Redesigned crinoline freed legs

History Gurus Spotlight

WARREN — It is a common misconception that all of the artifacts The Trumbull County Historical Society owns are on display at all times. With a collection of approximately 20,000 artifacts, only about 20 percent of our collection is viewable on our public tours. Our staff and volunteers care for the other items while not on view, which include more than 500 clothing items and accessories, 1,400 Native American stone tools, more than 5,000 photographs and documents, 60 pieces of furniture, and 40 paintings.

For this particular guru installation, we brought out a clothing item that had been many years in storage. Not knowing much about this unique item, we reached out to Dr. Sara Hume, associate professor at Kent State University and curator at the Kent State University Museum, locally known as The Fashion Museum, to act as our guru for the 1872 crinoline.

A crinoline is structure something like a cage worn beneath a dress to puff out a woman’s skirt.

Most history buffs are familiar with the wide steel hoop skirts that were popular during the Civil War years and before. When first looking at this crinoline, it is a noticeably smaller hoop and, strangely, has suspenders attached for the wearer to distribute the weight over her shoulders.

First glance tells us that this hoop was much different than the large steel waist supports worn during the Civil War years. But why is this particular piece so interesting in fashion history?

The term “crinoline” derives from the French term for horsehair, “and first referred to petticoats stiffened with horsehair used to create full skirts,” Hume said. “By the mid-1850s, the first steel cage crinolines were manufactured.”

These hoops “combined new technological improvements in steel with the fashionable popularity for wide skirts,” Hume said. “While we may think of them as being cumbersome, the steel skirt supports actually freed the legs, which had previously been encased in layers of petticoats. With the wide cage, the legs had room to move.”

By the time the 1872 crinoline was made, Americans were beginning to turn away from the wide hoop to opt for slimmer and more tailored silhouettes. This was the age of the bustle dress, an elaborately decorated garment that evolved from the pre-Civil War larger hoop crinoline.

Instead of wider hoops, the 1870s silhouette focused styling on the back of the dress with drapes of fabric wrapped around the crinoline in the rear. Trains with layered ruffles, flounces and ruched bands grew longer and more intricately decorated with bows and ribbons.

Strict rules were observed to prevent ankles or even elbows from showing during the day. Merchandise stores, which became more prevalent after the Civil War, allowed for accessories to be acquired at a cheaper rate. Society’s expectations required that women don gloves, hats, bags and parasols to accent their garments both during the day and for formal evening occasions.

Many women would have welcomed this 1872 crinoline after years of wearing steel cages, as it redistributed the weight off of the hips and also created a collapsible cage.

“The way the steel hoops were riveted to the linen tapes allowed the cages to collapse which enabled the wearer to sit,” Hume notes. “The hoops can be flattened and stored as a series of concentric rings.”

Not only was it more easy to store, but now women could lightly collapse the rings in the rear in order to sit comfortably on a sofa or chair.

Crinolines reached their widest proportions in the early to mid-1860s. By the end of the decade, the cages had narrowed significantly and the dome shape of the earlier period had given way to a more conical silhouette, as seen in the piece in the society museum.

But crinolines were not just for adults at the time.

“This particular crinoline is remarkably small. Perhaps it was for a child,” Hume postulates.

Children also would not be immune to wearing bustles atop their crinolines.

“The skirt’s fullness gradually shifted to the back, and by the 1870s, women adopted bustles,” Hume explains.”

“Some early bustles were similar to cage crinolines but shaped so that the fullness was at the rear. Other bustles involved ruffles of horsehair.

“Over the course of the 1870s, the skirts narrowed and the bustle disappeared, only to return in the 1880s.”

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