13 Types of Pleats for Dresses and Skirts

Fashion styles come and go, but pleats somehow manage to be always around. The reason pleats never go out of style is that they’re both comfy, as in allowing you more freedom of movement, and classy. There are various types of pleats but no matter which you choose, the garment will radiate elegance. It will make you stand out from the crowd.

Types of pleats

As a matter of fact, when they were invented back in Ancient Egypt, thousands of years ago, it was only the rulers, the pharaohs, and their queens, that could afford to wear pleated clothing. People did all their sewing by hand, obviously, and mere mortals did not have an army of slaves working for them day and night.

Even today some fashion designers use pleats sewn by hand for their collections, which might explain the eye-watering price tags.

Fortunately, nowadays everyone can afford to wear as many pleated skirts, dresses or pants as they want. The only problem you’ll have is knowing which type of pleats to choose, which is more flattering to your figure, which is sporty rather than elegant, and, most of all, what to match it with.

Technically speaking, pleats are created by doubling or folding in on itself a piece of fabric, which can be done by pressing, ironing, or sewing it into place. And this can be done in so many ways, depending on the effect you want to achieve.

Don’t worry, this article will tell you everything you need to know about the various types of pleats and how to turn a mere piece of clothing into a fashion statement and make you look smashing. Why else would you go through all the trouble of choosing the perfect skirt if not to have all heads turn when you walk in?

Here is a list of the different types of pleats for clothing and fashion accessories.

Accordion Pleats

One of the most popular types of pleats, accordion pleats are usually made by heat-pressing the fabric into evenly-spaced folds. Don’t worry, the fabric will stay like this even after washing so you won’t have to bother with ironing.

Accordion pleats are used for both skirts and dresses and they usually go down all the way to the hem. One thing about this type of pleats is that they make any item very feminine and chic.

And they go well with almost any type of figure. Yeah, they got their name from the accordion bellows they resemble, but won’t make you look like one!

A skirt with accordion pleats can be worn with a tight-fitting blouse or shirt. You can go for matching colors or raise the stakes by opting for a clear contrast. Your choice!

Box Pleats

Box pleats stand out. For the untrained eye, most types of pleats look similar, but if you look closely, a box pleat has two parallel folds facing opposite directions. What you get is a raised section of fabric, which adds fullness to the item.

At the waistband, the corners of the pleats might be touching each other but typically they get looser as you go down the leg, which gives the skirt extra volume and total freedom of movement.

Box-pleated skirts can be worn knee or calf-high and by contrast with the fullness of the item, your legs will appear thinner. You might want to underline that effect by accessorizing your outfit with a pair of high-heels. Great for a day at the office or, indeed, for a night out!

Fluted Pleats

This is a very special type of pleats, as the folds are very small. Fluted pleats, can be pressed or rounded, which makes the pleated piece of fabric look like, you guessed it, a pan flute. This type is most commonly found in the trimmings of an item, and the fluted pleats give in an elaborate look.

Fluted pleats can be used to decorate a skirt, but you might also find shirts or sweaters with flute pleated sleeves.

Always try to match a fluted pleats skirt with a very simple top, preferably body-hugging and in a very discreet color. Remember that clashing styles are very hard on the eye and you want to avoid that at all costs.

Graduated Pleats

No, they’re not worn for graduation parties. Technically, they are a type of your basic knife pleats (more on that below), but they’ve sort of graduated as they become wider as you go down the skirt. To put it simply, at the waistline the under pleat is smaller in width than it is at the hem. This flaring adds volume to the skirt and, by contrast, your waist will appear wasp-slim.

Graduated pleats can be safely worn on a formal occasion as well as on a more casual outing. As for the length of the skirt, your safest bet is calf-high. For a light fabric, you can also go knee-high, if you have the figure to pull it off.

Honeycomb Pleats

Not much need to explain this type of pleats. The name is a dead giveaway, they look like a honeycomb and they can make a skirt quite sweet. This is commonly used for smocking and what you have is basically pleats stitched together to form a diamond pattern.

Honeycomb pleats go all the way back to the Renaissance and their main advantage is that such a pattern allows the garment more flexibility as it expands to hug even a fuller figure. Back then curves were all the rage so the ladies of that time found such pleats most comfortable and quite flattering.

Most skirts and dresses use honeycomb pleats to showcase the waist or to create an eye-catching design at the hips level. The beauty of it is that it takes the eye away from the hips themselves, which can be a big plus if you didn’t have time to hit the gym in the past few months.

Inverted Pleats

One of the most basic types of pleats. What we’re talking about here is box pleats, but inverted. The fabric is folded inside rather than outside. Occasionally, this is used when you want to use two different types of fabric and have another color just peeking out from the inverted pleat.

Just as the original box pleats pattern, inverted pleats are only secured at the waistband and allowed to flow freely. Those were quite popular during the Crazy 20s and are quite as fashionable now that we’ve hit the 20s again.

Inverted pleats are great for knee-high skirts or slightly below the knee and give you a look that falls somewhere between casual and formal. Bottom line, you can wear such a skirt anytime without having to worry you will look overdressed or underdressed. Quite versatile!

Kick Pleats

This is your basic inverted pleat and you will find one or two on a very tight skirt. It’s about style just as much as it is about functionality. You know the problem with figure-hugging skirts that go below the knee. You can barely walk, let alone waltz into a room.

Typically, a kick pleat is inserted in the lower part of the garment, most times on the back of the skirt. From the front, the skirt wraps around your legs, but you get a little space on the back so you can walk gracefully, rather than stumble your way into a room. And when you stand still the kick pleat at the back of your skirt is barely noticeable. It’s your little secret!

Since you’re going to all the trouble of wearing a tight-fitting skirt you will want to maximize the effect by matching it with an equally slinky top.

Kingussie Pleats

Think kilts! Kingussie pleats take their name after a Scottish town and I can only assume it was some local tailor that got the clever idea of adding a box pleat at the back of traditional kilts.

That was centuries ago, but these days Kingussie pleats have been incorporated in various types of skirts. In some cases, the central box pleat has smaller knife pleats on either side to allow the wearer freedom of movement.

Such a skirt goes great with a classic shirt, something low key because you want to let the eye focus on the special item you’re wearing.

Knife Pleats

Why a knife? Because they’re very sharp! Knife pleats are firm-pressed to stay in place and they go all around the skirt. This is by far the most common type of pleats you’ll see in the fashion industry. The folds go in one direction and slightly overlap each other. They create a slimming effect but are way more comfortable to wear than a tight-fitting garment.

In most cases, the knife pleats start at the waistband, but you can also opt for a modern look with the fabric starting to fold on itself somewhere below the hips.

Those are some of the most elegant types of pleats and are well-suited for a variety of fabrics. Match a knife pleated-skirt with a simple unicolor shirt for a youthful schoolgirl look, but it also works great for a formal occasion, like a business meeting.

Pintuck Pleats

In the fascinating world of pleats, those that are sewn in place are known as tucks. Now, pintucks are very narrow pleats sewn at regular intervals in parallel lines. Since they’re very narrow they are not suited for a thicker fabric and you’ll find them mostly on lighter materials like taffeta or organza, which are very precious and extremely classy.

By the way, pintucks are also very popular in cute baby clothing. Since they are ideal for lightweight fabrics, pintucks are the perfect choice for a flowing summer dress or skirt.

Also, you might find pintuck pleats sewn into a sleeveless blouse, preferably on a unicolor material, making even the most basic fabric stand out.

Rolled Pleats

As the name says, this type of pleats is not pressed or ironed to give them the sharp edges typical of knife or box pleats. They’re rounded and soft, which created a very feminine look. To make rolled pleats, you have large amounts of fabric gathered in a small bunch, usually at the waistband.

It’s a complicated process as the material is rolled upon itself to create tubular folds. The rest of the material is allowed to flow freely. The volume of the skirt depends on the number of rolled pleats squeezed in at the waistband.

It does take a lot of fabric to make such a garment but the effect is rather spectacular, like catwalk spectacular. Since there’s a lot of fabric gathered at the waist, this can look bulky, so this type of pleats is best-suited for a slim body.

Sunray Pleats

Also known as sunburst pleats, sunray pleats are a cross between accordion and graduated pleats. Take a regular firm-pressed accordion pleat and let it grow wider as you go down towards the hem. What you get is incredible volume and if you lift the hems of your skirt on both sides it will look like a splendid sun.

Sunray pleats are very elegant, which is why many of the top fashion designers like to include such items in their collections. I’m talking Prada and Givenchy here, so you will want to have a sunray pleated skirt in your wardrobe. If you can find a summer dress with sunray pleats, those are to die for!

As for matching such a precious item, that depends on the fabric. You’ll probably want a silky blouse or sleeveless top. Frankly, T-shirts would sort of ruin the outfit.

Watteau Pleats

This type of pleats dates back to the 18th century and takes its name from the French painter Antoine Watteau who made many portraits of women wearing loose-fitting dresses with one or two box pleats going down the back of the garment.

You’ll find such pleats in the so-called sack-back dresses. The French noblewomen wore such gowns to entertain guests in an informal setting. To this day, Watteau pleats are the mark of a comfy and casual outfit, perfect for a picnic, a walk in the park, or a dinner with friends.

They go well on a short-sleeved dress or a loosely-fitting sleeveless one. Since the design is quite basic, the fabric should be colorful, maybe in a floral pattern, to turn a simple dress into an eye-catching piece.

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