Bonnie Cashin’s Skirtings Inc.

Leigh Wishner

In the mid-1950s, Bonnie Cashin and Dorothy Liebes worked on one of their most sensational collaborations: Skirtings, Inc. Conceptualized as collector’s items, these lengthy skirts, made primarily from interior furnishing fabrics, were first designed by Cashin in 1956. Some of the materials Cashin used were made by Forstmann Woolen and the Boris Kroll firm, but the stars in this line were those she designed to accentuate fabrics custom-woven by Liebes. Featured in Vogue, these hostess skirts were admired for their breezy svelteness, lush textures, and abundant shimmer (Fig. 1). Women’s Wear Daily described Cashin’s first Skirtings, Inc., collection for Phillip Sills as “easy styles with the accent on unusual fabrics. . . . Miss Cashin uses these fabrics in ‘occasion clothes’ for gala at-home wear. Her skirts in various lengths stress tied-in and cinched waistlines, accented by narrow suede streamers.” [1] 

Cashin intended simple cashmere sweaters or suede tanks as toppers for the skirts, plainly enhancing the luxe products of Liebes’s looms: “The height of elegance is reached in fabrics by Dorothy Liebes, internationally known for her drapery and upholstery materials and use of metal yarn. Outstanding is a bluish green, metal-touched, hand loomed skirt with molded, boned waistline that rises in front.” [2] In a clever bit of promotion, Cashin offered throw pillows in matching Liebes fabrics to complete any hostesses’ entertaining vision (Fig. 2). [3] 

In Liebes’s hands, the Skirtings, Inc., color palette galloped at full-spectrum speed. There were subtle mélanges of off-white and beige, and a tweedy black mingled with silver and white, but pulse-quickening shades like “sour green, morning glory, poppy, mauve pink and strong yellow” were more typical. [4] Cashin’s 1958 skirtings group featured a checkered mohair fabric, frosted with Lurex, that came in “a jumble of greens” and blues or “all dazzling reds” with pinks (Fig. 3). [5] This fuzzy material was overlapped in slim, unrestricted wrap skirts or tapered, mid-calf variations that appear as effortless as a blanket gathered around the hips, minimally shaped at the waistline, with self-fringe cascading down the center front seam—a style maximizing the totality of Liebes’s fabric, and worn by burlesque legend (and Cashin client) Gypsy Rose Lee. Photographs of Lee attending a birthday party for architect Ed Stone, held at Liebes’s apartment in 1959 and subsequently pasted into her scrapbooks, show her engaging with Cashin in the sarong-style skirt Lee would later donate to the Brooklyn Museum (now part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection). [6] Eugenia Sheppard of the New York Herald Tribune recounted party notes, dishing, “For one of his gifts Gypsy Rose Lee parted her wraparound skirt of gold shot handwoven Liebes fabric and pulled an autographed copy of her recent book out of her garter (Figs. 4, 5).” [7]  

Also tucked into Liebes’s scrapbooks is the following assessment (possibly from a press release) of the Skirtings, Inc., collection: “The kind of gala clothes worn at home are a different breed from those worn out. Bonnie Cashin has a special feeling for this kind of dressing and this small group is in the skirt and sweater mood. Her love of color and texture has garnered the attention of individualists from coast to coast who collect this kind of clothes.” [8] Sold at price points ranging from $29.75 to $100 (roughly $325 to $1,000 today), these elegantly casual garments epitomize the synergy between these women, both lifestyle-centric designers ingeniously anticipating the direction of practical yet luxurious fashion. [9] 

[1] “Decorator Fabrics in Designer Skirts,” Women’s Wear Daily 93, no. 62 (September 27, 1956): 4. 

[2] Ibid. 

[3] Ibid.  

[4] Ibid. 

[5] Skirtings, Inc., promotional copy. Series 8, Box 32, Folder 2, Scrapbook 1958, Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian. 

[6] Photograph, Gypsy Rose Lee, 1959. Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[7] Eugenia Sheppard, New York Herald Tribune, March 11, 1959. 

[8] Skirtings, Inc., promotional copy. Series 8, Box 32, Folder 2, Scrapbook 1958, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[9] “Decorator Fabrics in Designer Skirts,” Women’s Wear Daily 93, no. 62 (September 27, 1956): 4. 



Fig. 1 Color photograph of a dark-haired woman smoking in a bright blue sweater and blue and green striped skirt.

Fig. 1 Bonnie Cashin skirt made of Liebes fabric from "Fashion: New Ideas about in-for-the-Evening Clothes," Vogue, December 1, 1956, p. 143

Fig. 2 Black-and-white photograph of a store window display with an abstracted Christmas tree, mannequin wearing a sweater and ankle-length skirt, and pillows scattered on the ground.

Fig. 2 Marshall Field & Company holiday window display featuring Skirtings, Inc. skirt made with handloomed Dorothy Liebes fabric and Liebes pillows, 1956; Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Fig. 3 Color photograph of a woman in a bright pink sweater and long skirt with horizontal pink and red stripes, standing in front of a gold and white curtain

Fig. 3 Model wearing a skirt from the Dorothy Liebes/Bonnie Cashin Skirtings Collection, standing in front of the Liebes-designed theater curtain for the American Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair, 1958; Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Fig. 4 Black and white photograph of three women at a party; the center figure wears a close-fitting sweater and checkered wrap skirt with fringe.

Fig. 4 Bonnie Cashin (left, with back to camera) and Gypsy Rose Lee (center) wearing a skirt designed by Cashin in fabric designed by Dorothy Liebes, ca. 1958; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Fig. 5 Detail of a blue and green checked fabric.

Fig. 5 Textile, ca. 1958 (detail); Designed by Dorothy Liebes for Bonnie Cashin (American, 1908–2000); FIDM Museum 80.649.3. (detail of a Cashin-designed poncho in the same fabric seen in the skirt worn by Gypsy Rose Lee

Leigh Wisher

Leigh Wishner is a modern textile and fashion historian. She has worked in the fashion museum field for over twenty years, holding positions at the FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and at Cora Ginsburg LLC. She received her BA in art history and archaeology from Barnard College, and her MA in decorative arts and material culture from Bard Graduate Center. Leigh has an unabashed passion for twentieth-century textiles, fashions, and interiors, lecturing extensively on these intertwined subjects. Most recently, she contributed to A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes (2023, Yale University Press/Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum), the first major publication devoted to this pioneering twentieth-century American weaver.