April 5 - 18, 2015: Issue 209

The Crinoline - a 550 Year Old Fashion

 "A Splendid Spread", satire on an early inflatable (air tube) version of the crinoline by George Cruikshank, from The Comic Almanack, 1850. (Crinolines did not actually come into wide use until a few years later.) Note that the gentlemen have to use long-handled trays ("baker's peels") if the ladies are to be able to eat or drink.

 The Crinoline – a 550 Year Old Fashion

Many people attest to the changeability of what is fashionable and ‘fashion’. With puns and derogatory remarks set aside, even though very few could proclaim that they have not been caught up by some whim of dress, style of hair, foot clobber when growing (w
ho hasn’t cleaned out their wardrobe stating “I can’t believe I used to wear that”? - and isn't referring to a much tinier size), very few of these garments have stood the test of time and usefulness to still be in use today. 

One fashion that has had more then a little derision levelled at it, but is still being made, still being worn, is the crinoline. A recent expedition into a mother’s wardrobe showed one such tiered net of petticoat with hoops diminishing, a definite skirt fluffer-outer that apparently not only went under a Debutante dress and then Wedding dress, but was also loaned out to others who had need of ensuring gowns were suitably voluminous as per their original styles, and is of that quality that ‘cannot be bought today’.  Said crinoline is a 1950's version, the decade which of course saw wonderful flaring skirts as much as close tailored suits like those 'fashioned' by Chanel.

You can and people still do buy crinolines: long versions, shorter versions for dancers, people attending formals, and some wedding dresses still require hoops or ball gown style crinolines, petticoat crinoline slips, a ‘mermaid’ style crinoline – named for its shaping, and even versions that are worn without any skirt as a new 'fashion' in itself!

Although vintage clothes now command high prices, new versions of this ancient petticoat can be had quite reasonably.

Today they’re made of taffeta, or cotton and plastic. The 1950’s version still held by a collector of fashions so classic they’ve never actually gone out of fashion, is made from strong linen and lighter coils of steel. 

The precursors were made from linen too, with a ‘weft’ or horse hair and stiffened by hoops made of rope, wires and even poor whale’s bones. The word itself comes from: C19: from French, from Italiancrinolino, from crino horsehair, from Latin crīnis hair +lino flax, from Latin līnum.

The farthingale, which originated in Spain, was the precursor to the crinoline and described as ‘any of several structures used under Western European  women's  clothing in the 16th and 17th centuries to support the skirts in the desired shape’.

Right: Perhaps the earliest depiction of the Spanish verdugada. Pedro García de Benabarre, Salome from the St John Retable, Catalonia, 1470—80. Retable of St. John the Baptist - detail of Salome and ladies wearing early verdugados (farthingales) or hoop skirts.

The French farthingale, also known as the wheel farthingale, originated in court circles in France; it was introduced in the late 1570s to England.

Randle Cotgrave, in his Dictionaire of the French and English Tongues (1611), defined the French farthingale as “the kind of roll used by such women as weare no Vardingales.” Several wardrobe accounts and tailors' bills of the late sixteenth century give us an idea of what these rolls were made of: they were stuffed with cotton and rags, and stiffened with hoops of whalebone, wire or ropes made of bent (a small reeds) Buckram (stiff canvas) is the most commonly mentioned material. Other references describe the rolls being starched. 
Here are a couple of sample references to rolls from Queen Elizabeth I's Wardrobe Accounts (MS Egerton 2806):
“[for] making of thre rolles of hollande clothe with wyers bounde with reben (1585)
making of a rolle of starched buckeram with whales bone (1586)

Crinoline first appeared around 1830, but by 1850, the word meant a stiffened petticoat or rigid skirt-shaped structure of steel designed to support the skirts of a woman's dress into a wide required shape. In 1858, an American W.S. Thomson greatly facilitated the development of the cage crinoline by developing an eyelet fastener to connect the steel crinoline hoops with the vertical tapes descending from a band around the wearer's waist. The invention was patented in the United States (patent US21581), France (patent FR41193) and Britain (patent GB1204/1859). This facilitated the fashionable silhouette'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 was adopted with enthusiasm: the numerous petticoats, even the stiffened or hooped ones, were heavy, bulky and generally uncomfortable, while the crinoline 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. (1.)

Cutaway view of a crinoline, Punch magazine, August 1856
Recorded histories state the hoop skirt or crinoline was worn by women of every social class with magazines and periodicals coupled with mass production making it affordable for all. By 1860 it reached dimensions of up to six feet all around the wearer, prompting complaints from the male of the species who encountered such ladies everywhere, a touch of snobbery from the upper classes, who deemed it a lower to middle class affectation and clung for years longer to the copious layers of several petticoats, and unfortunately,  as exampled in this item, caused deaths to those who wore these when near naked flames;

Sir,-An inquest was recently held on the remains of a young woman, who met a shocking fate through wearing crinoline ; similar cases are of frequent occurrence. How suicidal is the conduct of females, who complying with a foolish and dangerous custom, bring upon themselves so fearful a death-being roasted
In the case alluded to above, the victim was only fifteen years of age. Having made a fire in the yard to boil water for washing, her clothes, extended with crinoline, catches fire ; she rushes into the house enveloped in flames : in vain her master tries to extinguish the fire, and save the girl; the crinoline renders this impossible-it cannot be compressed – the victim has secured her own destruction ; her master has a narrow escape-his hands and arms are badly burnt. Surely, Sir, this ought to ho a warning to all wearers of crinoline. They ensure their own destruction, and expose to great danger, any person rendering assistance If servants are so foolish to incur danger in this way, employers must interfere ; and if the ladies would enforce some rule that would at least prevent their servants wearing extensive crinolines while engaged in domestic- duties, the recurrence of so many fearful and fatal burnings might be prevented. Some precaution is certainly needful, for the servants expose with themselves the family to imminent danger. In the above case, it was most fortunate the master was at home. The victim made to the room where the mistress and children were. I hope attention will be drawn to this, and trust, such heart-rending scenes may,
be less frequent

ONE OF THE JURY. CRINOLINE AND FIRE. (1865, November 14). Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1875), p. 5. Retrieved fromhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63239552 

After the 1860’s the shape changed to accommodate more flexibility and less ‘circumference’. The dome shape was modified to fit closer at front and sides and flare out at the back only.

Satirists such as those who published Melbourne Punch may be held accountable for some of the more hilarious references to the most ostentatious phases of this petticoat as well as keeping a record of those who, literally, fell victim… to fashion:

An important and highly genteel meeting of ladies was held shortly after the arrival of the mail, to take into consideration the present critical state of affairs feminine in relation to the rotund article known as crinoline. The meeting was commenced at the Mechanics' Institution, about one hundred ladies attending, but as all were dressed in the height—or rather breadth—of fashion, the room was found to be inconveniently crowded, and an immediate adjournment to St. George's Hall was agreed upon. Miss FASHIONISSIJIA PHIPPS, the first to occupy the platform, was unanimously voted to the chair, a merely formal proceeding, a form being used on the occasion as more agreeable to the distinguished presidentess.

The CHAIRWOMAN, in opening the proceedings, explained that there were many reasons why the meeting was a necessity. Prominent among these was the fact that some persons, terming themselves ladies, were beginning, in defiance of fashion, to appear in the public streets, bereft of the due proportion which was intended by nature, (No, no)—well, at least, by art—(hear, hear) the fairer creation—should exhibit. (Cries of" shame.") It was a positive fact, upon her honour as a lady—she had seen recent instances. (Sensation. )It was but the previous day she had discovered, in Collins-street, - a slight insignificant-looking object approaching, which on a nearer survey, she detected to be a woman, her garments hanging in loose folds close about her limbs. It was a disgusting ' sight. She had noticed particularly, and could, if called upon, and if considered proper, swear that "the creature did not take up more than a foot and a-half of the pavement as she walked along. Cries of "shame." It was high time for them, as ladies to stir in the matter; otherwise the deplorable practice might spread and crinoline collapse. (Cheers.)She called upon Mrs. S. Turner to propose the first resolution. Mrs. S. TCSKEB (after a vain effort to get upon the platform)addressed the " Chair" from the body of the meeting. She was not there as an advocate for crinoline. The time for any such advocacy was passed. Crinoline had grown into an institution, and could stand alone. (Hear, hear.) An absurd attempt had, however, been made in the newspapers to prejudice weak minds against it by assuming that it was the cause of many accidents by fire. The assumption was a libellous falsity, as she would prove to the satisfaction the meeting. She had worn crinoline for nearly eight years, and had never once caught fire. (Loud cheering and waving of handkerchiefs.) That, she imagined, settled the question. They saw probably from time to time, notwithstanding, apparently truthful reports of such occurrences, and in the last number of the Home News some of the ladies present might have noticed that the first three paragraphs headed " Accidents and Offence "—though what the two things had in common in such cases she could not tell, she was sure—were all professed accounts of females suffering death by fire through wearing crinoline. All she would say with reference to the matter was, that either the reports in question were base fabrications, or the poor creatures must have gone too near the fire. At all events, her own experience was sufficient for her. (Hear, hear.) She had much pleasure in moving the first resolution :—" That it is right, proper, graceful, agreeable and necessary for ladies to wear crinoline, and that they will continue to do so. "
Miss X. TENSIVE seconded the motion, contenting herself with remarking that she trusted her opinion of crinoline had always been sufficiently evident to render any merely verbal expression of her sentiments unnecessary. (Hear.)The motion was put and carried nan. con.
Mrs. SHEEDE WRAGGON said she was there to propose the next resolution, and she would do it, spite of the press, or anyone else.(Hear, hear.) What had the press to do with crinoline? (Hear, hear, hear.) Expansion was what she liked, and as for the press, she for one thought the Government should suppress it. ("Oh ") She did not care for "ohs," not she. (Here the lady sitting next to Mrs. Wraggon stooped over as near to her as possible, and addressed her in a loud whisper. Mrs. Wraggon resumed.) A friend had told her that the "oh" was directed at a pun she had unconsciously made. All she could say was, she hated puns, and, if she had uttered one, apologised. The press was chiefly conducted, she believed, by men, and that accounted for its attacks upon crinoline. Her husband was a man (a laugh), and he had dared to sneer at crinoline. He was sufficiently a brute to repeat frequently what he avowed was a classical expression made by one Catto, or some such, name, to the efteet that " Crinoline had increased, was increasing, and ought to be destroyed." (Groans.) He had not gained much by the practice, as of late every time he gave utterance to that odious sentiment she purchased a new crinoline larger than the last. (Loud applause.)She trusted that, if at any time, she appeared with what might be deemed unnecessarily extensive skirts, the little domestic incident she had referred to would yield ample excuse. (Hear, hear.) She begged to move—"That, inasmuch as some of the male sex complained of want of room in buildings and streets frequented by ladies, owing to the present style of feminine attire, a petition be presented to both Houses of Parliament demanding that such buildings and streets be immediately enlarged." 
Miss H. IKKEN, in seconding the motion, observed that crinoline was a "duck of a fashion," and she hoped it would last till she was an old woman. This resolution, like the last, was carried unanimously, and a petition having been duly drawn up and adopted, a vote of thanks was awarded Miss Fashionissima Phipps for her admirable conduct on the form, and the meeting (with some difficulty) separated.

THE CRINOLINE MOVEMENT. (1863, March 26). Melbourne Punch (Vic. : 1855 - 1900), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article174528388 

The crinoline moved into other uses a mere 40 years on:
According to an enthusiastic New York lady, the crinoline has at length asserted its uses, and made good its chum to be taken seriously. Only a few weeks ago the newspapers told how cruelly women were jostled by crowds of hurrying business men oil the stairways and platforms of the elevated and underground railways. A girl, it was said., was seriously injured in one of these stampedes: but now retribution has been found in the old-fashioned crinoline. Wearing one of these, a woman can take entire possession of the staircase, and no matter how leisurely her steps, the burly and self-assertive man heading a crowd behind her cannot hurry her. He may dodge from tide to side, and prepare for a rush and a spring past her. but that simple crinoline keeps him at -bay as officially as a platoon of soldiers would. He may dance with impatience and annoyance  as visions of the train he has missed-owing to his love of setting things some what finely flash before him, still the serene damsel walks calmly on, barricaded by her invincible hoop. At present the feminine part of New York are considering very seriously whether, alter all. it would not be to their advantage to adopt forthwith so effective a protector as this mysterious little deu'-e of ho'f, is and ribbons, upon which so much obloquy has been heaped.

Canterbury Times. CRINOLINE. (1906, September 22). Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 - 1931), p. 7. Retrieved fromhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163077315 

And remains a part of many a wardrobe today, used as aforementioned. No one could deny a lady swishing out broad skirts that taper to a thus thinned waist does not look lovely, whether twirling around a dance floor, gliding across a lawn at a garden party, or walking down the aisle.

Perhaps the most quirky of stories associated with this fashionable clothing item is how it saved the life of one wearer; Tthe case of Sarah Ann Henley, who jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, in 1885 after a lover's quarrel, purportedly survived the fall of almost 75 metres (246 ft) because her skirts supposedly acted like a parachute and slowed her descent. Debate reigned over whether the skirt actually saved Henley from the fall, the story, however, became a local Bristol legend, perhaps superseded by the wags at Melbourne Punch again:

May blessings light on her whose mind,
Unused to cogitations mean,
Invented that sublimely grand
Circumference called crinoline.

For once a whirlwind rais'd me up,
And bore me through the blue serene,
Yet no balloon a safer flight
Could take, than did my crinoline.

Again, how many fops would fain
Have me upon their arm to lean,
But, ah! I hold them all aloof ,
With fence of outspread crinoline.

Whene'er I see the full-orb'd moon
Shed o'er the night her silv'ry sheen,
I murmur " Lo! an angel robed
In rich array of crinoline."

O, circle large! O, matchless sphere!
Environing both fat and lean,
How could the streets be swept if we
Forewent the use of crinoline ?

CRINOLINE. (1862, January 30). Melbourne Punch (Vic. : 1855 - 1900), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article174527209

Fashion from Middle English facioun, from Old French façon, appearance, manner, from Latin factiō, factiōn-, a making, from factus, past participle of facere, to make, do;

1. Crinoline. (2015, March 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved  fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Crinoline&oldid=650223924

Sir,-As I was strolling down Sturt street past the Mechanics' Institute, yesterday evening, after the labors of the day, I thought I would step in and take a look at the Horticultural Society's flower show, then being held in the large hall of the above named institute. Well, I went in, expecting it would take me only about half-an-hour or so to go round the room and look at the plants, &c., so nicely arranged; but I had not been in above two minutes before I found myself blockaded by a party of young ladies with their immense balloon-shaped appendages. With a great deal of shuffling and pushing, I managed to get out from amongst them; but as fast as I got away from one lot I got amongst another. At last, when I got round to the door again, I found it had taken me over two hours, besides making me perspire as if I bad been in an oven instead of a largewell ventilated room. Now, Sir, I recollect that in London, at the picture galleries and such like places, there used to be a man at the door to take charge of gentlemen's canes, &c. Now I think it would be a good plan to have a room at the entrance, with a female in attendance, so that the ladies may take off their crinolines, and leave them there till they leave the entertainment, or whatever it may be. Hoping you will insert these few words in your valuable paper.
I remain, &c.,"
 CRINOLINE. (1864, November 21). The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), p. 4. Retrieved fromhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66349881

Article in upper right: Crinoline. (1893, January 24). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 - 1931), p. 6. Retrieved fromhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113739181

Previous Collectors Corner pages:

Blacksmiths and Tinsmiths  Nylon Stockings Poster Art Furphy's Water Cart   Mousehole Anvil  Sapphire One Armed Bandit  Gould's 1840 Single and Compound Microscope  Tibetan Thangka Wheel Of Life Painting  Cast Iron Seats  Mabel Lucie Atwell Prints  The Customs of Traditional Dining by Hans and Jenny Carlborg  Albert Collins Landscape   Boomerang Harmonicas  Drinking: 18th Century Style Part I by H&J Carlborg  Drinking 18th Century Style Part II by H&J Carlborg Fleece Shears  Wood Case Crank Telephone  1803 Timepeice Vintage Guitars  Milestones  No.38RollsRoyceMotorOiler Christmas Postcards  Seashells  McCormick-Deering Horse Drawn Mower  Rope Making Machine  Marilyn Monroe 1955 Calendar  Stubbie Holders  Hill's Hoist  Akubra Hat  Fowler's Bottling Kit The Bold Autographed Script  Fishing Tackle Arnotts Biscuit Tins  Comic Books  Silver Opium Pipe  Mrs Beetons Book  Souvenir Teaspoons  Bendigo Pottery Gianelli Figurines  Key Fobs  Model Aircraft-static  Porcelain Slippers Wagon Wheels Rhys Williams Painting  Chinese Guardian Lions Australian Halfpenny  Bud Vases  Rolling Stones Still Life LP Autographed  WL1895 Thinking Monkey  Estee Lauder Ginger Jar  Reel Mowers  Surf Reels Millers Car Collection Hilton Lingerie - Slips Miniature Books of Verse - A Romantic Tradition  REGA Pouring Can  R O Dunlop - Sailing At Itchenor Painting Morning Shadows by C Dudley Wood  The Father of Santa Claus - Xmas 2012  HMS Penguin Anchor at RPAYC - Newport  SS Birubi Mast at RMYC - Broken Bay  Helen B Stirling Ship's Wheel at Club Palm Beach  Woomeras  HMSEndeavour Replica Cannon at RPAYC  The Doug Crane Classic Handmade Double Blade Paddle  HMS BountyWooden Ship Model Collecting Ladies - Ferdinand Von Mueller and Women Botanical Artists Australian Bark Art  Chinese Ginger Jars  Hand Plough and Jump Stump Plough - Australian Inventions Frank Clune Books Frederick Metters - Stoves, Windmills, Iron Monger  Trinket Boxes  1933 Wormald Simplex Fire Extinguisher is Pure Brass Chapman 'Pup' Maine Engines - Chapman and Sherack The Beach Ball  Figureheads – Salty Wooden Personifications of Vessels Binnacle at RMYC The Australian Florin - Worth More Than 20 Cents to Collectors  Weathervanes; For Those Passionate About Seeing Which Way the Wind Blows Her Majesty’s Theatre 1962 Programme - Luisillo and his Spanish Dance Theatre  Cooper's Sheep Shower Enamel Sign and Simpso's and Sons of Adelaide Jolly Drover Sugar Bowl and English Pottery – A Means to Gaze into the Past Chief Joseph and Edward S Curtis; His Remarkable Images of Native Americans – an Inestimable Record of Images and Portrait Photographs His Masters Voice, Old 78’s and Australia’s Love of Music Jack Spurlings 'Tamar' Picture 1923  Resch's Beer Art - A Reflection of Australiana Now Worth Thousands  The Compleat Angler - Izaak Walton’s Discourse Inspires Generations of Fishers Portable Ice-Boxes and Coolers – How Many Claim This Invention as Theirs?  Malley's and Sons Ltd. - A Munificent Australian Family Company Vintage Paddles and Gigs – Nautical Memorabilia

by A J Guesdon, 2015.