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What is a Crinoline?

What is Crinolines Definition?

A crinoline is a structured hoop petticoat specially designed to hold out the skirt of a woman. It gained popularity since the middle of the nineteenth century even though it was developed around the sixteenth century.

Douglas Sherwood Crinoline underskirt/petticoat

It was a hooped skirt at that time and developed into the farthingale which came to England from Spain through France. Word Crinoline indicates the original material used and is a combination of French words crin (horsehair) and lin (linen).

It was the name given to the hooped skirts that became famous in the mid-1850s. The crinoline was replaced by hoop skirts during this time and was also similar to the farthingale of the 16th and 17th centuries. The only difference was that the farthingales enabled skirts to spread wider and more fully.

Crinoline wedding gown

The design of the 1800s was inspired by the farthingale of the 16th and 17th centuries as well as the pannier of the 18th century. The hoop became exceedingly famous in the fashionable society of English by the end of the eighteenth century.

The new version of the hoop named crinoline came into fashion by the 1850s with a fresh period of popularity and lasted for many years as well. The various appearance of the Victorian crinoline can be seen and that was because of the introduction of new designs and techniques from time to time.

The Victorian era Crinoline Design

The word crinoline meant stiff fabric weaved along with horsehair as well as a wrap of cotton or linen thread. This fabric was introduced to fashion in the 1830s. It was initially used in the petticoat of the women to support and give shape to the increased length and diameter of early Victorian dresses.

To get the big skirt effect, this petticoat was worn with six starched petticoats, which were bulky, heavy, and therefore, uncomfortable.

Crinoline wedding gown
Crinoline wedding gown

With the gradual increase in the dimension of the crinoline by the 1860s, a change had begun to be seen. The pyramidal crinoline came into fashion and the back of the shaped like gore to support the fashionable train skirts. However, by mid-1860s the dome-shaped women skirt began to get out of the fashion.

Crinoline Petticoat

The gathers which were in the front till now got shifted to the back and the front portion was fitting closely to the form. The fullness at the back of the pannier was made to curve gracefully and the front of the skirt was kept perfectly straight which fitted smoothly over the woman’s figure.

Crinoline cage
Cage Crinoline

It was beneficial at that time because before it came into fashion, women had to wear layers of petticoats for fullness and perfect fall which gave discomfort and was heavy as well.

Medical men, however, discouraged this because women with delicate health used to faint with dangerous frequencies.

When hoop was used, the skirt had no limitation of the width, but after the usage of crinolines, it was observed that the more voluminous the crinoline is, the more elegant is the effect.

The extent of overdoing went to the time when the women wearing a crinoline was unable to pass a doorway because of its hugeness. However, there always have been women who know exactly how to wear a dress to carry it gracefully and enhance her elegance as well.

Crinoline Dress

A normal crinoline by women who knew how to wear clothes had a certain graceful elegance that enhanced delicately the gracefulness of the wearer. The elegance and gracefulness that crinolines offer to the wearer have extended the use of it almost into the 21st century also.

Victorian crinolines advertisement
Victorian crinolines advertisement

However, it has remained a popular option for wedding dresses, ball gowns, prom dresses, and formal evening dresses. One of the best things about crinoline was that it was worn by all kinds of women regardless of class or social standings.

What was Crinolinemania? What has Oscar Wilde got to do with it?

It was estimated that a few thousand (3000) British women died in 10 years due to crinoline dresses catching fire. Crinoline fire was also what caused the death of Emily and Mary, who was Oscar Wilde’s half-sisters. The accident happened on the Halloween night of 1871 at a ball at Drumaconnor House in County Monaghan.

mid19th century hoop skirt - Metmuseum
mid-19th-century hoop skirt – Metmuseum

Sometime around the end of the ball, their host invited them to take a last turn around the floor. Unfortunately while waltzing past an open fireplace, Emily’s crinoline dress caught alight. Mary rushed to help her sister but ended up setting her own dress on fire.

Eyewitnesses suggested that their host, Andrew Reid tried to save Emily by wrapping his coat around her to douse the fire by rolling her. Apparently, Mary was left with no one to help her.

mid 19th century crinoline cage - Metmuseum
mid-19th-century crinoline cage – Metmuseum

As per the brief notice on 25 November 1871 in the Northern Standard, their suffering was agonizing and prolonged. Oscar Wilde campaigned for ‘rational dress’ for women decades later, befriended Henrietta Vaughn Stannard, founder of the Anti-Crinoline League.

More Info On- Fashion in the 1870sEuropean ClothingBall Gowns, Women’s Fashion, Dresses