Ladies sauntering down halls array in crinoline.
This image of the Victorian woman is so memorable, that it is easy to forget that the famous metal-cage was actually reviled by many in its time.
The crinoline was invented by R.C. Milliet, and introduced in the summer of 1856.
At first, it was welcomed with great relief. For by the 1850s, females wore up to fourteen pounds of petticoats in order to achieve the wide skirts which gave an illusion of a tiny waist. With this intolerable weight, alongside tight-lacing, it is not surprising that women were apt to swoon.
Not only was the crinoline much lighter in weight, it also gracefully moved the skirt in alignment with its wearer; swaying side to side as a lady walked down the street.
The same lightness that made the crinoline much more comfortable, however, also caused skirts to flare up in the wind, and nearly smack them in the face if they sat down incorrectly. Heaven-forbid a woman should fall, the cage held her skirt straight up, revealing all.
In time, the wideness of skirts grew and grew. By 1860, dresses measured ten yards around the hem. With skirts so huge, hostesses discovered a taxing problem. Before, three ladies could sit comfortably together on a sofa, now only one could fit. What was a hostess to do? A parlor could only have so many chairs. Also, unaware of the edges of their skirts, vases and other bric-a-bracs were constantly being knocked over as women strode across the heavily decorated Victorian rooms.
These fashionable follies were a boon to satirical magazines such as Punch.
Unfortunately, aside from these humorous annoyances, the crinoline proved incredibly dangerous. Reports circulated of heavy winds knocking women off piers and into the water below, where the steel cages tied to their waist, quickened their drowning. Hoops got entangled in carriage wheels dragging women to their deaths. Factory girls were mutilated when their skirts got caught in machinery. Unsuspecting women knocked over candles, catching their skirts on fire.
On December 8, 1863, approximately 3,000 people died inside a cathedral in Santiago, Chile. After a gas lamp caught fire, the highly flammable silks and cottons of the dresses fed the flame. As the occupants ran towards the doors, they were blocked from reaching the exit by the width of the skirts.
It is perhaps not surprising, that the crinoline fell out of favor for the safer bustle of the 1870s.
“A Splendid Spread”- by George Cruikshank, from the Comic Almanack