Skirt fullness was purely fashion, which again emphasized the appearance of a small waist. Based on studio photographs, hooped skirt diameters generally ranged from 50% to 70% of the wearer’s height. A good rule of thumb would be, the plainer the dress, the smaller the hoop. Wearing only a hoop 90” in circumference or less, or not wearing a hoop at all is a very appropriate (and safe) option if you are doing a work impression, especially for working around campfires.
Other less obvious construction features served mainly to make the best use, and potential reuse, of expensive fabric. These features include skirt openings that are to the left of center. This puts the opening in a seam allowance instead of cutting into a skirt panel.
Many skirts were left unlined unless they were of very fine, delicate fabric. Unlined skirts should have a 2” to 4” hem facing made of brown polished cotton or even left over scraps from other sewing projects. This facing protects the bottom of the skirt, but it also gives a bit more weight to the skirt, making it lay smoother. By using different fabric for the hem facing, less dress fabric is wasted.
Dresses often had sturdy hem braid at the bottom. On very fine dresses it is attached to the inside of the hem and extending approximately 1/8” to 1/4” beyond the hem. On more ordinary dresses it can be wrapped around the hem, front to back, to further protect the edge of the skirt from wear. It is useful to know that the hems were finished before the waist treatment was done on the skirts. Dress length is adjusted at the waist, not the hem as is commonly done today.
The main variation to this style that appeared during the war was the use of gored panels, which tapered toward the top, as opposed to rectangular panels. Goring reduces the volume of fabric at the waist, but it also limits the reuse of the fabric. For these and very likely other reasons the use of gores remained a fashionable option only until at least the closing months of the war if not later.
Gauging (a very controlled form of gathering) as a skirt treatment was more typical of the years before hoops, and the resulting expanses of skirt fabric, became so common. This waist treatment very likely fell out of popularity because it is not as effective as knife pleats in confining and controlling large amounts of fabric. It still would be appropriate to use with work dresses as they are not as full as dresses requiring hoops.
Box pleats generally did not appear until near the end of the war, when fashions were starting to change rapidly. By this time elliptical hoops were becoming fashionable and the emphasis on the skirts was moving toward the back, with narrower hips becoming more fashionable. Skirts without any pleats or gathers in the front of the skirt did not appear until after the war years.
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Updated 9 March 2002 (a)