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Adding Volume to a Dress with a Petticoat

adding volume with petticoat
Adding volume with petticoat

Adding Volume to a Dress with a Petticoat

Written by Hannah Mae Webster

When observing vintage styles, one may often come across the petticoat. This shape enhancing piece is an essential styling tool that can be used to add volume to a dress. The useful undergarment can add an element of drama to an otherwise lifeless gown, proving a great investment for those exploring vintage inspired styles. 

It is important to understand how to effectively create volume with a petticoat and learn about shapes, lengths, and key styling inspiration.  

16th century: The petticoat trend dates back to the 16th century when women styled the piece beneath their gowns to create a desirable and traditionally feminine shape. Originally the petticoat skirt was attached to a bodice. The added volume created by the petticoat gave the illusion of a smaller waist. Delicate lace petticoats were also worn visibly beneath gowns. Petticoats added lots of volume to ball gowns.

17th century: Looser fitting styles became popular. The petticoat lost the attached bodice and became an individual skirt piece. Layering petticoats to create more volume was common.

18th century: Quilted petticoats became popular. Multiple layers add insulation and intricacy. 

19th century: Following the popularity of more streamlined shapes, petticoats changed. They were reduced in volume and became predominantly a modesty layer beneath dresses. As trends changed, petticoats returned to fuller shapes. Crinolines also became popular. 

A crinoline is a structured, stiff type of petticoat that holds rounded skirt shapes. 

20th century: As slip dresses surged in popularity, petticoats were discarded. However, they re-emerged following the introduction of Dior’s new look collection in 1947. 

Traditional petticoat
Traditional petticoat

Finding a petticoat made from a stiff fabric such as crinoline material is an effective way of adding volume and shape to a dress. Additionally, layering petticoats beneath a dress can build volume and add drama. 

But crinoline isn’t the only fabric that makes many petticoats. Other fabrics for petticoats: Cotton, Netting, Nylon, Lace, Tulle, Taffeta, Organdy, Crinoline

When Christian Dior introduced his new look collection in 1947, he triggered the re-emergence of petticoats as undergarments. The collection featured sensational full-skirted gowns, padded hips, and cinched waists. The success of his debut collection inspired the hourglass figure and the desire for curve accentuating pieces, the optimum time for a petticoat revival.

Stars such as Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren playfully flaunted petticoats throughout the 50s, often exposing them beneath the dress.  

Christan Dior, New Look, 1947

The hourglass figure has a strong connection to the popularity of petticoats. The 1950s ideal body consisted of a smaller waist and full curves, a shape that could be achieved through styling methods. Full skirts were an effective way of creating the illusion of a small waist, as well as broadening the shoulders using clothing.

Both methods aimed to minimize the waist by widening other areas. As well as petticoats, other undergarments and foundationwear were used, such as corsets, girdles, and the bullet bra. The 50s once again embraced highly feminine shapes which increased the demand for body shaping accessories.  

1950s petticoats

“A woman's dress should be like a barbed wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view.”

Sophia Loren

Although the basic function of a petticoat remains the same, there are a variety of shapes that each aim to create a distinctive look when layered under a dress. Depending on the shape, petticoats can add different levels of volume to a dress.  

Typical petticoat shapes:

A-line – added volume in an ‘A’ shape. The volume is greater at the bottom. 

Bell – creates a bell shape when underneath a dress. 

Square – volume is added all over, creating an overall fuller look

Vogue petticoat, vintage magazine

"The dress must follow the body of a woman, not the body following the shape of the dress."

Hubert de Givenchy

Incorporating a delicate petticoat is a fabulous way of injecting vintage style into a modern wardrobe. It is important to select a petticoat that can fit seamlessly with your existing pieces for a cohesive look. It is necessary to consider the different ways a petticoat can be styled; exposed or concealed. 

If an exposed look is more desirable, choosing a more aesthetic, delicate petticoat is a great option for adding a hint of classic femininity. Petticoats were often found beneath the gowns of Hollywood stars to enhance the shape and volume. Drama has long been the essence of Hollywood, with eye-catching, voluminous gowns often taking center stage. 

Brigitte Bardot with petticoat
Brigitte Bardot with petticoat

Brigitte Bardot pictured with an exposed petticoat.  

Audrey Hepburn in films "Sabrina" and "Funny Face"

Audrey Hepburn pictured in voluminous gowns from the films, “Sabrina,” and “Funny Face.”  

Marilyn Monroe shoot by Milton Greene, 1954
Marilyn Monroe shoot by Milton Greene, 1954

Marilyn Monroe pictured wearing a voluminous white petticoat during a photoshoot

 with Milton Greene in 1954 

Sophia Loren showing petticoat
Sophia Loren showing petticoat

Sophia Loren pictured showing a petticoat beneath a detailed halter neck dress.  

If wishing to subtly add volume to a dress without drawing attention to the petticoat, choosing a length that is shorter than the dress is a good option as it should effectively conceal it. However, exposed petticoats can be a fun addition to an outfit, which can be achieved by a length that is the same or only slightly shorter than the dress hem.

As a general rule, petticoats should be 2-5 inches shorter than the bottom of the dress. Petticoats should be long enough that there is not an obvious jump between the bottom of the petticoat and the bottom of the hem.

Traditionally, back in the 19th century, cage crinolines were introduced as structured hoops that would sit underneath a dress to create a rounded shape. However, this then developed, consisting of lighter materials that served the same purpose. In summary, a crinoline is a stiff, structured alternative to a petticoat. 

If looking for a more understated and modern look, a less structured petticoat is a great option, as it gives the vintage appearance without an overly voluminous effect. 

Traditional 19th century petticoat

La Dame’s Victoria petticoat has been designed to add the perfect amount of volume to a midi dress. Inspired by 1950s styles and decorated with floral detailing, it has the potential to be a new wardrobe favorite. 

The Victoria petticoat is 100% cotton for a comfortable, vintage inspired look.  

La Dame petticoats

1. Style with our black Brigitte midi dress for a contrasting look inspired by Brigitte Bardot. 

2.Style with our white Marilyn dress for a beautifully feminine look. 

3. Style under a white broderie sundress for a coordinating summer ensemble. 

Shop our white petticoat here

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