What is a Handkerchief Skirt?

Michelle Baugh

A handkerchief skirt can refer to either a skirt made out of handkerchiefs or a skirt with an overlapping zigzag hem. The style became popular in the 1930s largely as an inconspicuously way to lengthen the hemlines of skirts, which had undergone a drastic shortening during the Flapper era. Madeleine Vionnet is widely credited with bringing the handkerchief style to the forefront of Depression- and War-era fashion.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The handkerchief skirt has consistently remained in fashion and is often seen in dressier styles. When not made out of authentic handkerchiefs, the pointed pieces tend to be constructed from lighter fabrics, such as silks and chiffons. This gives the skirt a flowing appearance and makes it a comfortable piece for dressy occasions.

A handkerchief skirt will usually be knee to ankle length. The modest length has also helped keep the design in style because it can be worn in both casual and formal settings. In addition, the handkerchief style is flattering on nearly all body types, making it easily marketable to many women.

There are a few variations of the traditional handkerchief skirt. The most commonly seen variation is a simple a-line skirt with attached handkerchief-hem panels at spaced intervals. This style is almost exclusively reserved for dress clothes. Another variation is a tank dress with evenly spaced lightweight handkerchief-hem panels sewn around it.

Other articles of clothing have also gotten the handkerchief hem treatment. During the Bohemian phase of the 1970s and its revival in the early part of the 21st century, tank tops were commonly made with a handkerchief hem to create an airy look. In addition, camisoles are sometimes created with a single handkerchief point, usually in the middle of the garment. Although extremely rare, some pants also come with a handkerchief-like hem, which is often inspired by so-called harem pants or other belly dancing attire.

An easy way to make a homemade handkerchief skirt is by taking two large handkerchiefs and laying them on top of one another. The top handkerchief should be rotated 90 degrees, giving the skirt a zigzag hem. Make a hole in the middle of both of the handkerchiefs large enough to fit over the hips. Cut a piece of elastic the length of the waist, minus three inches. Insert the elastic between the two handkerchiefs along the open circle, and fasten it using a sewing machine or a needle and thread.

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Discussion Comments


Are they still in style in 2013?


I'm going to try it with 2 38" square scarves. That'll be easier than two pieces of fabric -- no hemming necessary!


Actual handkerchiefs are not large enough to be turned into a skirt. Perhaps you meant to suggest that large square pieces of material can be overlapped and rotated.

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