Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Crinoline Madness, c. 1858

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Isabella reporting,

In light of the current red carpet trend for bigger and bigger skirts, with the expected disastrous results (Jennifer Lawrence, you did look lovely, even in the throes of a face-plant), I thought this print might show that nothing is new, especially in fashion. In other words, beware of the perils of excessive fashionable dress!

This French print c. 1858 imaginatively mocks the the 19th c. fashion for the extra-large skirts know as crinolines. (Click to enlarge.) When lady's skirts began to grow in girth in the 1830s-1840s, they were supported by layers of ruffled petticoats and underskirts. The ruffles were either coarse, stiffened cotton or cotton reinforced with horsehair, which gave the style its name. In the 1850s, the unwieldy and heavy under-petticoats were replaced by a new kind of crinoline, a light-weight metal cage that would support the skirts away from the body to achieve the desired rounded bell shape.

While these were really just a reworking of 18th c. hoops - another shaped framework to support skirts – the new crinolines were wildly popular. They were in a way the perfect Victorian garment, a steampunk marriage between the Industrial Revolution and a feminine ideal that made women into impractical, flower-like creatures. Cage-crinolines later morphed into bustles, lingering on the fashion scene for another few decades in stranger and stranger styles.

As soon as women embraced the style, caricaturists were instantly ready with prints like this one, roughly translated as "The Joys and Miseries of the Crinoline,"(More examples: thisand this.) As silly as the cartoons are, I have to think that at least a few were based on actual experiences of women who suddenly found themselves wider than they were tall.

Above: Heur et malheur de la crinoline, Fabrique d'estampes de Gangel, a Metz, c. 1858. Bibliotheque nationale de France


Julia said...

Fashion and the mockery it draws - it just never ends. I remember seeing a caricature of this kind where a gust of wind blew the crinoline straight up over the upper body and head, leaving the legs and undergarments entirely free. And you think you have it bad when the wind turns your umbrella inside out?
Really, just imagine how difficult it must have been to have all your friends come to visit in a living room designed four people who take up less than a 2 yard diameter circle of space! Or playing with your children, or getting into a carriage!
And with all that I can help suspecting that a woman wearing sensible clothing like bloomers were drawing three times the amount of mockery than the fashionable ladies in their bird cages.

Incidentally, who remembers that cute scene in the movie Piano where one of those crinolines is used to fashion a tent for mother and daughter to tell stories and sleep in? It's so inventive and endearing.

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