The Pencil Skirt: Hips and Hitchcock
If you’re looking for a sleek and versatile skirt with decades of history, you might try on a pencil skirt. Read on to learn more about this hip-hugging garment.
Ever wear an H-line skirt? If that sounds not just unfamiliar but hard to envision, try bending the two vertical lines of the H together at the top. Now play that in reverse and you get, in a gesture, the genesis of the H-line skirt, better known as the pencil skirt.
For this terminology we have to thank the alphabet-obsessed French designer Christian Dior, who, after first popularizing the A-line and then the H-line in the mid-1950s, went on to develop a “Y-line” silhouette. Whereas the A-line accentuates the tiny waist and full hips of an hourglass figure, the pencil skirt stays narrow from top to bottom to hug whatever kind of curves a woman has—if any. This newly slimmed-down look (an extension of earlier pencil-type skirts of the ‘30s and ‘40s) was also dubbed the “French bean” or the “flat look” in the press.
The pencil skirt tends to stop at or just below the knee, with a vent in its back seam to allow for greater mobility. This wasn’t a concern for one of the garment’s early predecessors. The fad of the 1910s known as the hobble skirt took the shape of the pencil skirt and kept going down to the ankles—where an extremely narrow hem required tiny steps and even caused reports of traffic congestion as women supposedly had to be helped across the street. This was a far cry from the images the pencil skirt would come to evoke: the favored choice of sultry Hitchcock blondes and, today, a staple of professional women’s closets everywhere.