Do You Like It? Share It:



In the early 1850s, women began to wear a cage crinoline or hooped petticoat to expand their skirts (Laver 2002, p. 177). Several modifications were made to the design of the crinoline before they began to fall out of fashion in the 1870s, although the crinoline did make a brief comeback between 1957 and 1960.

A predecessor to the crinoline was the farthingale, worn mainly in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and the cartwheel farthingale worn during the Elizabethan period (Laver, 2001, p. 178). The term crinoline has its origin in the French word “crin” meaning horse hair because the stiffening of the original crinolines or petticoats was made of horsehair and pads of rigid material. These materials were placed on a framework of bamboo or cane, whalebone, and metal hoops that were suspended from tapes. The framework was more or less circular in shape, and increased in width towards the hem. These early crinolines were burdensome to wear (Hansen, 1956, p. 146; Kybalova, 1968, p. 543).

A new type of lighter crinoline was patented by Tavanier in 1856. His design for the crinoline was inspired by the immense network of iron struts devised by Joseph Paxton for the construction of the Crystal Palace, in London, in 1851. The crinoline now became an apparatus of hoops made of flexible steel which supported the popular ever-widening skirts. The hoops or cage could either form a separate garment and be hung by tapes from the waist, or it could be sewn into a petticoat. This new innovation reduced the number of heavy petticoats women needed to wear to make their skirts stand out. It also gave them more freedom to move their limbs as the contraption stood away from their body. When a woman sat down it tilted up front, when she stood close to a table, it tilted up behind, and when she walked it gave her a graceful sway (Boucher, n.d., p. 381; Gernsheim, 1981, p. 45; Laver, 2002, p. 178; Rothstein, 1984, p. 39; Ruby, 1996, p. 32).

A crinoline required enormous quantities of material. According to Lester (1956), a proper hoop consisted of “four narrow steels each covered with tape and run into the muslin or calico petticoat. The one nearest the waist usually measured one and three-quarter yards in length, while that at the lower edge of the skirt was two and one-half yards in length” (p. 198). The hoops were held together by strings of broad tape reaching from the lower edge of the skirt to the belt. Gernsheim (1981) calculated that “the bottom hoop of even the largest crinoline was not more than 5 ½ to 6 yards in circumference.” She then explains that the full skirt falling in loose folds over it would likely have a larger circumference. She also gives the example of an evening dress of 1859 made up of with four skirts, each trimmed with ruches, that “required 1,100 yards of tulle” (1981, p. 48). Imagine carrying such on load on one’s back, so to speak.

In the 1860s, the steel hoops were slightly flattened in front and the fullness of the skirt began to shift to the back. By 1868 the crinoline became more of a half crinoline as the reinforcement of the skirt slid entirely to the back where a mass of material was gathered and looped into a kind of bustle which ended in a train (Boucher, n.d., p. 381; Gernsheim, 1981, p. 48; Laver 2002, p. 179. 188).

Ridiculing Crinolines. Women had such a love for their crinolines that they appear to have been willing to accept men’s ridicule and to withstanding the perils encountered when wearing them.

Men complained that women encased in their huge contraptions were unapproachable; therefore they could not escort them or offer them their arm. Laver (2002) refers to the analogy of women in their crinolines as being like a majestic ship, sailing proudly ahead, while her male escort sailed along behind (p. 179). From the point of view of men, crinolines distorted the feminine shape. In Germany, many males swore that they would not marry a girl who wore such an apparatus. Some men went as far as comparing women’s iron hoops to weapons of armory (Boucher, n.d., p. 381; Gernsheim, 1981, p. 47; Kybalova, 1968, p. 271; Lester, 1956, p. 195).

When women wore their crinolines they encountered problems such as walking through doors with someone else or sitting on a sofa with another woman. When sitting down their crinolines would be tilted up in the air, revealing too much. When walking around a room accidents could happen to the ladies such as knocking over an occasional table laden with bric-a-brac, or they could inadvertently become combustible if they came too close to a fire. Due to the enormous size of their skirts fire victims could not be saved by rolling them a rug. Getting into a carriage was almost impossible and women also had to be careful when approaching a carriage otherwise they could get their hoops entangled in the wheels (Laver, 2002, p. 178-179; Ruby, 1996, p. 32).

Wearing a crinoline on a windy day was quite a feat. To begin with there was the embarrassment of skirts lifting up high in the air exposing more than what was considered proper for a lady. Fortunately for milady (or unfortunately for certain species) lacy pantaloons were now in vogue. In windy weather the gals that were light as a feather risked being blown off their feet, or even over a cliff. With luck, maybe their crinoline might have acted as a parachute. By the 1870s, the exaggerated skirts lost their appeal and women began to wear closely fitted garments, doing away with the crinoline. Although between 1957 and 1960 the crinoline resurfaced, but it was more of a stiffened or starched petticoat (Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 361, 364).


The demand for stiffening materials for hooped undergarments led to the expansion of the whaling and steel industries, and new factories were established to manufacture steel hoops, crinolines and bustles. In 1722, for example, the Dutch States General was formed in Holland. This company employed a vast army of whale hunters who raised the need for the building of more fishing boats. With the invention of the steel hoops in the fabrication of crinolines, there was a boom in the steel industry and steel-hoop manufacturers became rich men. Between 1854 and 1866, the largest factory in Saxony delivered altogether 9,597,600 crinolines. Each crinoline required on average about 90 ells (60 yards) of wire. By 1877, one of the largest crinoline and bustle manufacturing firms in England, W.S. and E.H. Thomson, had established factories in France, Germany and the United States. The London factory employed over a thousand women and produced 4000 crinolines daily. The Saxony factory produced over 9 ½ million crinolines in the course of a dozen years (Gernsheim, 1981, p. 46; Ginsberg, 1984, p. 39; Kybalova, p. 199-200, 271).

Next: In Conclusion