Without a doubt, in the world of feminine underclothing,
nothing has ever quite compared with that of the Victorian Era. It was fancy,
frilly, lacey, and truly outlandish! But, it made a lady, “a lady”! The
ladies wore “oodles” of flounces beneath their outer attire. This consisted
of long lace-trimmed white muslin “drawers”, a flannel petticoat in winter,
the petticoat of calico, quilted and reinforced with whalebone, and several
starched, checked, striped or white muslin petticoats with more flounces. The
outer petticoat was invariably made with tucks and usually embroidered. All this
was worn with a tightly laced corset, the object being with all of this “fluff
and flounce”, to make a lady’s waist appear to be unbelievably small.
(Please read our information about the corset). One ponders, “why this entire
troublesome under-dressing”? She wouldn’t have dared to show off any of
it---no matter how pretty! Anyway, that is the way it was in the early eighteen
hundreds, and it was another strange phenomenon. Not to mention, that all of
this “distinguished garb” was cumbersome, probably became quite “steamy”
in the summertime and was dangerously harsh for a lady’s health!
Since all things change, perhaps the ladies would soon
have all of this paraphernalia banished! But, alas---next came the crinoline,
which made its
appearance in the early 1840’s. The crinoline, with it’s excessively large
skirt, now made the waist appear comparatively small and as a result, corsets
could be loosened if the lady’s vanity would allow it. That was one good
thing. But so far, we can easily see how restrictive and obviously uncomfortable
the ladies had it during the last couple of centuries. As for the crinoline, it was a band
or braid of horsehair, crin being the French word or horsehair. It was a
petticoat of sorts, corded and lined with horsehair and finished with braid
straw at the hem. How about that for femininity! One wonders if the ladies kept
plenty of “itching cream” on hand in the dressing table drawer.
This reminds us of the old adage “a woman has to suffer
to be beautiful” does it not, ladies? So, now we will delve into the next
aspect of development, which is the CRINOLINE (CAGE).
These are truly two “outlandish” features of Victorian
Dressing. It is said that the improvement in crinolines was the cage
americaine .Yes, it did replace the many petticoats and crinoline skirt.
However, this cage like frame made of steel and/or whalebone hoops quite often
would measure ten yards around and it was still called a crinoline. It was
patented in 1856 and was touted as a revolutionary development.
Like so many fashion influences, the crinoline cage was
made in France, and was soon adopted in England and America. They were soon
mass-produced commercially and not nearly as expensive as the lady’s previous
undergarments. The reality was that, although the “new” crinoline did free
the lady’s legs of the bogging layers of “frou-frou” petticoats, it was
often dangerous. It could have easily caught fire from candles, fire grates or
tossed “smoke pins” from the gentlemen! Sudden movement was out of the
question. The bell-shaped skirt took on the shape of a cone, with steel hoops
only from the knees down. But, the lady was smooth and flat over the
hips...wasn’t that worth it? And, they were humiliating at times when the wind
gusted or when the lady attempted to be seated. It was not uncommon for a
crinolined skirt to balloon up in the front if the lady wasn’t careful. But,
after all, it was the fashion, and they were relatively inexpensive to buy.
Everything has its time and place. The decline of the crinoline began in the
It was now time to move attention to the back of the
lady’s skirting! In the late 1860’s, 1869 to be exact the BUSTLE or TOURNURE
replaced the crinoline. Here’s one for the books, “The bustle was really
another form of the crinoline, but with the rows of whalebone running only from
the sides round the back”~~! The wide flair at the bottom of the skirt
disappeared, but the bunched-up polonaise or tunic in the back of the knees created the
“bustle” silhouette. This grossly accentuated the derriere and was just as
awkward to maneuver as the crinoline cage. In addition, women returned to the
stiffly starched muslin petticoats. Talk about adding “insult to injury”!
Yet, the bustle, or “dress improver”, as it was called, was a fashion
statement and one of the most extraordinary inventions in the history of
fashion. In 1887, Lillie Langtry lent her name to a bustle that had springs so
that it folded up as the lady sat down. Finally, now, the lady could assume a
resting position in the chair. And, viola! It was even said to have sprung back
to its normal position when the lady rose once again. This “improver” was
attached just above the hips and was fastened with strong material around the
waist. At the height of their popularity, they extended downward to fall just
above the back of the knees and expanded horizontally. Once again cinching corsets were
employed, as well. But, all this is not too much to ask of a lady of high
society. Anything that would differentiate one from the commonplace and ordinary
“others” was as good as done. Its been said that “all good things must
cease”...and the bustle, by 1890, had “seen its day”.
In summation, ladies, “count your blessings”!
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