Hello, my sweetie! 

I’m sure you already know that I’m a Regency-era nerd! Research helps me improve my writing and I want to share with you interesting facts I’m learning through this process.

 I’m very happy that I can do so through my articles. Shall we begin?

At the forefront of the most outrageous clothes worn by women, is the 19th-century crinoline, a construction that lifted the back of the skirt. For the dress with the wireframe that supported it, the word originally meant a stiff fabric made of horsehair (crin in French) and flax (French lin).

The excruciating dress, designed to dramatically transform a woman’s silhouette, is responsible for the injuries and deaths of women. In combination with the corset, which reduced the waist diameter just as dramatically, the Victorians suffered and it was easy to lose consciousness. They fainted, suffered and caused a lot of damage to their vital organs. 

And yet they wore it!!!

In those years it was not the comfort but the right look that mattered. After all, people in fashion say that “if it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t impress”! And women clearly suffered for fashion, as they do today with high heels and plastic surgery!

At first, the crinoline was only worn by high-class ladies, and later it became so popular that all women wore it. Fashion was curtailed when it was considered that certain movements could endanger a woman’s modesty. Also, the width of the crinoline made it difficult for women to pass through doors and the many fabrics it had made it very hot. The more fashionable the crinoline was, the more dangerous it was.

The huge petticoat we have all identified with the Victorian style dress was the cause of death for some 3,000 women!!! Amazing, right?

In England, 19 women died in a two-month period as a result of the fire-fighting crinolines. The women who were around when the incident happened couldn’t help because they were afraid they would catch fire too.

The ladies also found it difficult to get into the vehicles of the era, as they feared that the end of the crinoline would be gripped in the wagon and vehicle wheels.

Keep reading, sweetie. It’s just started to get interesting!  😉

History

In 1856 R.C. Milliet filed a patent for crinoline with a metal cage assembled from metal hoops attached to textile bands. The cage immediately became fashionable and was adopted by women across the social spectrum.

But while it certainly relieved women of many weights, crinoline in a cage also had many disadvantages…

Problems

Its most obvious problem was its size. The crinolines swelled up to 1.80m in diameter, causing difficulties in crossing doors, climbing or descending on carriages and hazards when using home furniture, such as chairs.

Another problem was how light the cage was compared to the previous layers of heavy pants. A mighty gust of wind could lift it up, revealing the most “obscure” of the secrets of the Victorian era: that women had legs! If the woman did not properly spread the crinoline while trying to sit down, the wreaths could be shaken to her face. What a scandal!

The most serious problem with crinolines was the very high health and safety risks they caused to working women. The maids who cleaned up the congested Victorian rooms were in danger of not only scouring the powders but also breaking the small furniture. There were cases where factory workers were left disabled and others were killed because their crinolines were caught by a machine. 

At a time when the open fire was still prevalent, crinolines were also a fire hazard because the fabrics of the time—silk, muslin, satin, and cotton—were highly flammable.

Wearing crinoline was quite a test, just like the other 19th-century torture… the corset! 🙂

The Corset

The corset was reinforced with banners and was tightened from the back to give the desired hourglass shape.

Tightening had been achieved to compress the chest and internal organs and reduce lung capacity, resulting in hyperventilation and fainting tendencies. The problem was so common that at the popular events there was a special room with sofas and armchairs for the suffering guests! Oh,  dear!

But by the mid-1860s, fashion had begun to move and crinoline shrank, making room for the “crinolette”, a crinoline with a small cage that stretched back to the ground. The Crinolette was outdone and replaced by the tournament, a more durable fashion innovation that lasted until the turn of the century.

Today we find crinoline in bridal studios mainly but made of non-flammable materials, of course.

Well, my sweetie, this is the end of my first article!

I hope you enjoyed it—I certainly did while writing it!

Thank you for accompanying me on my writing journey!

It would be lovely if you could share your thoughts with me! Or whatever you like…Surprise me! 

Written by Violet Hamers

82 COMMENTS

  1. I find your history of corsets and crinoline’s very interesting.
    I am wondering what the men thought of not being able to walk or dance very close to their loved ones because of the expanse of the crinoline. ??? LOL!!

  2. Good article. So what came first:Women’s suffrage and freedom or the clothing they wore? We are certainly less “lady-like” (Des gratias) and more able to move freely.

  3. It was very interesting. I have wondered how in the world women managed. I am g
    lad of pants in the winter and shorts in the summer. Even in the early 1900s, from photos i have from my mom, farm women wore long heavy dresses.

  4. Wouldn’t falling also be an issue? Not being able to see where you were putting your feet had to be a safety problem. Falling down stairs, out of vehicles, etc. I’ll keep my leggings, thanks!!

  5. The crinoline was a large ,vast amount of fabric to behold ! No wonder Fathers went to debtors prison if they had several daughters at home ! Thank goodness the fad didn’t last very long !

  6. I really enjoyed this article. I particularly liked the last illustration. It shows that the crinoline would also keep gentlemen suitors at more than an arm’s reach. Thereby preserving her chastity.

  7. I love the Victorian-era as well. Georgette Heyer was one of my all-time favorites. Daphne du Maurier was another. Thank you for this article. It was so very interesting. I hope there will be more to come.

  8. We wore the stuff starched crinolines in the 60’s under our full skirts. Not the same thing I know but I absolutely hated having to wear those scratchy things. Enjoyed your article.

  9. I love your articles and comments.Please keep writing these informative articles. It helps in providing background and in understanding the different actions of characters.

  10. Learn something new everyday. Knew that the corset was uncomfortable and could be dangerous. Didn’t realize that the crinoline was that really that dangerous. Still think both were a stupid fashion.

  11. Wow, I would have been in big trouble because I like to breathe and stay cool. where did the designers get their outlandish ideas?? Of course I also ask the same with some of the things I see now,LOL

  12. Thank you for this informative article. I had no idea women died from wearing such a thing. What those poor women went through to make themselves look good. So glad I never felt I had to keep up with the fashion of my era. Thanks again. It is fun to read your articles. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  13. Wow…Had no idea those ridiculous hooped affairs were so lethal. Painful, sure. Ditto on corsets and of course thqat’s why they had smelling slats and fainting couches. Seems we never learn!! Silly us. Slaves to fashion even when it could kill us.

  14. I wore a fabric crinoline as a young woman. The were not very practical even in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Glad they went out of style.

  15. Thanks again for this information. I already was aware of the corvette but just thought the hoops were a nuisance. What women did for be as it was as outrageous as today w omen.
    Thank you. Love too hear about all women event thru.

  16. Love your articles they are always fascinating and enjoyable to read . I too love that period of time . Thank you for always delivering history to add to our reading pleasure.

  17. Fascinating reading. Still can’t understand why so many women allow themselves to be defined by fashion ideals which are so often dictated by men’s’ perception of what women ”should” look like. Thank you – it’s always good to learn more about our
    “herstory”!

  18. Enjoyed this article. I remember in the late 1950’s and early 60’s wearing 2 and sometimes 3 crinoline slips under my skirt to hold the bottom of it out away from my legs. The crinolines were very itchy. They were worn over the top of a regular slip, but they still would scratch the bottom of my legs. What we won’t do to look good. Fun memories.

  19. Poor ladies
    Oh to what lengths does one need to go for fashion?
    Thank You Violet
    I do enjoy your little bits of info
    Regards
    Lyn

  20. Could these designs have been the preliminary designs for a costume to walk on the moon on a romantic night? (Just asking!) I have seen Victoria Vane designs on Facebook for those ladies who want a modern version without the hazards! Thank you for the article. I like reading it and the recent book by Hilary Davidson on Dress in the Age of Jane Austen. I was surprised that Jane Austen died short of her 42nd birthday.

  21. Aren’t we a lucky lot! I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to perform even the smallest movement without causing injury or breakage!! It seems ridiculous to us modern girls to be a slave to fashion to the extent it could kill you but, having said that, I wore shoes (in my younger days) with huge platform soles and heels so high it was dangerous to get on an escalator! I still wear heels but only about 3 or 4 inches now!
    Thank you for your fun, informative letters, Violet. Keep them coming, please. xx

  22. Wow I always loved that look never knew it was so dangerous this was very interesting and informative I really enjoyed it however seems though that we also have that same streak in our time even though dangerous once it’s considered the look we must have it and wear

  23. Great article. Thankfully I never had to wear either, just a girdle (again hotter than heck). My mom decided to try a “new and improved ” rubber girdle that I think was made by Playtex. It had holes to help control the heat. Unfortunately, she had blisters, etc at each hole. I was so delighted when pantyhose came to be and I
    could get rid of that girdle.

  24. Thank you. This is interesting I never bought about the deaths and health hazards. Thank God I live in this century Ian always so greatful I did not Live in those times. Live reading about the 17 and 18 th century.

  25. I must say I am delighted to be born into this time period. Slacks, skirts, shorts and swimwear lucky us. I can’t imagine having to wear those garments, can you? Well, Violet, I appreciate your information about ladies’ torture. I will continue to look forward to expanding my horizons through your informationals. Thank you and good nite. Sue
    Ps I hope you had a delightful Thanksgiving.

  26. This was interesting. I do like how women dressed back in the day. It might not have been comfortable or practical, but a Ladylike style was something I feel I would have liked.

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