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What is an Overskirt?

N. Freim
N. Freim

An overskirt is a layer of fabric that goes on top of another layer, usually to add fullness or detail. The main types of overskirts are ones which drape over the hips, ones which cover most of the underskirt, and ones which are designed to reveal the underskirt. The overskirt has been fashionable off and on for centuries and throughout a number of cultures. Some examples include bustled skirts, peplums from the 1940s and poodle skirts from the 1950s.

Peplums are short overskirts which accent the hips. They can be attached directly to the underskirt or to a jacket which has been fitted to the waist; the overskirt section then flares from the waist covering the hips. It is often shorter in the front and extends a bit farther down the back. The jackets are sometimes called peplum jackets and are usually paired with a straight, fitted skirt; this type of ladies’ suit style was popularized in the 1940s.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Some overskirts are designed to conceal most of the underskirt. These are often of heavier materials and go over lighter underskirts, such as petticoats. The goal of layering the skirts like this is to add fullness, thereby accenting the proportionately smaller waist and balancing the curve of the breasts. In the 1950s, “poodle skirts” of felt or wool were often worn over full petticoats or slips.

Long overskirts also have been worn throughout history. These types of overskirts covered everything and were typically used to protect the material of whatever was underneath, almost in the fashion of an apron. These were usually made from sturdy materials such as twill or canvas and were more for function than for fashion.

Perhaps the most popular and often used overskirt is one designed to reveal at least part of the underskirt. This type can be split down the front, split at the sides, or gathered and draped in certain spots. This group also includes sheer overskirts; while they might be the same length as the underskirt, they are intended to enhance and display rather than cover.

Fashions such as the mantua gown and the bustled skirt used a revealing style. Parts of the overskirt were gathered up and tucked back at the hips to reveal the underskirt, usually embroidered or embellished in some way. The underskirts could be quite elaborate, coordinating with the colors of the trim on the dress or showcasing detailed needlepoint. Since this overskirt was pulled partially out of the way, the fabric needed to drape well; silk, satin, and chiffon were commonly used for this style.

Today, overskirts are sometimes worn with pants or leggings. Skirts with two layers are generally attached to each other rather than having two separate pieces. Sometimes as short skirt is attached to the leggings, as well, to create a style called a fold-over skirt.

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