Deadly Crinoline



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

Published in: on May 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm  Comments (46)  
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  1. Wow, I knew they wore a lot of undergarments back then but had no idea they were often the cause of the woman’s untimely demise. Oh, the things women do in the name of fashion!

  2. You certainly never see any of those things happening in movies set in the period the crinoline was in vogue. Someone should (if they haven’t already) write a book about the dangers of fashion (foot-binding, corsets, high-heels, etc) for women. I wonder if there are (or were) any men’s fashion that proved just as dangerous to their wearers.

  3. So true DD,

    I’d so be wearing the dress reform of the Pre-Raphaelites if I lived back then. I’ve never felt the need to follow even silly fashion trends of today. No way would I follow one that loopy!

  4. Hey Jenna,

    I’m racking my brain but I can’t come up with anything really dangerous (fashion-wise) for men. The worst thing I know of is that their masacar hair oil dirtied the backs of chairs. Kinda pales in comparison.

    I’m having an image of a woman’s crinoline catching flame. Definitely need to remember this for a future novel…

  5. That certainly redefines the concept of “fashion to die for”!

  6. Goo grief- who’d have thought crinolines could cause so many problems?? What a pain!

  7. Wow. You do, as always, research the truly fascinating. Re: men – maybe ties could be dangerous? Get caught in the paper shredder, etc.”

  8. Heya Ralfast,

    Heh! I knew someone had to say that. 🙂

  9. Hey Colby,

    Just the idea of wearing a metal cage under my skirt…

  10. Hey Uppington,

    Okay, that made me giggle. I should google that: “How many men die annually from being strangled by their ties…”

  11. Apparently ties could be dangerous to others: “Nearly half the neckties worn by 42 doctors at the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queen’s (NYHMCQ) contained bacteria which can cause dangerous conditions like pneumonia and blood infections, the researchers found.”

  12. And… “Researchers say that wearing a tight necktie constricts the jugular vein and consequently raises blood pressure in the eye in both normal and glaucoma patients.” Doesn’t come close to the risk of wearing a crinoline, I’d say!

  13. I have no idea why, but this bit literally made me laugh out loud: “…in both normal and glaucoma patients.” Thank goodness they did such a thorough study.

    Maybe that’s why so many business men have that intense, angry look in their eyes? If they took off their tie-their blood pressure would go down, doors would stop banging, phones would stop slamming…

  14. I’m in the minority here, but I *love* crinoline. I love the feeling of the hoop. Not that I’m a crinoline expert, as I’ve only worn it once in my life (under a wedding dress) but, since I was little, I always likened crinoline to princesses. : )

    (And this is said by someone who doesn’t follow fashion trends and finds high heels to be serious (and strange) tootsie-torture.)

    Actually, now that I know how old crinoline is, I’m surprised it’s still around!


  15. Hi gypsyscarlett,

    I have recently discovered your weblog and I really enjoy it. I especially loved your “comfort reads”. I loved Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Conan Doyle (and anything mysterious,moody, witty and British) when I was growing up and often return to them for escape.
    I also enjoyed your piece on the birth of Frankenstein. The story of the story is so evocative in itself…
    Good luck with your writing!

  16. Hi Mauri,

    Nice to meet you- and thank you! 🙂

    I haven’t read Mary Stewart, but have heard good things about her in the past. Thanks for reminding me of her.

    Regarding Frankenstein, a fantastic biography is, “Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Birth of Frankenstein” by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.

  17. Hey Em!

    I’m sure you looked like a princess, too.

    Speaking strictly on aesthetics, I do think the crinoline-fashion looked pretty when it first came out. The look only became ridiculous (to me) when the skirts became the size of tents.

  18. This is one of the funniest things I have read. I am sorry it was such a health hazard but the whole being unable to accomodate three people on a sofa and catching vases with skirts was hilarious. There should be a comedy movie on this. Painful deaths though. Too bad.

    Trust it to men to have a fashion hazard – ties – that is a bigger threat to those around them.

  19. Heya Venus,

    I think a silent comedy would be best. Especially if shown at high-speed.

  20. And I thought bras were the most awful thing to wear!

  21. BTW, I knew very little about this subject before reading your post, thanks for sharing!

  22. Hey MaLanie,

    Glad you liked the post. 🙂

    Bras don’t bother me *that* much. I find tights more annoying- so restrictive. I think that’s one of the major reasons I love the warm months so much- the pleasure of walking around bare-legged while wearing skirts. It’s such a comfy, free feeling.

  23. Off topic, Scarlett, but I tagged you for a viral short story if you’re interested:

  24. Hey Unfocused Me,

    No promises, but I will try to think of something to add. My mind is so focused on my WIP, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.

  25. Yeesh! I always thought it looked ridiculous and wondered how safe it could be. Apparently it wasn’t safe at all!

    I wonder though–if you were a farmer’s daughter or wife, I can’t imagine they would end up wearing a crinoline as they helped out around the farm o_O I’d much rather be in that position so I wouldn’t have to wear such a contraption!

    It often makes me laugh too to see how the dresses became more and more elaborate during that time. They should’ve stuck with the simplicity of the Regency period 😛

    I always thought the bustle that followed was a bit on the ridiculous side too, but at least it wasn’t a huge metal cage 🙂

  26. Hi Dara,

    Yeah, I doubt any woman working on the farm wore crinoline or bustles. And of course there were tons of dress reformers, bohemians, artists, etc that didn’t. It was really the upper middle-class that seemed the most concerned with following the fashion trends.

    The Regency dresses were gorgeous. They could easily be worn today.

    Whenever I think of bustles, I flashback to Mrs. Olsen on Little House on the Prairie. You know that angry walk she’d do…And she fell a lot in the mud, too.

  27. Oh yes, the Regency styles were so fetching 🙂 They seem almost practical as well, at least by comparison!

    Crinolines always make me think of “Gone With the Wind”, watching Scarlett sashaying around town is those enormous skirts.

  28. Nice sketch by Cruikshank! I dig his satirical pieces, along with Hogarth’s!

    What amazes me most is the way women continue to destroy themselves today with cages of plastic and cotton. Spanx still sucks you in as much as a corset. High heels–well, in what ways do they NOT mess up your skeletal structure? So many cages, so little time to try and unravel them all. It makes me sad, to see my college girls–beautiful, wonderful girls–think they need a stupid Spanx. Damn, they’re already gorgeous–who was the miserable twit (society society society) who told them they weren’t?

    Geez, sorry for the rant there. Have been watching too many late night infomercials selling all that crap 🙂

  29. Heya Nancy,

    No need to apologise. I wonder about members of my own sex,too. I mean, some are getting their toes surgically shortened just to fit into pointy, trendy shoes.

    I like high heels for special occasions. Or sometimes, I’m just in the mood to wear them. But never all the time.

    I’m afraid to ask what a Spanx is. But too curious not to go look it up now…

  30. Oh yes, go look up the Spanx (I keep forgetting you’re in Berlin and not the US)—they’re terrifying. Think of that moment when you pop a can of frozen muffins open–that’s what happens when you unroll a spanx off a body (and it’s like, a gazillion dollar industry). The whole point that everything must be smoothed and contained.

    As for the occasional high heel–I get that. It elongates the woman’s leg, no doubt about it, and my legs certainly look better in them. That’s the paradox of it really. Of course, I’m getting to that age where it just kills my back, so it’s not even worth staying in them more than, say, and hour (soon I’ll be donning orthopedic shoes and compression socks).

  31. The woman who invented Spanx was on Oprah one day (it was a good year ago, maybe more, I can’t remember why I was even home at that time of day. Musta been a holiday, or home sick…anyway…) She was being hailed like a hero for dreaming these things up. I’d never heard of them until then. They never brought up the muffin analogy, I wonder why? (wicked evil grin)They made it sound like they were basically footless pantyhose.

    Surgically alterting feet to fit in shoes??? Cheesus. I can’t wear those ultra-pointy shoes, but I would never even consider surgery to be able to do so.

  32. Nancy and D D,

    I shall never look at muffin dough the same way.

    here ya go:

    I can’t imagine ever undergoing foot surgery other than for *health* reasons.

  33. Great link. Here’s one right back at you from Alessandro Bavari entitled “Crinoline”:

    Here’s his site:


  34. Thanks, Nancy for the link.

    His art is really interesting. And the crinoline drawing- bizarre and funny at the same time.

  35. Nancy, that’s an amazing image. Wow. I’d love to see that guy do a Tarot deck!

    It reminded me of this:

    Pumpkin Witch with hoop skirt

  36. I loved this post! So sad women have always felt the need to go overboard to impress a man–and outdo each other.

  37. Thanks Lis’Anne, glad you liked the post.

    And this seems to be the time to say a huge THANK YOU to my parents for instilling confidence in my sister and me so we are not/have never been/will never be like that.

    I wear what I like. I do my hair the way I like. If it happens to be fashionable- fine. If it’s not fashionable- fine.

  38. Hear, hear! I’m like you, Gypsy. I’ve always marched to the beat of a different drummer. My sister calls me a flower child because I wear what pleases me–fashion be damned. 🙂 Give me a sundress and flip-flops and I’m in heaven.

  39. great post!…sorry I am late t othe discussion!…I dressed as Scarlett O’Hara one Halloween and hated the hoop!, and that one was plastic hoops I think…i ended up changing to jeans halfway thru the party 🙂
    I think some of the fashion trends for women have been appalling, mostly constricting and impossible standards!
    I laughed at the idea of male mishaps tho…I have heard some horror stories about zippers![iykwim! ;)]

  40. Hey Janflora,

    It’s never too late for ya to stop by.

    But don’t mention male mishaps and zippers when I’m sipping tea. 😉

  41. I love the look of vintage costumes, but never really imagined some of the -danger- associated with something like a crinoline skirt! I always wondered about dragging so much material through the notoriously dusty and dirty streets of the time, though.
    Thanks for an informative post…a fun read, although I feel sorry for the poor women who wore those things day in and day out.

  42. It’s a beautiful fashion. I love the huge dresses

  43. Hi Dominique,

    Gack! Missed your comment somehow. Speaking of the dust and dirty streets…yes. I always sort of laugh when I see how clean everyone tends to look in films. Definitely wasn’t like that in real life.

  44. Hi Veronica,

    Thanks so much for stopping by. I like the look of them (albeit not the huge ones), but wouldn’t want to wear them.

    If I went back in time I’d go for the Pre-Raphaelite Aesthetic dresses. 🙂

  45. i cant believe that women could wear these things. they are so big and im glad i didnt wear one under my wedding dress.

  46. I know what you mean, Samantha.

    And thanks so much for stopping over at my blog. 🙂

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