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Also known as a “bubble skirt” or “harem skirt,” a puffball skirt is a short to mid-length skirt that’s been folded under at the hem and sewn to the lining, gathering the fabric and creating a puffed effect. Puffball skirts are usually fashioned from taffeta or satin, but have also been created in tweed, denim, and other more casual fabrics. When a puffball skirt is fashioned from a relatively relaxed fabric, it’s usually then stuffed with tulle to give the skirt structure and added fullness.
In the 1950s, puffball skirts were a popular women’s fashion item often worn at cocktail parties and proms. French designer Yves St. Laurent designed a puffball skirt under his apprenticeship with Christian Dior, and the skirt was also a signature piece of The House of Balenciaga. During the late 1980s, the puffball skirt appeared on the runways in a collection by fashion designer Christian La Croix. La Croix is often credited with inventing the design, which was dubbed le pouf and included in his debut couture collection along with corsets, bustles, bows, and other details inspired by 18th century ball gowns.
The puffball skirt retreated from fashion during the grunge era of the early 1990s, when luxe fabrics and overly-ornate details were traded for plaid flannels and no-fuss minimalism. Puffball skirts then made a comeback in the late 2000s, and were accompanied for the first time by “puffball sleeves” sewn using the same folded-under technique. Today, puffball skirts are a popular feature on prom dresses, wedding dresses, and dance costumes.
The puffball skirt is best worn with a sleeker, more fitted top, to avoid overloading the frame with too much volume. Puffball skirts are also generally more flattering when the waist of the skirt is cinched with a belt or bow. Intricate details or accessories should also be avoided elsewhere on the outfit when wearing a puffball skirt, which should be the outfit’s central, stand-out piece. Some modern twists on the puffball skirt include asymmetrical hems as well as tiered hems. Many newer designs of puffball skirts, such as those carried by UK retailer, TopShop, are also “yoked,” meaning they feature a different cut of fabric on the waist or below the puffed hem.
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