The Comical Crinoline
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Tidbits : The Comical Crinoline

When the hoop skirt was invented in the mid 1850's, it was hailed as a liberating device for women who were fed up of having to wear layer upon layer of hot, heavy and itchy horsehair or stiffened linen crinolines
to hold out their skirts in the fashionable bell shape.
The new cage crinoline(also called hoop skirt or hooped petticoat), which as made out of watchspring, was light and airy and you could actually walk around without having numerous petticoats wrap and tangle around your legs. Most women loved the new crinoline but as with any new and different fashion, it was ridiculed, often by men, who wondered why or how women would want to wear such a large and cumbersome looking thing!

At first in the 1850's when the hoop was invented it was first though to be a fad and everyone predicted that it woulddie out by the early 1860's. Crinolines in different forms and sizes, would last until about 1887. This illustration from the November 13, 1858 edition of Punch magazine even jokingly predicted that a sidesaddle riding hoop which encompassed the horse would become the fad! Although hoops weren't worn for riding, they were sometimes modeled under riding habits when having your photo taken in the studio. Another fad would be that the hoop would lead to charming fashions such as a little doll wearing a cage crinoline would make a lovely and practical parasol!

The actual concept of a skeletal petticoat wasn't new, farthingales (cone or barrel shaped whalebone or cane boned underskirts) and bum rolls (bustles) were worn during Elizabethan times and into the 17th century, panniers (whalebone or cane boned pettcoats or what looked like baskets worn at the hips, which jutted out at the side) and bustles were also worn in the 18th century. With the advent of high waisted, long lined Regency gowns, the boned underskirt would remain dormant until the 1850's. This swing of the pendulum of fashion was not over looked and magazines of the period often made comparisons between the old farthingales and panniers to the new cage crinoline. This 1864 print from the period magazine, The Leisure Hour, likens the cage crinoline to the pannier, showing how even after one hundred years, fashion had actually gone back in time to 1764!

Of course everything was not so rosy in Crinoline Land as stereoveiw photos of the period were quick to point out. Risque stereoviews were churned out to the delight of men, showed how wearing a crinoline could be frought with the danger of showing an ankle! It could be quite difficult getting on a horse omnibus of the era in a hoop as this stereoveiw ridiculed. The lady either had the choice of taking off her crinoline in *gasp* public for all to see (note all the crinolines hanging off the side of the 'bus) or she would have to be help onto the bus by men lifting up her skirts to get a better grip! Note how how the bus conductor is getting a good grip on her hoop exposing her striped stocking leg and her petticoat with the Broderie Anlgaise.

Some stereoveiws played on the fantasy of having the hoop catch on somethingand flip up in the air exposing everything! Sometimes this actually happened... In the early 1860's, the Duchess of Mancester caught her hoop in a stile while out walking with the Duc de Malakoff. She fell over and exposed her bright red pantaloons (which were split crotch at this time too) to the Duc who was startled into exclaiming "C'etait diabolique!" This c. 1859- 1861 stereo photo, entitled, Crinoline Difficulties(right), isn't so bad but obviously the lady in it tripped on her crinoline while out walking and has her leg. One way a lady could avoid any mishaps while out when wearing a crinoline, would be to take a man's arm. However, as this c. 1862 colorized stereoveiw shows, due to the sheer volume some crinolines could reach, sometimes taking your man's arm would be a little more difficult! The gentleman in the photo has solved the problem by looping a long ribbon from her arm to his.

Although mocked, the cage crinoline would die hard in the late 1880's only to be revived again in the 1950's. It still remains a popular fashion among Victorian reenactors today which makes believe that the cage crinoline even after 140 years, is truly a timeless invention.

All photos are from the collection of L. Hidic