The crinoline is the dome-shape wire frame that stands out as a defining feature in Victorian dress. Its origins, what led to its development and what replaced the crinoline are important in understanding Victorian costume. The crinoline was patented in 1856 and you could say that this is the year it appeared.
In some way the crinoline replaced the layers of petticoats that went before it but ultimately it was to give the dome-shape that was popular. Remember that in the 1830s the silhouette was a wide bell-shape and as the decade progressed the skirts became wider. The bell-shaped developed into a dome shape. Extra layers of petticoats were used to add the required bulk and width.
The dome shape was important and it was something that the layers of petticoats couldn’t properly produce. You can say that over the preceding decades, the dome-shape was the singular important silhouette that developed and the actual design and structure of the proper dome shape was something to be aimed for. The crinoline you could say also helped to begin to free women from the layers of petticoats and the effect of the crinoline was to create shape that the layering of petticoats failed to give.
Victorian dress, rightly or wrongly, could be said to have a certain stiffness and demureness. The look of the woman was one of demureness. The proper position, look and gait were important. Remember too that in the 1840s, there was a noticeable restriction on women’s arm movements too. This was because of the dropped shoulder seam line and this added to the overall Victorian effect of demure femininity in this time. When analysing the development of the crinoline, it is important to analyse the development also of the bodice as well as the skirt up to the crinoline’s appearance.
Remember too that around 1840, the gigot sleeve disappeared, with its shape and bias at the top, and it was replaced by a straighter sleeve. This aided in creating the V-shaped bodice look in this period. The sleeve was now much narrower and tighter. There was also the dropped shoulder line which restricted movement. The bodice is important in heightening the effect of the crinoline. The early Victorian look at this time was of a tight bodice with narrow waist. This heightened the effect of the domed skirts beneath.