Crinoline: Wikis


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crinoline patented
Cutaway view of a crinoline, Punch magazine, August 1856
Sequence of posed joke photographs of five stages of putting on a crinoline, ca. 1860

Crinoline was originally a stiff fabric with a weft of horse-hair and a warp of cotton or linen thread. The fabric first appeared around 1830, but by 1850 the word had come to mean a stiffened petticoat or rigid skirt-shaped structure of steel designed to support the skirts of a woman’s dress into the required shape. In form and function it is very similar to the earlier farthingale.


Origin of the word

The name 'crinoline' was invented by one of the fabric's manufacturers, who combined the Latin words crinis (meaning hair) and linum (meaning flax). An alternative origin for the word is sometimes given: the combination of the French words crin (specifically meaning horse-hair) and lin (again, meaning flax).

The history of the crinoline

The crinoline was not the first accessory designed to support the wearer's skirts in the correct shape; the farthingale in its various forms was worn from the late fifteenth century through the early seventeenth century, and panniers in the eighteenth century. However, these very formal and elaborate styles were only worn at royal courts and in the highest levels of society.

After the French Revolution, French fashion turned against the elaborate styles favoured by royalty, the court, and the aristocracy. As Parisian fashion was very influential, most western European countries adopted the same styles.

Under the prevailing neoclassical influence, women’s fashions had adopted a simple style based on the simple draped garments of Ancient Greece and the togas of ancient Rome. Skirts were straight and slender, and worn with very few — if any — petticoats.

However, the silhouette did not remain that way for long, and skirt hems began to widen to give a cone shape. In the 1810s, gores began to be used in skirts again, and skirts grew wider in the 1820s. The width of these skirts was sometimes supported by a small bustle. These were not always sufficient, and so extra petticoats were worn to help.

The first 'crinolines' were petticoats starched for extra stiffness, or made out of the new crinoline fabric, and they often had ruffles to support the skirts to the desired width. However, dress fabrics were heavy but not stiff enough to support their own weight, which tended to collapse the petticoats out of shape. Extra rigidity was added to petticoats through rings of cord or braid running around the hem. In the 1830s, women started to wear petticoats with hoops of whalebone or cane around the hem.

The first hoop skirt in the US is from 1846, patent number 4,584 of David Hough, Jr. In 1858, IRJ Mann's US patent number 20,681 was the first latticework of strings and hoops.

In 1858, the American W.S. Thomson greatly facilitated the development of the cage crinoline by developing an eyelet fastener to connect the steel crinoline hoops with the vertical tapes descending from a band around the wearer’s waist. The invention was patented in the United States (patent US21581), France (patent FR41193) and Britain (patent GB1204/1859). This facilitated the fashionable silhouette's development from a cone shape to a dome. It was not an entirely original idea; Thompson was probably inspired by the open cage or frame style of farthingales and panniers.

The cage crinoline was adopted with enthusiasm: the numerous petticoats, even the stiffened or hooped ones, were heavy, bulky and generally uncomfortable. It was light — it only required one or two petticoats worn over the top to prevent the steel bands appearing as ridges in the skirt — and freed the wearer's legs from tangling petticoats.

Unlike the farthingale and panniers, the crinoline was worn by women of every social class. The wider circulation of magazines and newspapers spread news of the new fashion, also fueling desire for it, and mass production made it affordable.

Problems with the crinoline

The crinoline was the subject of much ridicule and satire, particularly in Punch magazine. Dress reformers did not like it either — they seized upon the cage aspect of the crinoline and claimed that it effectively imprisoned women. Given that the crinoline did eventually have a maximum diameter of up to 180 centimetres (six feet), it is easy to imagine difficulties in getting through doors, in and out of carriages, and the general problems of moving in such a large structure. However, while the crinoline needed to have a degree of rigidity, it also had a degree of flexibility. A particular kind of steel, known as spring steel or watch-spring steel, enabled the hoops to be temporarily pressed out of shape.

The second problem was the potential impropriety of the crinoline. Its lightness was a curse as well as a blessing, as a gust of wind or a knock could set it swinging and reveal the wearer's legs. Even worse, if she tripped or was knocked over, the crinoline would hold her skirts up.

The third problem was the pressure, but a tight, stiff corset spread the pressure.

Sitting down could be a problem if the wearer failed to spread her skirts out properly as the entire hoop contraption would fly up in her face. This embarrassing but humorous tendency is often depicted in comedies of the era.

The greatest problem with the crinoline, though, was that in some situations it was dangerous — because of its size, the wearer was often not aware of where its edges were. It was only inconvenient and annoying when a maid’s crinoline knocked a vase off a table or upset a cup, but for factory girls, there was the risk of crinolines getting caught in machinery and dragging them to be mutilated or crushed to death. Crinolines also burnt easily, partly because air circulated freely underneath them and partly because the fashionable dress fabrics, silk and cotton, were highly flammable.

However there is one instance of a crinoline saving a life, in the case of Sarah Ann Henley who jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol in 1885 after a lover's quarrel, but survived the 250ft drop because her skirts acted like a parachute and slowed her descent.

The crinoline's decline


The crinoline had grown to its maximum dimensions by 1860. However, as the fashionable silhouette never remains the same for long, the huge skirts began to fall from favour. Around 1864, the shape of the crinoline began to change. Rather than being dome-shaped, the front and sides began to contract, leaving volume only at the back. The kind of crinoline that supported this style was sometimes known as a crinolette. The cage structure was still attached around the waist and extended down to the ground, but only extended down the back of the wearer’s legs. The crinolette itself was quickly superseded by the bustle, which was sufficient for supporting the drapery and train at the back of the skirt.

The crinoline today

Crinolines are still worn today. They are usually part of a formal outfit, such as an evening gown or a wedding dress. The volume of the skirt is not as great as during the Victorian era, so modern crinolines are most often constructed of several layers of stiff net, with flounces to extend the skirt. If there is a hoop in the crinoline, it will probably be made of plastic or nylon, which are low in cost, lightweight and flexible.

With the recent trend towards lavish weddings and grandiose bridal attire, the crinoline has started making a comeback. For her first solo collection, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood looked to the crinoline for inspiration. The collection, titled Mini Crini, featured shorter crinoline skirts with more flexible plastic hoops.

See also


  • Costume in Detail 1730 - 1930, Nancy Bradfield (ISBN 1-85882-038-3)
  • Handbook of Nineteenth Century Costume, C. Willett Cunnington and Phillis Cunnington (ISBN 0-571-04703-3)
  • Fashion in Underwear, Elizabeth Ewing (ISBN 0-7134-0857-X)
  • Victorians Unbuttoned, Sarah Levitt (ISBN 0-04-391013-0)
  • Corsets and Crinolines, Norah Waugh (ISBN 0-7134-5699-X)

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CRINOLINE (a Fr. word formed of the Lat. crinis, hair, and linum, thread), a stiffening material made of horse-hair and cotton or linen thread. Substitutes for this, such as the strawlike material used in making hat shapes, are also known by the same name. From the use of the material to expand ladies' skirts the term was applied, during the third quarter of the 19th century, when the fashion of wearing greatly expanded skirts was at its height, to the whalebone and steel hoops employed to support the skirts thus worn (see Costume). The term is also used of structures resembling these articles, especially of the framework of booms, spars and netting forming a protection for a warship against torpedo attack.

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