A lot of people think that dresses with the crinoline cage look elegant and noble. The crinoline is used even in modern fashion, but you really can’t imagine a 19th-century gown without this cage. Today, we will talk about the crinoline cage in detail: how to use it and feel comfy? did it really cause traumas and deaths of the women? why did men hate the crinoline? Also, we’d like to share some interesting facts and stories from the history of this extraordinary petticoat.
First of all, the crinoline cage is a stiffened or structured petticoat used by women to hold out a skirt – to make it wider and keep the shape. The crinoline cage was a must-have for 19th-century females, all the dresses since the mid-19th century were worn only with crinoline. There were dozens of shapes and sizes of crinolines. First crinolines were made from horsehair and cotton or linen; later, steel hoops replaced the horsehair.
Tips & tricks of moving in a crinoline cage
Crinoline cages – sure, they give a lovely silhouette. But how did women sit and walk in it?
Important thing – the cages, round or elliptical, in tapes or covered in fabric, collapse flat. That enables the wearer to manipulate them accordingly.
The cage folds on itself. You can sit with the cage around the chair/stool.
Let’s try it with the full attire: with petticoats and skirts on. Easy!
Next: up the stairs and sitting on the ground.
And again, with a full skirt: simply grab one of the hoops through the skirts and lift.
The same trick also works for getting into a carriage.
Walking: big, fast steps will move the cage closer to your feet – you can stumble, treading on the skirts. Small dainty steps are the answer.
Dancing – the same rule applies.
Sitting on a swing. The shape of the cage underneath.
Those famous narrow gates. Grab a hoop and lift on one side.
Or squash the crinoline on both sides.
Gates in full dress. Daringly flashing an ankle… in a fashionable boot.
The squish method.
And if needs be: running! Grab hoops at both sides and run. That carriage may not wait!
Oh, and getting dressed. A friendly assistance helps, but is not always necessary.
Undressing: unfasten all the layers, and let them collapse. Not that difficult at all.
Professor Lynda Nead from Gresham College (London) shared a piece of her knowledge about the crinoline in her lection. We offer you the extracts from this lecture.
Is the crinoline, in fact, a cage?
Interesting stuff from crinoline’s history
The dress in the 19th century played a significant part in the performance of femininity that in many ways departs from conventional and conservative images of Victorian womanhood. It gave women access to a bodily language that involved imaginative projection and fantasy – of women being reunited with discarded crinolines, of dressing to stand out in the crowd and to display a daring ostentation.
During the 1850s, dresses became bigger and more ornate. Skirts grew wider and wider, devouring meters of fabric, and decorated with flounces, fringes, and ribbons. And you can see this kind of decoration: this is a dress from the V&A.
A style was facilitated by the development of the sewing machine and technological developments in textile production that introduced new machine-made, light, gauzy fabrics (such as tulle and tarlatan), which supplemented the more established silks and taffetas. The key to this fashion, the frame for this confection of fabrics and ornaments was the hooped or cage crinoline.
This is a crinoline from around 1860 from the Victorian Albert Museum.
As the circumference of skirts grew in the 1850s, they required increasing numbers of petticoats in order to support them and give the dresses this distinctive dome shape. These layers of undergarments were made of horsehair, stuffed pads, and stiffened petticoats. They were hot, heavy, and unhygienic.
In 1856, a patent was taken out for a caged petticoat made of graduated spring-steel hoops, suspended on cotton tapes. Essentially, a device on which to hang expensive draperies, the cage crinoline did away with the layers of heavy petticoats that had earlier been worn. The innovations in the design of the crinoline quickly followed: it became more flexible and, with the addition of flounces at the hem, a more natural and less mechanical look was soon achieved.
The largest manufacturer of crinolines was Thompson's who, at the height of the crinoline fashion, employed over a 1,000 women in their London factory, producing 3,000 to 4,000 crinolines a day, which was sold in Britain and exported overseas.
By 1864, towards the end of the age of the crinoline, Edward Philpott, the manufacturer of the sansflectum crinoline, was advertising that his garment allowed the dress to fall in graceful folds, resume their original shape if pressed out of it and make no creaking or rattling.
Crinolinomania. Period of mocking the crinoline
The crinoline was a fashion of paradoxes, of Sheffield steel, rolled out to give the impression of natural folds of fabric, of volume but the absence of mass, of spatial expanse constructed on insubstantiality. The paradoxical nature of the crinoline is found in the etymology of the word. The Oxford English dictionary gives its derivation from the French words for the original stiff horsehair petticoats and its adaptation to describe the later hooped frameworks.
The crinoline quickly became an object of ridicule. Satirical cartoons began to appear almost as soon as the fashion itself. This one was published in Punch in August 1856.
Along with many other illustrated periodicals, Punch published literally hundreds of articles and images mocking the crinoline. You almost begin to wonder, what's at stake? A campaign against the fashion? They ridiculed its size, its inconvenience, and most of all, the women who wore it. The first cartoons represented the crinoline as a sort of sartorial deception that distorted and disguised woman's natural shape.
This cutaway image from August 1856 takes the form of a comparative “as she is” and “as she appears”. But the crinoline – the foundation for the deceit.
By the following year, the inconvenience and spatial imposition of the fashion was the main butt of satirical humor. In Cool Request, a woman in a very large crinoline asks her male companion to take outside seats on a snowy day because the carriage can't accommodate them both.
No medium could resist the visual humor of the crinoline in the second half of the 1850s. It appeared in illustrated books and prints.
Photography also got in on the act. This is a series of photographs showing a woman being dressed. This series of photographs is from around 1860.
In fact, the mania that Punch termed “Crinolinomania” seemed to be a condition afflicting the satirist, as much as the wearers of the fashion. The daily and weekly press was full of leaders, articles, and letters from party familias, attacking the crinoline and its vain and self-indulgent followers.
Why did men hate crinolines
But why did men hate crinolines so much? This can be answered firstly in terms of health and safety. Crinolines were a fire hazard. Week after week, stories of women burnt to death when their crinolines caught fire, were reported in the newspapers. In October 1861, the Guardian reprinted an article subtitled “Crinoline – a real social evil”. The term “social evil” was usually used for prostitution. The article claimed that it was responsible for more deaths than any other fashion – but it's not clear how many mortalities other fashions had caused. It blamed the crinoline for impoverishing respectable households, corrupting the morals of the working classes, and causing death by disembowelling by wounds from broken steel springs, drownings, crushings, and burnings.
The second reason that men hated crinolines was because of their volume. Within a discourse of scale and propriety, the crinoline represented excess, its expansive layers and ostentatious display of extravagant consumption. Women in crinolines took up too much room, they invaded men's space, and they swept them off the pavement with their enormous skirts.
This is the safest way of taking a lady down to dinner from Punch.
Men were being crowded out of social life and even complained of injuring their shins by getting too close to an “artificer in iron”. In fact, rather than being kept in their place, women, it seemed, were getting out of place in their crinolines.
This is a “Patent Anti-Garotte Overcoat” from Punch, when Punch imagined a man taking the inspiration of his wife's crinoline to create an anti-garotting device. It may have unintentionally identified one of the advantages of the fashion for women.
Within the critique of the crinoline, there is a strong sense that women have become too big, that they've lost their sense of scale and have gone beyond their natural boundaries. Moreover, their physical presence is also a question of styles, of movement. Women walk differently in a crinoline, their bodies assume a kind of sway that accommodates the motion of the hoops. Described by a Victorian critic as “The waddle of the stout woman of 50”, the gates also tended to reveal ankles and stockings as the crinoline zigzagged from side to side.
One of the examples in history when a woman gained respect and power in European politics, is Empress Eugenie, Napoleon III’s wife, who was known as “La Reine Crinoline”. She didn’t invent the crinoline but she liked it a lot and popularized it. In England, she was attributed with introducing the crinoline style and, following the 1855 Exhibition, copies of her dresses were being sold throughout Europe. The image of floating ethereal mists of chiffon and tulle thus articulate something much more concrete and substantial. Like the steel hoops of the crinoline itself, the economic and political power of European monarchy and empire is what supports the dreamlike layers of expensive fabric.