Juli Lynn Charlot in one of her first Poodle Skirt designs
Poodle skirts are the quintessential item when people think of 1950s fashion. The woman responsible for the design is Juli Lynne Charlot, an American singer and actress, who was in her 20s at the time and needed a last minute festive outfit for a Christmas party. Her mother owned a factory that worked with felt, and so she went to the factory and cut herself a full circle skirt out of the felt that didn’t require any sewing. She then added some playful felt Christmas appliques. This was in 1947, at the height of the New Look when fabric restrictions were lifted and skirts got fuller and longer.
As a singer, Charlot designed her own stage clothes and hired a dressmaker to sew them. She married film editor Philip Charlot and quit acting and singing, but he lost his job. She could no longer afford new clothing, but didn’t know how to sew. That’s when she had the idea to make up more thrifty party skirts. She received so many compliments, so she made two festive skirts and brought them to a Beverly Hills boutique. The skirts sold immediately and the boutique placed an order. After Christmas 1947, she was asked to make a non-holiday design and came up with the concept of three Dachshunds as appliqués. Two females and one male chasing after them with their leashes intertwined. In 1948 she designed the poodle version and it was even more successful, giving the skirt its iconic name.
The skirts became super popular among children, teens and women, with many making them at home and getting creative with their own appliques and themes. Charlot’s opened up her own company and made skirts with all sorts of appliqués like the Eiffel Tower, racing horses, playing cards, and martini glasses. She was even commissioned to design skirts for President Eisenhower’s election, one which read “I like Ike” and another that read “More than ever, I like Ike”. She was a democrat however, and eventually designed her own political skirt that read “Go to Bat for the Democrats” with a baseball bat wielding donkey and a defeated elephant.
Bettie Moorie was another designer who embraced the Poodle Skirt, and she designed a collection that featured playable board games, complete with pieces tucked into pockets. She had Backgammon, parcheesi, and other fun games that could be splayed out while sitting on the floor at a party!
Poodle skirts were a fun way for women and girls to express themselves and showcase their personality or whatever they were interested in. Such a fun DIY garment!