When I ran Sydney vintage clothing shop “Albert and Gladys” in the late ’80s one of the biggest sellers were ’50s rope petticoats – and they’re still the biggest nostalgia item at Circa, as older ladies see them and get taken back to another time.
They seem to have been de rigueur for a certain era, and were more popular than the big, boofy nylon tulle crinolines trimmed in lace and satin. If you’ve worn both types you’ll know what I’m talking about – the tulle petticoats are lovely but the scratchy nylon puts little rips into your stockings so it’s best to wear a slip underneath them, plus they tend to rip easily.
They do look fabulous though: here’s a nice example from Mags Rags – I’m sure this one won’t hurt your stockings.
We have one at Circa we use for photo shoots and it often needs little repairs. Vintage versions are often shabby if they’ve been worn – I still have all of my old crinolines, that I wore under floral cotton dresses in the ’80s but they’re no longer in good enough condition for resale, so I keep them for old time’s sake.
Cotton rope petticoats on the other hand, are incredibly robust – ladies boiled them up and starched them so they stuck right out, and even when you ripped them badly, they were easy to mend or patch. I’ve often wondered why more haven’t survived, but during the ’60s they were probably thrown out.
Rope (or corded as our American friends call them) petticoats are very full and have rows of rope sewn into casings, to produce a stiffness. They were an early form of hooped petticoat, and go back a long way, as rope has always been an easy to acquire product and they’re simple to make – ladies wore them during the Renaissance and Regency/early Victorian eras before steel hoops came in but in modern times, they’re associated with the late ’40s and ’50s.
One row of rope will give weight to a hem, which will then hang straightly but swing out when dancing, as evidenced here in this late ’40s ballgown worn by Candice DeVille in a fashion parade for the launch of “Our Girls” a book by Madeleine Hamilton.
I’ve sewn many rope petticoats and dresses, and the key is to sew the rope in very tightly. If the casing is too loose, the rope becomes floppy. Sometimes you get many rows of rope, sewn together in parallel rows – as in this re-enactment petticoat found on Pinterest.
For mid century petticoats the ropes are generally further apart in as in a tiered peasant-style petticoat, as they are in this late ’40s skirt, now available in the web shop.
Wearing petticoats feels wonderful, you just want to swish around in them – and dancing is even better. Once you’ve tried it, I guarantee you’ll want to wear them more often!
I used to wear two or three at a time and once had trouble at a party, when my skirts were too wide to fit down the hallway of a Newtown Victorian terrace house. Ah, that was a great night