We have a fantastic costume collection at Chelsea Reference Library and Gillian Nunns, one of our Triborough Reference Librarians has been taking a look….
I was very interested to read our Local Studies Librarian’s post about the seemingly bizarre story of crinolines, which had me looking through our costume collection in search of stories of undergarments and their place in history and fashion.
As the crinoline fashion gradually subsided in the early half of the 1860s, the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine reported as early as 1860 that
‘The iron reign of the “Crinoline” is undoubtedly, but gradually, coming to and end.’
And as it did so skirts morphed into into a narrower skirt but with a bustle at the back. Here is an illustration from Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, October 1869.
Which of course required different support. This became known as the ‘tournure”, involving different kinds of heavy support for each layer – steel, horsehair and whalebone were used, for example. Here are some images that we found on a page of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine also from 1869.
The last is a sort of cinoline, but altered to emphasise the new bustle fashion, allowing for a straight front of the skirt with a big bustle at the back.
We can always count on Punch to satirise such trends in fashion. The first appearance of a crinoline in Punch is in 1856, and the fashion is described as “Crinolineomania”.
And another from the same year.
In 1857 Dr. Punch considers of the crinoline that
‘If he were called upon to fix the spot precisely where the malady broke out, without hesitation he would point to Paris’.
Although I doubt that Dr Punch would have done, considering the amount of fun that the crinoline afforded him. And in fact, I found out that many undergarment fashions might have been lost to history completely if it were not for publications that satirized them.
The crinoline is described in Punch as a “depopulating influence[…]”
“The mode now prevailing is one of such extravagance that it is continually demanding fresh sacrifices, and ladies have to choose between a fine dress and a family, for no income but a Rothchild’s can provide for both.”
As I read more and found about later and earlier eras in fashion, I was interested in how the history of Western fashion is ruled by an obsession with the silhouette; so that when a desired shape comes into fashion, its boundaries end up being pushed to the extremes. Norah Waugh makes an interesting point about this in her book Corsets and Crinolines.
“This over-emphasis of line has given a curious underlying rhythm to women’s clothes and become an almost unwritten law of design. A longer slender silhouette gradually begins to widen at the base, emphasis shifts from length to breadth, and when the greatest circumference has been reached, there is a collapse, a folding up, and a return to the long straight line”
This point was not lost in the pages of Punch in an article called “Philosophy of Fashion”
“When hoops went out of vogue nigh on a Century ago, the ladies vowed that scanty petticoats were infinitely prettier; and they vied with one another in reducing their dimensions, until their skirts became so shrunken that they could hardly move their feet with the limited circumference. So doubtless, will it be again, now Crinoline is doomed […] Already we see signs of the change approaching. Ladies fresh from Paris startle our eyes now-a-days by appearing in what at first sight we may fancy are their night dresses. Of course, when one tide sets in, all the female world will swim with it”
And in my next post we will see what happened next…..
Triborough Reference Librarian, Chelsea Reference Library
The sources used for this post are all available at Chelsea Reference Library except Punch which is available at Kensington Central Reference Library.
- Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh, 1954
- Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, October 1869
- Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, September 1867
- Punch, August 1856
- Punch, October 1856