that we wore practical clothes for work and housework, shopping etc. Sure, many of us were a little more fashion aware, but our special clothes were for special occasions. Remember, too, we were in an era when it was considered VERY late to be out after midnight, outrageous to get drunk, very risky to get caught smoking; so flirting then was different to now. Underwear was functional for the everyday girl, and protected her petticoats and dress. Yes, we did play spin the bottle, and other risqué` games at parties if you were sure no snitches were in the room, or adults within a block of the party. But they would be almost primary school stuff today.

To give you something to live on tho' ..... My sister and I went to church with our parents every Sunday morning and night. We only had 8 full petticoats between us, all cotton and we would starch and iron them. We swapped straight skirts and full skirts so that we could have either a tighter or fuller dress than our "rivals" (2 other sisters who had nylon petticoats) who sat in the opposite pew. Anyway, one Sunday I had borrowed all my sister's petticoats, not heavily starched, and wore them all (squashed in the back seat of the car!!!), and she my new straight dress that I had made. It was a warm but not hot day, and after church all of the youth group decided to walk to a local beach along the railway line, about three miles and return later for evening service. When we got there, we were messing around and I fell in the sea.  Well, I nearly drowned, all those petticoats were very heavy wet!!!!! Well the guys were told to go for a walk and I stripped all my petticoats off and laid them out on the rocks to dry, and just had to let my dress dry on me. We were late for the service; some returned early, but my clothes weren't dry so late we were." 

From the Fort Worth Star Telegram, August 18, 2000, Life and Arts Section, page 2:

The newspaper asked if any readers had any personal memories of meeting Elvis when he toured Texas in the 1950s. This description of one fans petti clothing was in Gloria Sample's response:

"[Betty met the King on May 29, 1955] '...[we] spent about a week creating the perfect ensemble "to catch the King's eye. Wearing long felt poodle skirts flared out with the assistance of five full petticoats
[sigh...Tessy wishes she had been there!], long sleeve pullovers, bobby socks rolled over five times, and saddle oxfords. With our chiffon scarves around our necks, our long gold medallions were perfect in length."

SUZANNE is a rare woman: She provided corset and petticoat fetishists with a look into a genetic woman's mind, one who had a affection for these garments. She disappeared from Newsgroups about 1996 and no one has been able to contact her since. Shame. We only have text she wrote to remember her by. Hope you are leading a happy life, Suzanne!


....Like all little girls in the 1950s, I grew up in crinolines. Yes, they could be scratch and cumbersome, but they made me feel like a princess. I loved the way they felt. I loved the way they rustled and crunched. I thought they were so lovely on my older sisters, who got to wear them with grown-up hose and Merry Widow waist cinchers. I couldn't wait to dress like that when I was older. But when I finally reached girdle and stocking-wearing age, in 1962, crinolines were just on their way out. 1962 and 1963 were to crinolines, as I remember, what 1969 and 1970 were to girdles. When I reached womanhood, I wanted to dress, as I always did, like my mother and sisters. But in 1963 that meant dressing like Jackie Kennedy. Dior's new Look had run its course. While little girls continued to wear fuller skirts, grown women wore shifts and sheaths. The cool look was straight and smooth.

So, to be honest, I didn't wear crinolines as a teen. I never actually wore a street-length crinoline, or a full-length hoopskirt, until the early eighties, when I began to develop my interest in vintage fashion and historical costume. They are extraordinary garments that give the wearer a great sense of presence, of feminine authority. If you wear one, you see immediately why so many brides wear hoops or crinolines. These beautiful, flower-like extensions of the skirt make you feel so lovely, so graceful, so "there." Though it takes a little practice to manage them successfully, it is extremely pleasant to have something like that to manage for effect. A full skirt supported by a crinoline or hoops is like a fan, or a shawl--something that can be used to flirt with, to move, to arrange, in a kind of performance. There is a universal feminine appeal to such garments, and my daughter is as impressed by Belle descending the staircase in her full hoop-supported ball gown as I was watching Cinderella. I've seen women transformed, wearing them for plays or historical reconstructions.

I only lament that it is so difficult to buy a decent crinoline for fifties dresses nowadays. Vintage ones are hard to come by (they must be fragile), and the crinolines that square dancers wear aren't long enough. Bridal shops charge and arm and a leg for what they sell. It's a shame. I certainly hope other women have had the opportunity to wear them and develop a taste for them. It would be great to hear from any that have.

August 26, 1995:

Oh, I wish they'd come back in style too [crinolines]. No woman who ever wears one ever forgets it. I doubt they'd ever come back as everyday wear, they're too "conspicuous" somehow. They'd be perfect, though, and I think, popular for parties. One of the obstacles to their coming back, I think, is a lingering prejudice that they're too little-girlish, that a woman wearing one is flaunting her femininity but isn't being quite as serious and grownup as a woman in a straight skirt. It's a shame that this prejudice exists, though. My only thought is who could be more adult and formidable and powerfully sexy than Grace Kelly in "Rear Window" in all those beautifully crinolined dresses?


Return to PettiPrint Text Area

Return to Homepage