The Crinoline

Victorian Views of the Crinoline

The demise of the the very full supported Victorian skirt, which became known as "Crinoline", was predicted more than once, but the fashion was a tenacious one.Two years after the publication of this coloured plate in the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine in 1860, an article on hooped petticoats in the rival Ladies Treasury reviewed the phenomenon from a historical perspective.

Crinoline has been the rage for a long time past - a fashion now upon the wane, but which is not willingly resigned, as some fashions equally popular in their day have been. All the while the fashion has lasted, pencil and pen have been at work to ridicule it, and to raise a laugh at its expense. It has been caricatured in "comic" periodicals, has inspired the "fast" writer of prose and verse, has been exaggerated to give effect to farce, pantomime, and burlesque, but has weathered the storm, until the jibes have grown stale, and pencil and pen have lost their points. Well all this has happened before...

The writer then compared the current fashion to that of the Elizabethan farthingale and the eighteenth century pannier, illustrating the article with an old engraving ridiculing "Margot" a Parisian dealer in panniers. The same magazine, however, in its fashion plates showed a mode scarcely "on the wane", as this detail from a double page supplement illustrates.

By this time the wired support was well established. In 1861 fashion notes in the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine advised readers:

As all skirts are made full and long, CRINOLINE is more necessary than ever, to give the dresses a proper appearance. The favourite crinolines appear to be those made of very narrow steels fastened together by small metal claws; the piece of stay-binding on which the steels are supported being passed through these pieces of metal, so securing them in their proper place. These skirts are very strong and durable. Those with wider steels, run in open net, are very comfortable, but do not keep their shape so long as the crinolines just mentioned.

Though in modern parlance the term "crinoline" is usually taken to refer to the style of dress, Victorian usage implied the supporting steel "cage" - to borrow the "Cranford" word - which had come to replace multiple layers of petticoats. For a fine unlined silk or muslin dress suitable for warm summer days, a stiff muslin petticoat, with a flounce or flounces at the bottom, covered by a plain petticoat, and worn over a "moderate-sized" steel one, was considered very becoming. 

The word was also still used to mean the fabric from which the original stiff petticoats had been made, and which was also used for bonnets.

to be continued

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©  Barbara Onslow 2007     This page published August 31st 2010