Fashion isn’t just about vanity and style. It also defines decades and adds color to history. Today, fashion can be more practical. A lot of people’s style choices are guided by comfort, functionality, and self-expression. Many years ago, however, fashion pieces weren’t as flexible.
During the Victorian era, the crinoline, a large petticoat, was highly fashionable. The original garment was made from stiff horsehair fabric that kept the hoop skirts of the 1800s in position. The horsehair was eventually replaced by stiffened cotton, and later, by the cage crinolines that became the most popular.
The cage crinoline was made from spring steel running horizontally.
Vertical tape lines kept the hoops secure, and the circumference ran from a few feet up to about 15 feet. A petticoat was worn over the steel frame, and then a skirt or dress was worn over the petticoat.
Upperclass women first wore the crinoline, until it became so popular that women of all classes started wearing it. Movement was restricted while wearing the crinoline since certain actions and positions could compromise the wearer’s modesty. The width of the crinoline also made it difficult for women to go through doorways, and the layers of clothing made it very hot to wear.
But as much as the crinoline was fashionable, it was also very dangerous.
The fashion piece was highly flammable, and an estimated 3,000 women were killed when their crinolines caught fire. For example, in 1858, a woman in Boston was quickly burned when her skirt caught fire from her fireplace. In February 1863, Margaret Davey, a 14-year-old kitchen maid, died from the severity of her burns when her crinoline caught fire as she reached for a set of spoons. And in Philadelphia, nine ballerinas were killed when one of them brushed a candle at the Continental Theater.
In England, over a two-month period alone, 19 deaths caused by burning crinolines were reported. Female witnesses said they couldn’t provide help for fear of their own skirts catching fire.
The crinolines also posed non-lethal problems.
Women had a hard time boarding trains and other vehicles. Sometimes, the bottom of their skirts became entangled with wagon wheels or got caught by the wind.
The fashion piece went out of style in the late 1800s. Today, it is used for costumes and wedding gowns and is made from more comfortable and non-flammable materials.