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A Fashion for crinolines

Discover how stereoviews evoked both humour and criticism of Victorian fashions.
A Fashion For Crinolines
© 2016 National Museums Scotland

Victorian stereocards were also used as a vehicle for humour and occasional ridicule.

Ladies’ outlandish fashions were prime targets for photographers and the public enjoyed the following selection of images in which various women are shown struggling with their cumbersome crinolines.

Scandalously pictured in various states of undress, these photographs reveal an intimate and private glimpse into a woman’s boudoir as the women are helped into their oversized petticoats by a small army of friends or maids.

Coloured stereocard depicting a woman being dressed in a crinoline, by an unknown photographer. IL.2003.44.6.6.32 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

These hooped skirts (which had replaced the earlier design of a stiff horsehair underskirt) were initially made with steel cages and were patented in April 1856 by RC Milliet in Paris, although other materials including rubber, cane and whalebone were also used.

Coloured stereocard entitled ‘Crinoline Made Useful’ depicting a woman being dressed in a crinoline, by an unknown photographer. IL.2003.44.6.6.26 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

As portrayed in some of these photographs, the immense size of the crinolines created mobility and safety issues, with some reaching a circumference of up to 1.65 metres. Unfortunately, thousands of deaths were attributed to the wearing of crinolines as they rendered women vulnerable to fire, gusts of wind, factory machinery and carriage wheels.

Coloured stereocard entitled ‘Putting on Crinoline’ depicting a woman being dressed in a crinoline, by an unknown photographer. IL.2003.44.6.6.42 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Magazines such as Punch and popular songwriters joined the popular fray, parodying, criticising and mocking “crinolinemania” as it spread throughout all the classes, from working class girls to society women.

Coloured stereocard entitled ‘Putting on Crinoline’ depicting a woman being dressed in a crinoline, published by the London Stereoscopic Company, London, 1857. IL.2003.44.6.6.28 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

These stereoviews serve as a visual reminder of both a widespread fashion phenomenon and of critical public scrutiny – they are a wonderful sliver of Victorian life. Take five or ten minutes to really look at each of these images.

Here we have (below) two stereocards making fun of women in crinolines, trying to board an omnibus.

Coloured stereocard entitled ‘New Omnibus Regulation’ depicting a woman in a crinoline trying to board an omnibus, by an unknown photographer, possibly 1861. IL.2003.44.6.6.31 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

This stereocard is entitled ‘Now ma-rm, say when’ as two men ‘help’ – or push – a lady on to the ‘bus. Stereocard entitled ‘Now ma-rm, say when’ depicting two men helping a lady on to a bus, by an unknown photographer. IL.2003.44.6.6.22 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Further reading:

Crinoline: Fashion’s Most Magnificent Disaster’ by Brian May and Denis Pellerin, published by Carlton Books, 2016.

© 2016 National Museums Scotland
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Stereoscopy: An Introduction to Victorian Stereo Photography

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