This is an alphabetical glossary of SKIRT SHAPES and FEATURES. Some skirts are variations within these categories so I pick the one that is closest to its shape and use that in its description.
A-LINE or PRINCESS
This is a skirt that is fitted at the waist and then flares slightly away from the body roughly in the shape of a capital letter A. These are good for dancing as they leave space in the legs for movement. This was a popular shape in the 1970s. It is a very versatile and elongating shape that is flattering on all figure types. It is a good choice to minimize a larger figure. An A-line can be full or narrow or modified.
Bias cut skirts are cut across the fabric’s grain on the diagonal. This is used to create garments that closely follow the curves of the body. This was popular in the 1930s for gowns and skirts. Cutting on the bias creates a flowing (flared) hemline as well that are feminine and romantic. Bias cut skirts can be long or short and have panels or multi-layers. They have stretch and movement and flare modestly at the bottom. These are nice for swing dancing as they show off your body shape with vintage style and move with you.
This is a skirt that is made of a number of flat pieces of material sewed into a circle with a hole in the middle for the waist. The material at the waist is flat where it is sewn into the waistband. This was popular in the 1950s. These are great for the rockabilly gals who sometimes put crinolines on underneath. 1950s poodle skirts are circle skirts with an appliqued poodle.
This is gathered at the waist and has a very full silhouette. It is not as full as a circle skirt. Full skirts have more fullness in their fabric than tulip skirts and can overwhelm a petite figure or add more fullness to a full figure. However, full skirts often balance out a slim-waisted, full-busted figure by adding more fullness at the hips. Drop-waisted full skirts with fabric that flows from the hips into soft pleats can be very flattering to fuller hips and is very nice for swing dancing as it twirls around the thighs not unlike trumpet skirts.
This skirt type hugs the body and usually ends with a flare at the bottom. A mermaid shape can work for many body types. This is usually a longer skirt not worn in swing dancing. It seems to be a derivative from the Hobble Skirts that were in fashion around 1900.
This is really just referring to the length. It could be a mini full, straight, a-line, pleated, etc skirt. This was popular in the 1960s.
PENCIL or STRAIGHT or WIGGLE
These skirts are long and slim like a pencil, cut in a straight line from the hip to the hem. They are fitted through the hips and then fall straight to the floor. These usually have a slit in the back. Sometimes they have kick pleats instead of a slit. Contemporary pencil skirts are rarely as tight as the vintage ones and many are made with lycra or other stretch fabric to give it a stretch and be more comfortable to wear as well as retain that tight look. New ones that the girls like for dancing are made with lycra so they stretch and also have slits up the side or back or even in front over one thigh. Some cotton/lycra ones have no slits because they stretch so much. Many Lindy Hoppers currently prefer this silhouette on the dance floor.
Wikipedia says “However, it was the French designer Christian Dior who introduced the pencil skirt in the late 1940s, using the term H-line to describe its shape.” The pencil silhouette was being done in the 1920s too but were not called that.
Pleated skirts come in many forms, the basic one being pleated all the way around from the waist down to the hem. Many consider this to be an unflattering shape as it is very full, adding bulk to the body and not suited for 1950s crinoline support. More flattering are partially pleated straight skirts or those that are pleated from the waist yet are stitched down flat through the hips and only loose from the thigh down to the hem. There are also drop waist pleated skirts that have flat fabric around the hips and then pleats below. These last two styles are great for dancing and end up being somewhat like the trumpet, fitted through the hips and then fuller over the thighs with a nice twirl and rise when dancing.
These are skirts that are fitted through the waist and hips and have gores that are triangles of fabric inset at regular intervals into the skirt from the waist down to the hem. There are 4, 6 and 8 gore skirts. I have seen some with even more gores. There are skirts that are take offs on this shape and construction that are made with triangles on angles that have the same trumpet shape but are constructed differently. These are preferred by lots of swing dancers from Lindy to Balboa as they twirl around the legs beautifully.
Tulip skirts have more fabric around the hips than pencil skirts, giving them the shape of an inverted tulip. Tulip skirts look good on many figure types, especially slender figures as tulip skirt fabric tends to add a little extra bulk around the hips. It is not recommended for fuller hips. I have seen these made with fabric that overlaps in the front and has a slight v cut out where the fabric meets at the legs. Some have pockets built in at the hips w/extra fabric. I have seen some dancers wear these but not many unless it has some built in stretch.
Wiggle is a contemporary term for the pencil silhouette that is used frequently in vintage circles to indicate a tight fitting, sexy skirt or dress from the 1950s. Vintage skirts can fit tighter than contemporary ones as they were not made with any stretch blended fabrics and always fall at the waist where many contemporary pencil skirts are made to fall at the top of the hips and have lycra or other stretch element. This is really the same skirt and cut the same way. The fit ultimately depends on the wearer’s shape and how tight or loose they like to wear their skirts.
Wrap skirts are usually A-line, pencil or tulip silhouettes. They are comfortable, adjustable skirts. They can work well for dancing when worn with dance pants or when adding a snap midway down the wrapped section to keep it closed.
A drop waist skirt has fabric that is flat around the hips that is then sewed to another fabric with a horizontal seam around the bottom of the hips. The fabric beneath the drop waist can be many different skirt types; pleated, full, bias, gored, etc.
A strip of fabric attached to one edge of a garment (usually a skirt) to create a wide ruffle.
A triangular inset of cloth placed in a seam to give fullness (e.g. The bottom of a skirt.).
A section of fabric that is cut narrow at the waist and wide at the hem.
This is a short length of pleats that is sewn into a bottom section of a skirt for ease of movement. Some pencil skirts have these in the center back.
A flowing piece of material attached at the waistline or hemline of a jacket, blouse, skirt or dress designed to create a flared appearance.
Attached linings are nice features and replace the need for a slip. They help the skirt fabric flow smoothly over the legs and they stay in place. It is nicer if the lining follows the shapes of the outer skirt, especially in a trumpet or full skirt that rises as you spin. Some skirts have straight linings with slits for ease of movement. When I find skirts that are nice for dancing that have tight linings I have created or enlarged lining slits when necessary for dancing ease before I put them up for sale.