Friday, September 28, 2007

The Friday Fact

Crinolines vs. Hoop Skirts vs. Bustles

It saddens me when some people use these three words interchangeably. They're not interchangeable, really. Especially not bustle. So here's the quick 411 on the difference between the three. (the picture above was taken 2 years ago at a CW re-enactment. I'm on the right, my sister's on the left and a friend of hers is in the middle. She's wearing my dress though)

Crinolines: Crinolines are also known as petticoats. During the 19th century, crinolines were worn from about 1828 to 1853-1855. There are two kinds: Horsehair and corded. Horsehair crinolines are made out of horsehair, and resemble tulle petticoats that you find under early '90's wedding dresses and awful bridesmaid dresses. Corded petticoats are cotton petticoats with stiffened cotton string in them. My sister is going to make one, so I'll share it when she finishes it.

These things are HOT!! I have danced in crinolines. In Louisiana. In May. Thought I was going to die of a heat stroke. The tulle ones are scratchy, itchy and uncomfortable and I shudder to think how much worse a horse hair one would be. In 1853, that all changed.

Hoop Skirts: Charles Frederic Worth, the favorite designer of Empress Eugenie of France, debuted the "modern" hoop skirt at a ball. It was worn by Eugenie under the biggest skirt that had ever been made to that date. I think the skirt yardage was somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 yards of fabric. That's a lot of fabric! Its weight could not be supported by the crinolines of the day, so Worth got creative. But not original. The hoop skirt dates back to the Byzantine period. He merely updated it and used lighter materials.

A lot of feminists make the argument that the hoop was constricting, a cage of sorts and is all manner of evil. Having worn both crinolines and a hoop, I will take a hoop any day! I can imagine how freeing that must have been to get rid of the mountains of petticoats that could weigh 10 pounds or more, and switch to the light and airy new hoop skirt. Yes, it was big, and yes it did make getting more than 3 ladies in a room very interesting, but it's still preferable to mountains of petticoats that don't breathe.

The hoop was all the rage from 1853 until late 1869/early 1870. In the 50's, it kept getting bigger and bigger and more bell-shaped. Starting in late 1862, the hoop began to take on more of an elliptical shape. After The War, it started shrinking again and shifting more towards the back. Enter The Bustle.

The Bustle: The bustle came about sometime in 1870-1871. I'm not entirely sure when. The entire weight of ladies skirts shifted to the back. Some of the evening dresses from this period are just amazing with the amount of bows and laces and drapes that decorate the back of the skirt.

So you're probably wondering how the heck do you sit down in a bustle. They resembled bird cages and the wires were held together with leather straps. It was designed to collapse when you sat down, and then when you stood back up it would open out again. Really ingenious if you ask me.

In 1877, the bustle disappeared. Completely. Almost overnight. Then in 1884 it came back. 1884 to 1890 is the period that most people associate with the bustle. It's known as the Second Bustle Era. 1890 brings in the era of the Gibson Girl that segued into Edwardian, then into Flapper and so on.

Hoops and horsehair petticoats are easier to buy these days than bustles are. Probably because of the great emphasis on Civil War re-enactment and the general fascination that goes with the world of the Old South. My hoop is made of cotton and plastic and weighs next to nothing. It's a 6-bone. Today, hoops are referred to by how many bones they have. Back in the day they weren't talked of in that manner because the hoops had anywhere from 10-30 bones in them. They were steel, so they did weight quite a bit more than the modern interpretation. But still, they were lighter and cooler and easier to care (as well as took up less closet space) than mountains of horsehair petticoats.

Next time you hear someone going on about how restricting and awful and horrendous hoops and bustles were, stop and think for a minute. Think about how the women then must have felt about the new fads, how free they felt, how much cooler they were in the new fangled items. I know I do. Had I lived in the 1850's, when my first hoop finally arrived, in all likelihood I would have burned my horsehair petticoats.


  1. Very interesting, Rachel. I am enjoying the mini-history lessons. I'm not a big history buff ordinarily, but I do love period costumes. Thanks!

  2. This was very informative. In my Civil War era novel, I cited an instance when refugees from an Indian attack were all holed up in a hotel in downtown New Ulm. Because there were so many women in the hotel, Dr. W.W. Mayo (Of Mayo Clinic fame) finally insisted all the women remove their hoops and shove them out into the backyard of the hotel. Thus they made room for MANY more refugees in the hotel. It's one of my favorite stories of the Dakota Conflict of 1862 in Minnesota.