I found a wonderful lecture transcript and powerpoint on line for a talk titled “The Crinoline Cage.” The speaker, Lynda Nead, is an art history professor at the University of London. I’ve always wanted to find a piece that really goes into the history of crinolines and hoop skirts, and this is it. The accompanying images from the nineteenth century include cartoons from Punch, extracts from Dickens, letters from Victorian women and paintings by artists such as Franz Winterhalter, the painter of the Royal and Imperial Courts of Europe. They’re all wonderful, so check this out.
In the introduction to her remarks, Nead says this:
The middle of the nineteenth century was the great age of the crinoline. Dresses became bigger and more ornate; skirts grew wider and wider, devouring metres of fabric and decorated with flounces, fringes and ribbons. The style was facilitated by the development of the sewing machine and technological developments in textile production that introduced new machine-made light, gauzy fabrics, which supplemented the more established and expensive silks and taffetas and were suited to the purses of the middling classes. The key to this fashion, the frame for this confection of fabrics and ornament, was the hooped cage crinoline. Historians have been divided on whether the crinoline turned women into ‘exquisite slaves’ or was a sign of female assertiveness and subversion.