early 14c. (mid-13c. as a surname), "lower part of a woman's dress," the part that hangs from the waist, from Old Norse skyrta "shirt, a kind of kirtle;" see shirt, which is from the Old English cognate, and from which it is not always distinguishable in early use.
The sense development from "shirt" to "skirt" is obscure; it could be from the long shirts of peasant garb (compare Low German cognate Schört, in some dialects "woman's gown").
Also "lower part of a man's gown, clerical vestment, etc." (late 14c.). The sense of "border, edge, part of anything furthest from the mass or the center" (in outskirt, etc.) is recorded by late 15c.
Metonymic use for "women collectively" is from 1550s; the slang sense of "young woman" is from 1906; skirt-chaser is attested by 1942.
c. 1600, "to border, form the edge of," from skirt (n.). The meaning "to pass along the edge" is from 1620s. Related: Skirted; skirting.
updated on December 11, 2022