Victorian “Poofy” Skirts - Meet the Crinoline

posted Apr 13, 2018 by Kathy Pinna
Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain reigned from 1837 until her death in 1901. The time of her reign is called the "Victorian Era" and one of the most popular - and enduring - fashions for women of this era was the crinoline or hoop skirt. At first, a crinoline was a stiffened petticoat, often made with horsehair and cotton or linen. By 1850 "crinoline" referred to the silhouette created from wearing several of these petticoats. But for many reasons, the wearing of several petticoats became difficult due to the weight and/or discomfort of the material (horsehair?!). Hoop skirts, made of steel, whalebone, brass, or even rubber, took care of many of the difficulties - and allowed the silhouette to become even larger. At one point, the skirts could measure almost 6 feet in width!

The subject of derision in the media (magazines and newspapers), crinolines were still very popular with women - from royalty such as Queen Victoria to factory workers. In later decades of the Victorian Era, the silhouette became smaller - evolving in the 1870's to a crinolette and a bustle (and of course, still underpinned by a corset). But throughout the Victorian Era, a large skirt, a small waist, and a fitted top was a "womanly" figure.

Of course, there was a downside to the crinoline/hoop skirt fad. Reportedly, thousands of women died when their skirts caught on fire. The skirts could also become caught in machinery, carriage wheels, gusts of wind, or other obstacles. And sometimes, at their widest, hoop skirts wouldn't allow two women to fit in a small room at the same time. If you wanted to be close to a man . . . well, that was frowned on anyway, so perhaps that wasn't a "downside". And sitting or getting in a carriage were a involved process.

An early example of a crinoline, you can see the effects of the petticoat and corset on a woman's profile.

1850

1850's

Lots of material - and you have to sit up straight, unsupported by the back of the chair.

Another view of sitting in a crinoline - no reclining!

The anatomy of a crinoline

This 1850 illustration shows a crinoline with its hoop underpinnings. Wouldn't you feel "caged"?

1857 New York

Yes, women's clothing was compared to real life "bells" in the newspaper.

1861 Fashion

Godey's Magazine fashions for December 1861 - the magazine every woman read to keep up on fashion.

Everyday fashion around the same time.

High Fashion, 1860's

House of Worth

Dressing help in the 1860's

As hoops allowed for wider skirts, you needed help getting the skirt on. Here, two women use poles to lower the skirt over the head of the wearer.

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