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The Victorian Crinoline


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Crinolines were created to give the desired dome-shaped skirt form that women aimed for in the early Victorian era. Layers of petticoats, usually six layers, satisfied this aim up to the 1840s when the crinoline appeared but a satisfactory patent didn’t seem to appear until the mid 1850s when the cage crinoline was patented. A cage crinoline design was patented in 1856 and it seemed to be a natural development in womens -wear.

The heavy layers of petticoats, at least six layers, which were used to create the desired dome shape, could be replaced. The cage crinoline thus satisfied the aim for the popular dome shape. The cage crinoline effected other changes. Since women now didn’t have to wear layers of petticoats, more concentration could be done on perfecting a dome shape and on perfecting also a suitable bodice. The overall aim of the ‘crinoline’ look was to give the desired ‘full’ shape of wide skirt, reduced waist and matching bodice. The overall aim was contrast between a tight fitted bodice and full skirt.

However, maybe another reason for the crinoline was that the layers of petticoats weren’t sufficient to create the dome shape. Once a suitable patent was developed, it could be said that more effort could be given to developing better crinolines. Six layers of petticoats was a heavy weight and may have produced a corresponding heavy and inelegant look. There was no need to have layers of petticoats if a suitable structure was designed. This was the cage crinoline and it was designed to produce in a more simple and effective way the desired dome shape.

The origin of the term crinoline is interesting. The crinoline, as a structure, could be said to replace the crin or horsehair which was used previously to add important levels of girth to the skirt as well as to give height and breadth to the layers of petticoats. Crin was a functional fabric made of horsehair and cotton or linen fabric. A fabric similar to crin was used to also protect the body from the cage crinoline which could lead to rashes if it was allowed to press against the skin.

It is also interesting to note that the crinoline was not a completely new development and there are similarities between it and other structures such as the farthingale and pannier used in previous ages to give wide girth and breadth to the skirt.

It is interesting too to note the coordination and contrast between the top bodice and the crinoline itself; The aim as to contrast the wide dome-shaped shirt with a fitted bodice and thus to accent the waist line and the bust line. Shape was certainly important for the skirt. And if the Victorians were concerned with shape, then it is important to analyse this ‘shape’, the dome-shape from all sides; How is the dome actually shaped i. e the back, the front and the sides. Does the dome spread out at hip level or slightly above; Does it spread out over buttocks or does it fall instead from the waist line in a dome shape over the buttocks. The nature of the shape of the crinoline is important to consider for the future development of the crinoline and its place in Victorian dress.

Crinolines began to disappear in the 1860s. Bustles were the new structure used to give the desired shape and girth. Instead of creating a dome shape, the aim of the bustle was to create fullness at the back area around the buttocks rather than at the sides and in the front. Whalebone seemed to be one of the main materials used to create this form.


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