Yesterday Loretta showed us the feminine grace of 18th century hoops, swaying languidly beneath petticoats. But for the sake of fairness (and the TNHGs always do strive for Fairness in History), I'm afraid we have to show the wider side of hoops, too. Variations were worn throughout the century, giving skirts shapes that ranged from full bells to the modest flare worn for day in Colonial Williamsburg.
But during the height of mid-century fashion, and for royal courts, and in Paris, ladies went double-wide. OK, so the hoops weren't really called that (forgive me), but were named for the baskets they resembled: paniers. Flat in front and back, they could extend so far to each side that they exceeded the reach of the lady's arms. Considerable practice was required to navigate doorways and ballrooms, and even sitting down could be a trial. (See the detail, above, of Mrs. Andrews in her portrait by Thomas Gainsborough.)
As can be imagined, it was not a style much beloved by gentlemen, who found it unwieldy, expensive, and just plain unsexy. No wonder Mr. Andrews looks a little sour. What can you do if you can't even reach your lady?
But trust the French to make the most of this challenge. In this print, right, one of a famous series by Jean-Michel Moreau Le Jeune featuring aristocratic society of 1770s Paris, a stylish coquette is using her extravagant hoops to flirtatious advantage. While her husband is escorting one half of her gown into their theater box, she's using the other side to receive a farewell kiss from her lover. So much for hoops being impractical!