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Marie Antoinette in a court dress of 1779 worn over extremely wide panniers. Portrait by Mme Vigée-Lebrun.

Panniers or side hoops are women's undergarments worn in the eighteenth century to extend the width of the skirts at the side while leaving the front and back flat. This provided a flat panel where boldly scaled woven patterns or rich embroidery could be fully appreciated.

The style originated in Spanish court dress of the seventeenth century, familiar in portraits by Velázquez. By mid-eighteenth century it had been developed into the robe à la française, which ensured that a woman took up three times as much space as a man and always presented an imposing spectacle. At their most extreme, in the French court of Marie Antoinette, panniers could extend the skirt several feet at each side.

The name comes from panniers, a French term for wicker baskets (paniers in current French) slung on either side of a pack animal.

Court ladies in a view of Vienna by Canaletto's nephew Bernardo Bellotto, c. 1760 (Kunsthistorisches Museum)

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