One brief moment, on a calm walk in the forest, she sensed it. She knew it was real and yet she could not make out it’s shape. It had a different feel than the restricting crinoline she wore. It felt crisp yet smooth and oh so dapper. It was a breath upon the gentle breeze of change yet to come. And she felt comfort in the knowing, that all things must and do change…
The crinoline was the subject of much ridicule and satire, particularly in Punch magazine. Dress reformers did not like it either — they seized upon the cage aspect of the crinoline and claimed that it effectively imprisoned women. Given that the crinoline did eventually have a maximum diameter of up to 180 centimetres (six feet), it is easy to imagine difficulties in getting through doors, in and out of carriages, and the general problems of moving in such a large structure. However, while the crinoline needed to have a degree of rigidity, it also had a degree of flexibility. A particular kind of steel, known as spring steel or watch-spring steel, enabled the hoops to be temporarily pressed out of shape.
The second problem was the potential impropriety of the crinoline. Its lightness was a curse as well as a blessing, as a gust of wind or a knock could set it swinging and reveal the wearer’s legs. Even worse, if she tripped or was knocked over, the crinoline would hold her skirts up. That’s why women took up wearing legged undergarments, called drawers. Invented earlier as a high-society trend, they were largely ignored as almost improper, being bifurcated and thus far too “masculine”, until the use of cage crinolines made the risk of accidental indecency very real.
The third problem was the pressure, but a tight, stiff corset spread the pressure.Sitting down could be a problem if the wearer failed to spread her skirts out properly, as the entire hoop contraption would fly up in her face. This embarrassing but humorous tendency is often depicted in comedies of the era.
Another problem of crinoline was its size, which not only left the wearer unaware of where its edges were but put them at risk of dangerous entanglement.
Fire was a further risk. In 1857, the Paris correspondent of the New York Times reported a non-fatal accident to two “elegantly dressed” young women whose clothes caught fire in the street. It was believed that a lighted cigar had rolled under the dress of one as she sat at a cafe, but “the balloon-like form of her skirts and the confined air” delayed conflagration until she began to walk outside, when her skirts abruptly ignited. Her friend, rushing to her aid, also caught fire. Passers-by helped them, and neither was seriously hurt.
However, there is one instance of a crinoline possibly saving a life, in the case of Sarah Ann Henley, who jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, in 1885 after a lover’s quarrel, but survived the fall of almost 75 metres (246 ft) because her skirts supposedly acted like a parachute and slowed her descent. Although it is debated if the skirt actually saved Ms. Henley from the fall, the story has nevertheless become a local Bristol legend.
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