Crinolines are stiff or structured petticoats designed to hold out a woman’s skirt, popular since the mid-19th Century. Crinoline was initially referred to as a stiff fabric made of horsehair (“crin”) and cotton or linen used for underskirts and dress linings. In the 21st Century, crin or crinoline remains the term used to describe nylon stiffening tape for interfacing and lining hemlines.
By the 1850s, crinolines were more often used to describe horsehair petticoats and hoop skirts that replaced horsehair petticoats. Like farthingales and panniers of the 16th and 17th centuries, these hoop skirts allowed skirts to spread even wider and more thoroughly. In April 1856, R.C. Milliet patented a steel-hooped cage crinoline in Paris, and their British agent patented it a few months later. Thousands of steel cage crinolines were mass-produced every year in factories across the Western world. Steel was the most common material for hoops, but alternatives like whalebone, cane and gutta-percha were also used. By the late 1860s, crinolines were starting to shrink in size, and they could reach a circumference of six yards at their widest point.
In the Western world, women of every social standing and class wore crinolines, from royalty to factory workers. Wearing them without due care could be hazardous. Thousands of women died in the mid-19th Century from hooping skirts catching fire. Other hazards included hoops caught in machinery, carriage wheels, wind gusts, or other obstacles.
Here are some elegant photos showing young ladies wearing crinolines in the mid-19th Century.