From Academic Kids


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crinoline patented
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Cutaway view of a crinoline, Punch magazine, August 1856

Crinoline was originally a stiff fabric with a weft of horse-hair and a warp of cotton or linen thread. The fabric first appeared around 1830, but by 1850 the word had come to mean a stiffened petticoat or rigid skirt-shaped structure of steel designed to support the skirts of a womanís dress into the required shape.


Origin of the word

The name 'crinoline' was invented by one of the fabric's manufacturers, who combined the Latin words crinis (meaning hair) and linum (meaning thread). An alternative origin for the word is sometimes given: the combination of the French words crin (specifically meaning horse-hair) and lin (again, meaning thread).

The History of the Crinoline

The crinoline was not the first accessory designed to support the wearer's skirts in the correct shape; the farthingale was worn in the seventeenth century and panniers in the eighteenth century. However, these very formal and elaborate styles were only worn at royal courts and in the highest levels of society.

After the French Revolution, French fashion turned against the elaborate styles favoured by royalty, the court, and the aristocracy. As Parisian fashion was very influential, most western European countries adopted the same styles.

Under the prevailing neoclassical influence, womenís fashions had adopted a simple style based on the simple draped garments of Ancient Greece and the togas of ancient Rome. Skirts were straight and slender, and worn with very few — if any — petticoats.

However, the silhouette did not remain that way for long, and skirt hems began to widen to give a cone shape. In the 1810s, gores began to be used in skirts again, and skirts grew wider in the 1820s. The width of these skirts was sometimes supported by a small bustle. These were not always sufficient, and so extra petticoats were worn to help.

The first 'crinolines' were petticoats were starched for extra stiffness, or made out of the new crinoline fabric, and they often had ruffles to support the skirts to the desired width. However, dress fabrics were heavy but not stiff enough to support their own weight, which tended to collapse the petticoats out of shape. Extra rigidity was added to petticoats through rings of cord or braid running around the hem. In the 1830s, women started to wear petticoats with hoops of whalebone or cane around the hem.

In 1856, the cage crinoline was patented in the U.S.A., France and Britain by the American W.S. Thompson. This facilitated the fashionable silhoutte's development from a cone shape to a dome. It was not an entirely original idea; Thompson was probably inspired by the open cage or frame style of farthingales and panniers. The cage crinoline consisted of steel hoops suspended by tapes descending from a band around the wearerís waist.

The cage crinoline was adopted with enthusiasm: the numerous petticoats, even the stiffened or hooped ones, were heavy, bulky and generally uncomfortable. It was light — it only required one or two petticoats worn over the top to prevent the steel bands appearing as ridges in the skirt — and freed the wearer's legs from tangling petticoats.

Unlike the farthingale and panniers, the crinoline was worn by women of every social class. The wider circulation of magazines and newspapers spread news of the new fashion, also fueling desire for it, and mass production made it affordable.

Problems with the crinoline

The crinoline was the subject of much ridicule and satire, particularly in Punch magazine. Dress reformers did not like it either — they seized upon the cage aspect of the crinoline and claimed that it effectively imprisoned women. Given that the crinoline did eventually have a maximum diameter of up to 180 centimetres (six feet), it is easy to imagine difficulties in getting through doors, in and out of carriages, and the general problems of manoeuvring in such a large structure. However, while the crinoline needed to have a degree of rigidity, it also had a degree of flexibility. A particular kind of steel, known as sprung steel or watch-spring steel, enabled the hoops to be temporarily pressed out of shape.

The second problem was the potential impropriety of the crinoline. Its lightness was a curse as well as a blessing, as a gust of wind or a knock could set it swinging and reveal quite a lot of the wearer's legs. Even worse, if she tripped up or was knocked over, the crinoline would hold her skirts up.

The greatest problem with the crinoline, though, was that in some situations it was dangerous — because of its size, the wearer was often not aware of where its edges were. It was only inconvenient and annoying when a maidís crinoline knocked a vase off a table or upset a cup, but for factory girls, there was the risk of crinolines getting caught in machinery and dragging them to be mutilated or crushed to death. Crinolines also burnt easily, partly because air circulated freely underneath them and partly because the fashionable dress fabrics, silk and cotton, were highly flammable.

The crinoline's decline

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The crinoline had grown to its maximum dimensions by 1860. However, as the fashionable silhouette never remains the same for long, the huge skirts began to fall from favour. Around 1864, the shape of the crinoline began to change: rather than being dome-shaped, the front and sides began to contract, leaving volume only at the back. The kind of crinoline that supported this style was sometimes known as a crinolette: the cage structure was still attached around the waist and extended down to the ground, but only extended down the back of the wearerís legs. The crinolette itself was quickly superseded by the bustle, which was sufficient for supporting the drapery and train at the back of the skirt.

The crinoline today

Crinolines are still worn today; however, they are usually part of a very formal outfit, such as an evening gown or a wedding dress. The volume of the skirt required is not as great as at the height of the Victorian craze for crinolines, so modern crinolines are most often constructed of several layers of stiff net, with flounces to extend the skirt. If there is a hoop in the crinoline, it will probably be made of plastic, as it is cheap, light and flexible.


Costume in Detail 1730 - 1930, Nancy Bradfield (ISBN 1858820383)

Handbook of Nineteenth Century Costume, C. Willett Cunnington and Phillis Cunnington (ISBN 0571047033)

Fashion in Underwear, Elizabeth Ewing (ISBN 071340857X)

Victorians Unbuttoned, Sarah Levitt (ISBN 0043910130)

Corsets and Crinolines, Norah Waugh (ISBN 071345699X)

See also

A crinoline is also a framework of booms, spars and netting intended to protect a warship against torpedo attack.

da:Krinoline de:Reifrock


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