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Why This Insane Fashion Trend From 1865 Killed 3,000 Women

Photo: Getty Images
Why This Insane Fashion Trend From 1865 Killed 3,000 Women

Fashion changes very quickly. What's "in" today will probably be out tomorrow. Fashions can return, sometimes slightly altered, sometimes exactly the same. Fashion trends such as jeans, animal prints, and menswear seem to be timeless and never go out of style.

But now, there's a fashion trend that's never gone out of style and is still around over 150 years after it was brought into fashion. What is the crinoline?

In the 1830s, a linen material was woven with horsehair and crinoline was born

The word 'crinoline' comes from the French for crin and lin, meaning horsehair and linen. Crinoline was first used for cloth petticoats. As if horsehair anything wasn't uncomfortable enough, they added flounces in 1840 to give the skirts worn over the petticoats the illusion of extra skirt width.

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Over the next 16 years, the skirt looked even broader, and more petticoats were added, making the skirts very full. Proper young ladies wore a minimum of six petticoats, at the very least. The petticoats were very heavy and hot, but at least the wearer wouldn't be accused of being indecent.

In 1856, the cage crinoline petticoat or artificial crinoline was introduced. The under-hoops were made of bone or steel, and formed a cage over the bottom half of the wearer. Talk about uncomfortable.

Wearing a cage petticoat allowed the wearer to only wear one petticoat (to soften the cage's ridges). Compared to the six petticoat (or more) look, the new cage crinoline was easy and breezy. Unfortunately, it was a little too breezy and when it was discovered that gusts of wind could blow the crinolines sideways, long drawers became required.

The crinoline leveled the fashion playing field as it knew no class differences, and it was the first fashion to be adopted in England and America by all the classes — even if the quality of the crinoline could vary quite a bit. Everyone loved the silhouette of a big hoop skirt.

Photo: Wikipedia

Crinolines were hugely popular — the satirical magazine Punch called it "Crinolinemania" — even though they could be awkward to wear and could cause damage to objects, knocking them down with a good swish.

It was also a deadly fire hazard. For nearly a decade from the 1850s to 1860s, around 3,000 women died in crinoline fires in England. Should they knock over a candle without their knowledge and were unable to get out of the burning building.

Well, you know how that goes. No fashion is worth paying the price of your life.

The cage crinoline had many different styles and continued to evolve over the years. Let's take a look at its transformations. 

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The skirt reached its fullest in 1860 when the emphasis began to focus on the back of the skirt. And by 1864, the support of the crinoline frame was decreasing in use.


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In the 1950s, crinolines had a resurgence. This time, netting was used because it was lighter and airy; but, it was also itchy and very prone to flattening out with wear. Women starched their crinolines with spray starch or ironed wax paper over the net. The stiffer the net, the more scratched your legs and nylons became.

Once again, hoop skirts came to the rescue as they were less likely to flatten out. Of course, even modern day 1950s hoop skirts had their problems, such as gusts of wind blowing the skirt up.

Sitting was challenging when wearing hoops and/or crinolines. Luckily, fashion fabrics started to get much more relaxed and fashions weren't so stiff in the 1960s.

But wait, how are crinolines still fashionable today?

They're still worn on very formal occasions, primarily as part of a wedding dress. Women want to look like a princess on their wedding day, with a Cinderella style being popular since the 1840s. A Cinderella style dress makes your waist look tiny and like you're gliding on air. 

Slips, petticoats, crinolines and/or hoops help the dress keep its shape, prevent it from drooping, and help keep the dress off the wearer's legs. Dresses that use crinolines are most often for Quinceañeras, sweet sixteens, Bat Mitzvahs, and proms.

If you want to rock a vintage/retro look, you'll need a crinoline to make your skirt have that rockabilly vibe. Or it might just look fun to take a two-second photo in.

Let's be real: it isn't the 1800s anymore and, honestly, we're exhausted from just looking at these dresses. So, we can only imagine how tiring it must be to actually put them on. In the famous words of Ariana Grande: "thank you, next.  "

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, and Woman's Day. Visit her website or and her Instagram.

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on June 29, 2015 and was updated with the latest information.