The pencil skirt

Pencil skirt how to wear it and how to wear it like French women do - Black leather pencil skirt, clutch bag

The pencil skirt has been a staple in women’s wardrobes for 70 years.  Christian Dior is often credited with introducing the pencil skirt to women in 1954 but some form of a straight skirt had been in circulation for a while before that.  From the beginning of the twentieth century women had been wearing some form of very straight skirt.  The hobble skirt, so called because of the wearer’s inability to take proper walking strides due to its restrictive, straight style, was popular in the early 1900s.  Flapper dresses were short and straight.  War-time rationing in the 1940s brought in clothing made with a minimal amount of fabric so narrow jackets and straight skirt were prevalent.  In one form or another, the pencil skirt has been with us for a while.

A sign of female emancipation in the work place, these straight skirts gradually morphed into the short, straight and practical pencil skirts that we wear today.  If a combination of women’s liberation and social necessity fuelled the rise in the straight skirt, or pencil skirt as it was termed, our modern pace of life adopted it for its own.  Teamed with a jacket to form a suit, it is a sign of professionalism and that a woman wants to be taken seriously at work.  It is very easy to wear, practical to travel in and can be teamed in endless combinations of clothes.

But this practicality can also be a downside for the pencil skirt.  Its practicality and functionality run the risk of relegating it to a purely functional outfit.  Consequently you wear the garment without love, it becomes purely a transactional process. And then you potentially devalue its contribution to your wardrobe which in turn devalues your clothes collection.

And there it has sat in our wardrobes, a slightly sexless, utilitarian piece of clothing which serves and meets the practical demands of our lives without giving us any joy in the wearing of it.

Having a wardrobe full of functional but unloved clothes is not a good idea and I have written on why this is not a good idea before and if you want to read those posts I’ll put a selection of them at the bottom of this article.

Cropped image of a woman in a blue pencil skirt, a blue tee shirt, and holding a blue circular handbag - Working Frocks

The other side to the pencil skirt

But there is another side to the pencil skirt.  One which is still serious but altogether more sensual.  This is the pencil skirt that is worn by stylish women the world over.  Looking effortlessly chic whether dropping the children off at school, walking the dog or at work in the (home) office this pencil skirt is as far removed from the starchy, androgynous, faceless vibe of an ‘office’ pencil skirt as you could get.

This pencil skirt might be created in a beautiful fabric, it might be any length from above the knee to calf length and it will be worn by women who are a wide variety of shapes and sizes because the pencil skirt does suit every shape.  It is the egalitarian item in your wardrobe, the democratic friend of all.  See below for how it suits different body shapes.

At Working Frocks we have introduced a skirt, the first non-dress item ever! We are in the process of creating a French style capsule wardrobe with seven essential pieces.  The pencil skirt has made the cut into the the last seven.

Our pencil skirt, featured here, is made in a spotted stretchy wool jersey.  It is the perfect dress up, dress down skirt and its stretchy, figure hugging design covers the body in a subtly sexy fashion.  Just like the French style we are recreating in the capsule wardrobe.

How to wear your pencil skirt

Nailing good pencil skirt style is easier than you think.  For those of you at a loss as to how to style your pencil skirt, we’ve got you covered.  For those of you who are just looking for a few tips, we’ve got you covered too.  As we are creating a French capsule wardrobe collection we’ll take our lead from our Gallic neighbours and take style tips and inspiration from the way they wear the pencil skirt.

Less is more

Less is always more with French women.  Don’t clutter up your pencil skirt with a teeshirt, a shirt over the top, a pullover around your neck, a scarf, necklaces, ear-rings and a belt.  No! Pick 3.  My golden rule.

teeshirt, shirt scarf

shirt, pullover, necklace

shirt, ear-rings, belt.

If the belt is very subtle, eg small and the same colour or similar to the skirt then you can probably exclude it from the list of three.  However, if it is a statement belt, large, coloured, has a massive buckle or is in any way really obvious, you should count it as one item.

It is tempting to pile on all sorts of accessories when you are faced with a simple piece of clothing.  Don’t be tempted.  Be confident.  Wear few items, wear great items and channel your inner Française.

Brunette woman with her hair up and a fringe, wearing a pink pencil skirt and white blouse, holding a white handbag

Have one or two slightly different pencil skirts

In our collection we currently have a simple spotty black pencil skirt.  However it was a difficult design decision to make as to whether to include a bronze-coloured silk version.  The bronze pencil skirt looked great with all the other items in the French capsule collection but it had a slightly different feel and style to it.  We might include the bronze version later in the season.

Maybe have a black one and a navy one.  Or a black one and then one in a colour: camel, cream, navy, grey.  French women rely in a basic palette of neutral colours.  They use these colours as the backdrop to other more statement colours.  For example they will wear printed fabrics such as leopard or snake.  Teamed with a black skirt or jeans, these bolder items continue to look chic and polished rather than outrageous and garish.

What body shapes suit the pencil skirt?

Pencil skirts are hugely forgiving despite being short and straight in shape.  Of course they suit rectangular shapes, emphasising your legs and lean silhouette.  However they also suit pear and hourglasss shapes as long as the hem finishes on or slightly above the knee.  Generally pear shapes suit an a-line skirt shape, but get the proportions right on the pencil skirt and pear shapes can incorporate another shape into their wardrobe.  For apple shapes, the pencil skirt is a great style.  It takes the focus away from the waist or a slightly rounded tummy and puts the focus on the bottom and leg area which is a part of the body which is usually an asset to the apple shape.  Finally inverted triangles will look amazing in a pencil skirt, providing a great balance between strong shoulders and generally long legs.  The pencil skirt really is the skirt for all body shapes!

When to wear the pencil skirt

You can wear the pencil skirt wherever and whenever you want.  Our focus in this blog is on incorporating it into a capsule wardrobe (specifically a French style capsule wardrobe) and on taking another look at the pencil skirt and wearing it as a sophisticated part of your wardrobe collection, not just a pedestrian item that you wear with no love or creativity.

What to wear with the pencil skirt

See our previous article on the capsule wardrobe which will give you an idea of how many items to have in your capsule wardrobe (eg 7, 14, 21) and what proportion of dresses/jackets/skirts/tops to employ.

It may be that you need a new outlook on what to wear with your pencil skirt.  Out should go: unstylish jackets in low quality fabrics, random cardigans and white shirts that look like school uniform.

Instead take a leaf out of styling (French) women: Have a beautiful white linen, cotton or silk shirt.  Wear it with the collar and second button undone.  Wear it with a simple top which is made in an unusual fabric or extremely luxurious.

How to wear your pencil skirt in the absolute French style

Definitely wear it with a (p)leather jacket.  Nothing says French style more than that black leather jacket. French women are much better than us at styling a black skirt with nude tights and looking totally amazing.  Then, when spring arrives properly, wear your skirt with nude legs and black or beige sandals, or, to rock you inner Chanel, beige shoes with black toes.

On rainy days wear your pencil skirt with an oversized trench coat and large scarf, wrapped round your neck.

On warm days pair your skirt with a twin set, a pashmina and a pair of ballerina flats.

On snowy days, add over the knee boots and a chunky cropped jumper with a high neckline to your skirt.

I hope you’re getting the idea.

Raise the level of your pencil skirt, from drab to drop dead gorgeous.

It really is the little black dress of the skirt world.  High praise indeed from the website that loves all things ‘dress’.  We have adopted the pencil skirt as one of our own and welcomed it into the Working Frocks wardrobe.  We hope you will do the same!

Have a great week!


If you would like to read more you may enjoy:

Your Clothes and emotions

How to dress like an A-lister: Why we are all A-listers now 

Finding your unique style 

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