Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Crinoline Continued

Godey's Lady's Book Fashion Plate, September 1858

The cage crinoline allowed women to move their legs freely under the cage and was substantially cooler, lighter and more durable than the masses of petticoats that women previously wore to achieve the desired look. The highly structured form of the cage crinoline created a sort of "restless captive balloon" which swayed from side to side and could result in "a certain upward shooting of the skirt" which necessitated the wearing of bloomers and ankle boots.

With the endorsement of leading Parisian couturier Charles Frederick Worth, the crinoline hoop reached enormous proportions in the 1860s. Skirts were umbrella-like with circumferences as large as six feet around the hem. One of the most fashionable women of the time, Empress Eugenie, wife of Napolean III, was called the "Queen of the Crinoline". After seeing the play Les Toilettes Tapageuses in which the main character appeared in a giant crinoline held up by an "enormous steel cage", the Empress sent her maid "to obtain the measurements of the actress's showy dress."

Cage crinolines were hugely popular in spite of the fact that their exaggerated proportions made it impossible for two women to enter a room together or sit on the same sofa. There were also potential dangers since a woman did not know where the end of the skirt was. The buoyant skirt could catch fire from an open flame or candle or become entrapped in machinery. Fashion triumphed over safety and comfort and these enormous skirts were typically worn by all classes of women from 1856-1870.