early 15c., petycote, "men's short, tight-fitting coat," literally "a small coat," from petty + coat (n.). Originally a padded coat worn by men under armor, applied mid-15c. to a garment worn by women and young children. By 1590s, the typical feminine garment, hence a symbol of female sex or character and, colloquially, "a woman," as in petticoat government "rule or predominance of women in a home" (1702).
Men declare that the petticoatless female has unsexed herself and has left her modesty behind. [Godey's Magazine, April 1896]