A pencil skirt is a slim-fitting skirt with a straight, narrow cut. Generally the hem falls to, or just below, the knee and is tailored for a close fit. It is named for its shape: long and slim like a pencil.
The pencil skirt is usually worn either as a separate piece of clothing or as part of a suit. The slim, narrow shape of a pencil skirt can restrict the movement of the wearer so pencil skirts often have a slit at the back, or less commonly at the sides. Sometimes a pleat, which exposes less skin, is used instead of a slit. Some classic shoes for wearing with a pencil skirt are pumps, or high heels, with sheer stockings or tights. Back-seamed hosiery recalls the classic pencil-skirt era of the 1950s.
Pencil skirts can also be worn with flats for a more casual, youthful appearance that echoes the 1960s. Pencil skirts and loafers are classic "Prep."
Narrow-fitting skirts have a long history in western fashion. The predecessor to the pencil skirt is the hobble skirt, a pre-WWI fad inspired by the Ballets Russes. This full-length skirt with a narrow hem seriously impeded walking.
The French designer Christian Dior introduced the classic modern pencil skirt in the late 1940s, using the term H-line to describe its shape. It is in stark contrast to Dior's full-skirted New Look in his "A-line".
The pencil skirt quickly became very popular, particularly for office wear. This success was due to women's desire for new fashions in the wake of Second World War and Cold War rationing, coupled with the austere economic climate, when fabrics were expensive.
The pencil skirt feels different from looser skirts, and can take some adjustment by the wearer in terms of movement and posture in order to manage it successfully. Walking needs to be done in short strides; entering and leaving a car gracefully takes practice; and when sitting the legs are held close together which some find restrictive (though others like the feeling of their legs being "hugged" by the skirt). Activities such as climbing ladders and riding bicycles can be very difficult in a pencil skirt. The pencil skirt is warmer due to the reduced ventilation, and is less likely to be blown up by gusts of wind.