Victorian “Poofy” Skirts: Meet the Crinoline

Created on 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 fashion trends that resulted for women of this era was the crinoline or hoop skirt.

Take a look at these photos of Victorian era "poofy skirts".

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An early example of a crinoline, you can see the effects of the petticoat and corset on a woman's profile.
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Cher Haile
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shared on 01/26/2005

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

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Another view of sitting in a crinoline - no reclining!


The anatomy of a crinoline

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

1857 New York
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Yes, women's clothing was compared to real life "bells" in the newspaper.

1861 Fashion

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

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Kathy Fitzgerald
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shared on 11/21/2004

Everyday fashion around the same time.


High Fashion, 1860's

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House of Worth

Dressing help in the 1860's

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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.

1860's ballgown

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Still a crinoline, this skirt isn't as wide - probably to allow for dancing.

1865 London

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Yes, everyone else can sit - but not you!

1860's England

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So pretty. But so much clothing to put on to go out!

Between 1860 and 1880

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Yes, there's a real woman's body in there somewhere. But even in everyday dressing, those hoops made for large skirts - and the corset made for a very small waist.


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See how a hoop kept a woman pure and a man at bay?

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Photo of Pamela Bollinger Pamela Bollinger
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shared on 09/28/2016

Circa 1880, you can see the crinolette and a bustle.

1888 High Fashion

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In 1888, the House of Worth was making smaller skirts.


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But in 1898, they were still making fun of large skirts.

1906 New York

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High society New York was quickly nostalgic for the crinoline, so the Crinoline Ball was held in 1906.

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.

In the 1940's and 1950's, petticoats became popular again. But they were lighter, the material was different, and the silhouette was smaller (although large by today's standard). Remember poodle skirts? Hoops haven't yet returned as a fashion statement, thank goodness!

And if you'd like to experience a bit of the Victorian Era, watch this video about dressing and sitting in a Civil War era crinoline How to Sit in a Hoop Skirt.

Have photos that you'd like to see included? Share your photos or click "next page" below to see 18 photos of the corsets that underpinned the hoop skirt fad.

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