Rope petticoats and crinolines

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.

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They do look fabulous though: here’s a nice example from Mags Rags – I’m sure this one won’t hurt your stockings.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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3 comments

  1. Double snap :-0 – you wouldn’t believe I was just chatting to a couple of older ladies at the Fifties Fair on Sunday and they said to me ‘do you wear rope petticoats?’ and I said I’d never seen one, though I’ve heard about them and they proceeded to tell me all about them, how they always wore them etc. I do hope they get in touch with me, as I’d love to know more. I’m itching to make one now. When I buy tiny piping cord I’ve seen the massive thick cord and wondered why anyone would want piping that big – guess it must be for this purpose!

  2. How wonderful! I’ve never heard of rope petticotes, only their tulle counterparts. I’ve always been a little wary about wearing them under my 50s dresses but I think I’ll have to invest in one to try out the pouffiness.

  3. I grew up in the era of rope petticoats. Like many, I made my own, but when started work, bought the sought after brands of Travis (Adelaide), and Miss Griffin (Sydney). I still have some of mine, the Griffin ones being favorites, double circle in style. Most likely you haven’t heard of them Fran, is perhaps because rope petticoats were favorites amongst us Aussies, US girls wore nylon and Brits were more subdued in the fullness of their dresses/skirts. I even still have corded, quilted, and felt skirts in my collection. I danced Australian rock n roll (not ball room style)until well into my late 50’s, and am now near 70.

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