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June 6, 2013

Petticoats or Crinolines……What Term Do You Use?

Sara In AZ

For the last 6 or so years I have fallen into the habit of wearing a petticoat almost daily. Granted, if I am doing yard work or some other task like cleaning or painting I will not be all gussied up…..but more often than not I am wearing a dress and a petticoat. I know that may seem really odd to many people, “Why would Sara go to all the trouble?” you might think. Honestly, to me it just feels right – more right that wearing  jeans or sweatpants…but that’s just me and I know that wearing petticoats and/or dresses all the time really won’t work for most ladies.

Sometimes people (mostly women) that see me out and about are intrigued by my look and will stop me to ask if I am actually wearing a petticoat, to which I answer “Yes” and then I give them a peek at the bottom edge….they say they love it – that it really brings back memories of their younger days. Other times people look at me quizzically and (I think) perhaps wonder if I’ve gone insane and really do think it’s 1950! ha!

Here is a picture of Ruth and I (when we had out grand meet up at Rosie’s Diner a few years back), the pink dress is one of my favorites and you can see Ruth has some petticoat action going on too! Go Ruth!!! Anyway, this is a pretty normal  look for me on a daily basis…..unless it’s yard work time!


For whatever reason I fell into using the term ‘petticoat’ when when describing my poufy undergarment. I have also heard ladies refer to them as ‘can-cans’, but more often people refer to them as crinolines.

My friend Redwin, owner of Sweet Lorain The Vintage Department Store in Cleveland Ohio (if you need vintage anything and are in Cleveland this is THE place to go y’all!), and I got into a discussion about what was exactly the right term to use for these poufy undergarments.

Wikipedia has Petticoat defined as:

A petticoat or underskirt is an article of clothing for women; specifically an undergarment to be worn under a skirt or a dress. The petticoat is a separate garment hanging from the waist (unlike the chemise).

Wikipedia has Crinoline defined as:

Crinoline was originally a stiff fabric with a weft of horse-hair and a warp of cotton or linen thread. The fabric first appeared around 1830, but by 1850, the word had come to mean a stiffened petticoat or rigid skirt-shaped structure of steel designed to support the skirts of a woman’s dress into the required shape. In form and function it is very similar to the earlier farthingale.

Wow, steel was used in crinolines back in the day….who knew! Wild! Though it goes on to say that modern crinolines no longer use steel – whew!

But, typing in searches online for actual petticoats or crinolines – well, the terms seem to be pretty much interchangeable.  Some sellers even use both terms in their descriptions calling them ‘crinoline petticoats’.

Here are a few pictures of my unmentionables!

I found this one at a thrift store for maybe $10. I like to wear it when I want a little less pouf.


It was made by Malco Modes and was probably made for Square Dancing originally.


I found this vintage petticoat at the thrift store too. I believe it was around $10 as well.


This one is made from very stiff and scratchy tulle and would be torture to wear were in not lined with that attached slip you see in the middle.


This is my daily wear petticoat! I bought this one for $30 at a vintage store, though I don’t know how technically “vintage” this one really is.


It is labeled ‘Doris’ Crystal Magic’ and I believe this also started out as a Square Dancing undergarment.


You can see it is very ruffle-y and full!


So my question for everyone is…………………………

What do you call them  – Petticoats or Crinolines……or something else all together?

What is the right term? This girl needs some help!

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27 Responses to Petticoats or Crinolines……What Term Do You Use?

  1. deb Reply

    June 6, 2013 at 6:36 am

    I’m “of an era” (62 yoa) and we called them petticoats back in the day!

  2. Mary Reply

    June 6, 2013 at 9:05 am

    I use both petticoat and crinoline interchangeably probably because I work in the bridal industry. I also wear retro/vintage inspired dresses complete with a petticoat. Everyone loves them!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      June 7, 2013 at 11:06 am

      Yay Mary!!! Good on you for wearing petticoats with your retro dresses!

  3. Andrea Reply

    June 6, 2013 at 9:45 am

    You and Ruth look absolutely adorable, Sara! As for what term, I have always called them crinolines. I wonder if it’s a regional thing at all, like pop/soda? I am absolutely impressed by your collection of vintage crinolines that are in such awesome shape though, wow!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      June 7, 2013 at 11:08 am

      Gosh, thanks Andrea! You know I had not thought about regional differences in terms of what it was called….good point though….I’ll just bet that does play a part in it!

  4. ChynnaBlue Reply

    June 6, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I call it a crinoline because my mom did. We only said petticoat if we were talking about Petticoat Junction or Operation Petticoat. 🙂

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      June 7, 2013 at 11:10 am

      HA ChynnaBlue! Yes, Petticoat Junction….too funny!

  5. Beth Reply

    June 6, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I love that you’re wearing dresses with petticoats daily. It’s such a lovely look. But I’ve wondered…as I slowly transition my closet contents to vintage, am I too old to pull it off? Even though I’m a young-looking 54, maybe I’m better off incorporating a vintage item into a contemporary outfit (scarves, blouse, brooch, etc.), instead of the entire outfit being vintage.

    I’d prefer to wear all-vintage, but don’t want to stand out in a bad way. Of course, I’m careful to avoid items that are clearly designed for someone younger, just as I am with contemporary clothing.

    Any thoughts, suggestions or comments are most welcome.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      June 7, 2013 at 11:23 am

      Thanks so much for the compliment Beth, that is very kind of you!

      Honestly, no, I do not think you are too old to pull off a vintage look. It sounds like you are transitioning in a smart way, and only buying what is appropriate for you. It seems like a lot of vintage clothing is so timeless anyway that most people would never even guess it is really vintage.

      I would say that if you do really prefer an all vintage look to just embrace that….you know what looks good on you…..and if it just feels right why not???

      I’m sure that you will stand out wearing all vintage…..but in a good way, because you’ll look SO gorgeous!

      • Beth Reply

        June 7, 2013 at 11:28 am

        Thanks, Sara. Vintage hugs to you and everyone at NPR!

  6. SewingDervish Reply

    June 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    I use both terms but I favor “petticoat.” Not evryone knows what a crinoline is and petticoat seems so much more homey and natural.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      June 7, 2013 at 11:26 am

      You are right SewingDervish, petticoat does sound more ‘homey and natural’!

  7. Sarah Reply

    June 6, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    I always thought petticoats were softer, perhaps made of chiffon, and crinolines were made of stiff net. I don’t know if the definitions actually differ, but that’s how I distinguish them.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      June 7, 2013 at 11:30 am

      Good point Sarah! It does seem like now-a-days both petticoats and crinolines are mostly made out of the same materials – from what I can see anyways. But I think you are right, back in the day they were made differently.

  8. Jen Reply

    June 6, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    Usually it’s ‘petticoat’ for me—plus as SewingDervish said, many don’t really know what “crinoline” means.

    When I’m dressed 50s, I do wear mine (some need shortening, though, because I’m, well…short) and people unfailingly love it. They don’t fit so well with my usual 40s look, though. 😉

    I have a crazy query…I picked up a SUPER fluffy one at an antiques mall last summer for $8. It definitely began life as a square-dancing petticoat, because I think it gives me about 3-4′ of air, which is (sorry all) WAY too much! Has anyone…well..de-fluffed a petticoat a bit? This one probably has about 10 layers and I’m awfully tempted to slice a few out (and then turn them into a less-fluffy petticoat, bwah ha ha).

    Is that sacrilege?

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      June 7, 2013 at 11:37 am

      Whoo-Hoo! Go Jen for wearing petticoats too! But yeah, I can see how they would not really jive with the 40s look!

      10 layers does sounds like a bit much – I think you are right, it definitely does sounds like a square dance petticoat! You know, I would say that if you really liked the petticoat and thought you could get some use out of it ‘de-fluffed’ then go for it. It would not be sacrilege at all. And wow, $8 – total score!!!!!

  9. Sherree Reply

    June 7, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    I love that you wear them! I was born in ’61 and had an older sister born in ’50. We just called them “slips”. Maybe that was just the vernacular here where we grew up? I will tell you that I had a stiff (netting) type petticoat beneath my wedding gown and when I took it off that night it had shredded my stockings. Now that was some rough fabric 🙂

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      June 8, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks Sherree! It kind of does seem like there could be some regional differences for sure in terms of with you call these. It’s probably just what you’ve grown accustomed to saying……slips, petticoats, crinolines….etc.

      Wow, that must have been one uncomfortable petticoat if it shredded up your stockings poor thing….I hope your legs didn’t get too scratched up!

  10. Ruth Reply

    June 8, 2013 at 3:17 am

    We called them either one, depending on how poofy they were, stright slips were petticoats and fancy ones were crinolines, especially if they stuck out. I had a crinoline as a little girls to wear under a square dance dress! The dress was a beautiful turquoise with silver ricrac, but scratchy as all get out! The crinoline had a plastic innertube you had to blow up to make it stick out, and it constantly went down!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      June 8, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      Interesting to think about Ruth….calling the more straight ones petticoats and the more full ones crinolines. I could definitely see the thought behind that!

      And you have taught me something today – I never knew some crinolines had blow up innertubes on the inside! Amazing!

  11. Anonymous Reply

    June 11, 2013 at 10:57 am

    In Oregon we called them petticoats. Crinoline was a rarely-heard word, generally used in talk about 18th or 19th century clothing.

  12. Laura Reply

    June 18, 2013 at 6:29 am

    In the late 50s when I wore these we called them can-can slips in SW Iowa. Anyway at our house we did. Oh were they fun!

  13. Gwyn Reply

    January 2, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    We wore can-cans in our day (50s) when I was in grade school. Slips when we became teens as these were more grown-up! LOL!

  14. lilac Reply

    January 25, 2014 at 7:09 am

    I love the word Petticoat. What a wonderful example of womanhood you are,

  15. John S Reply

    October 4, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Ok, I’m a guy and i’m NOT a crossdresser or anything. But I do have experience with what my sister always called petticoats. She is 5 years old than me so when she was 16, I was 11. I don’t think I was the bratty little brother who was always around but she was my big sister and I always thought it was so cool when she let me hang out with her.

    We grew up as you say, back in the petticoat era, and she loved pretending I was the little sister she never had. So, she enjoyed dressing me up. And almost invariably it was in her old dresses and petticoats. When her girlfriend were over, I was more or less included and I learned to sashay with the best of them. I learned to twirl wearing them and, frankly, I thought they were great fun (as long as my male friends didn’t see me.)

    Fortunately, she outgrew dressing me and I outgrew being dressed. But I do have fond memories of wearing those things. If I were a girl today, I’m pretty sure I’d do it again. Thanks for having your website. It’s a fun cruise down memory lane.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 5, 2016 at 7:26 pm

      That is the best story I’ve heard in a long time John, thanks so very much for sharing!

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