Thursday, March 18, 2010

Round and Round: A Closer Look at Circle Skirts

First, a big thank-out to Adore Vintage for clueing me in to Nina Leen. The Russia-born, animal-loving lenswoman became one of Life magazine's premiere fashion photographers, noteworthy as much for her brilliant compositions as for the wit with which she arranged her pictures.

One Leen shot selected by Adore featured a fashion item I'd never heard of before. An array of "conversation skirts," opened out to full circumference like passionflowers to the sun:

Conversations indeed! Check out especially the Georges Braque down south and the bodybuilder just barely visible at right. But honestly, a conversation skirt by any other name is a circle skirt, and that's how you're more likely to find them sold secondhand.

You'll find a fascinating and detailed history of the garment at Here's Looking At You Kid, which also ran the advertisement above, from Jet, featuring a skirt by Juli Lynne Charlot, one of the best-known designers working in the style.

The circle skirt's popularity in the late 50's and early 60's derived from a variety of factors. If a woman couldn't afford to buy a designer version, the ultrasimple pattern made it easy even for novice seamstresses to make at home. The skirt was modest, and looked great on all shapes. Finally, circle skirts--especially hand-painted versions--became associated with the souvenir trade in Mexico, and were brought home by Americans and others on holiday as a festive reminder of south-of-the-border flair.

If you're considering a circle skirt today, in particular ones that are guaranteed to start conversation, you could hardly do wrong with . . .

This one, in which the souvenir theme goes international to include the Arc de Triomphe and the Taj Mahal . . .

. . . or this one, which is about as festive as it gets minus the actual mariachis and margaritas.

And finally this treasure featured on Lulu's Vintage. [When wearing this one, ensure that the burro is oriented around front. You're welcome].


  1. Wow! I love the beautiful prints and hand embroidery - and that the designs are so often inspired by nature and/or travel. The first photo is rather curious... where are the models' legs?

  2. The train skirt in the first photo is also a Juli Lynne Charlot design. Charlot is still alive and doing well in Mexico. I recently talked with her on the telephone, and one thing she stressed was that all her skirts were guaranteed to start a conversation. There were no awkward moments when wearing a conversation skirt!

  3. Susan: You got me! I reckon they rigged up a canvas with holes in it--there wasn't much photoshopping in ye olde days . . .

    Lizzie: How cool! I love the idea of clothing as icebreakers . . . in fact, it's a great subject for another entry. How lucky you are to have been able to speak with Juli.

    Many thanks for your comments!

  4. Wow! So Cute..... These designs are looking awesome... really thanks very much for sharing it. I like your blog. It's very interesting....

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