Little girls still wore petticoats in the fifties and finding that very special one for my new church or school dress was a special treat. Mother, Sissy and I usually shopped at the S.S. Kresge store in the Lawndale Shopping Center because it was close by and the merchandise was not expensive. The SS. Kresge store along with Woolworth was the quintessential five and dime store of the day. The stores housed everything from clothing to hardware and we could find the perfect petticoat or mixing bowls or nails, or anything r else we might need in one location. As we entered the store, we saw the clothing racks in the distance filled with the lacy, full or half-slips sticking out from the racks. Ruffles, lace, nylon, tulle-they greeted us with style. Silk petticoats were not hanging on the racks at S. S. Kresge and even if they had been, they were too expensive for our budget. The petticoats were usually white, but also pink, pale blue or lavender and even yellow. The flashier petticoats were of course red or black, but I don’t remember having a petticoat in either of those colors. A bit scandalous for elementary school I imagine.
The full-length version always had a small pink flower with green stem appliqué attached to the center of the top half where it would lie flat on the breastbone of its small inhabitant. The half-slip would also sport the appliqué positioned at the waistline or along one of the layers of ruffles.
At the beginning of school each year, we went shopping for new shoes and dresses and of course a petticoat to go with the new dresses. One year, the newest petticoats of the season had jingle bells. Yes, jingle bells. I’m sure my teacher didn’t appreciate the noise because as I walked or ran I could hear not only the swashing of the nylon and tulle against my dress, I heard the ever so slight sound of bells jingling. melodiously. As I walked by my classmates, one of them always inquired, “Where are those bells coming from?” I stopped, moved my body side to side and proudly declared, “That’s my petticoat!” The jingling soon became passé, some of the bells fell off and I was eventually left with a plain old, quiet petticoat.
However, fashion never rests and not to be outdone by the musical petticoats, the petticoat designer of the day added yet another feature to the fifties’ crinoline. What was the purpose of a petticoat? Well, to emphasize the fullness of a skirt or dress. And, what better way to elevate the light, nearly weightless fabric of a petticoat than an inner tube. Yes, I said inner tube. Along the inside of the petticoat, someone had designed a model that included one-inch plastic inner tubes lining the circumference of the slip. Similar to the plastic inner tube used to keep bodies afloat in the pool; these petticoats had to be blown up before wearing. In the morning when getting ready for church or school, I opened the plastic valve, filled my lungs and blew into the inner tubes. I never liked blowing up inner tubes at the pool, but these were small and didn’t require much air.
Having accomplished that task, I knew my dress would billow out from me beautifully. I could confidently wear my petticoat without the telltale sound of bells and without having to wear an extra petticoat for extra bounce and fullness. No one, not even my best friend, knew I was wearing inner tubes.
But just like those pool toys and floats, the air eventually leaked out and by the end of the day, the extra bounce in the petticoat had disappeared. My dress still flared a bit, by virtue of the layers of ruffles and tulle, but the regal appearance the inner tubes created was gone. Not to my surprise, inner tube petticoats only lasted one season and I haven’t seen one since. Perhaps the style will return and the technology will have improved-but I don’t think so. Besides petticoats were terribly itchy and hot and………