Crinoline, that feminine habit that killed women and young girls

The crinoline made its debut during the 19th century, conquering aristocrats and bourgeoisie. This accessory allowed support to skirts, making them swollen and full of volume. However, it was not only cumbersome, but also a dangerous habit.

The crinoline was a real fashion trend of the nineteenth century, which conquered aristocrats and bourgeoisie, ready to wear it even if it was not comfortable and not even “harmless”. In fact, over time it was branded as a dangerous accessory, especially because of its high flammability.

The crinoline was an accessory of female underwear used during the 19th century. Specifically, it consisted of a rigid structure, which was to reproduce almost a cage, directed to give support to the skirts, making them swollen, wide and voluminous. The crinoline was lined with horsehair and its structure was supported by steel hoops and whale bones.

However, the term in question does not only indicate this accessory of underwear, but also a type of fabric, rather rigid, precisely woven with horsehair, used for the realization of military collars.

The crinoline made its debut around 1840, as an underskirt made of horsehair, woven with silk or linen. Appreciated right from the start, it made the fortune of its creator. In the mid-nineteenth century, several models of crinolines were produced, until they reached the shape of a “cage” in 1856, with the use of wire hoops.

Even in this case, the success was enormous, both in aristocratic and bourgeois circles. There was no lack of trimmings used to make such a large surface of fabric more beautiful: pom-poms, bows, ribbons, bangs, ruffles, and many other details, peeped out. In short, imagination, creativity and flair, transformed the crinoline into a real garment rich in details.

In all this, could not make way for a popular legend? Of course not! France and Italy found themselves competing through a “challenge” between two strong women, namely Empress Eugenie, the symbol par excellence of elegance, and the courtesan Countess of Castiglione, a fascinating and “fatal” woman.

The popular legend narrates that it was Eugenia, the first advocate of the crinoline, who wanted to get rid of it in the culminating moment of the competition with the rival countess, since the latter came forward with an exaggeratedly large crinoline. The Empress, finding herself with a considerable amount of fabric between her feet, decided to collect the excess fabric on the back in a large bow. This is how the tournure was born as well as the characteristic coulinson shape that was so widespread from the seventies of the nineteenth century.

With the passing of time, as often happens in the field of fashion, the habit and the trend of crinoline lost ground, determining the end of an era characterized by the accessory in question. And, considering its danger, it was really a fortune!

Many accounts frame crinoline as a dangerous accessory, as well as bulky and uncomfortable. For example, some sources state that several women, especially in the 1860s and 1870s, lost their lives due to the flammability of crinoline: while doing housework, the garment in question caught fire, resulting in the death of the unfortunate women due to severe burns.

As reported in the book Patriots Against Fashion: Clothing and Nationalism in Europe’s Age of Revolutions, the Bulgarian writer and journalist Petko Slaveykov wrote that between the years 1850 and 1864, almost 40,000 women died all over the world as a result of fires related to the use of crinoline. Even though at that time there were already less flammable fabrics to be used for the making of clothes and garments, it was preferred not to use them because they were considered less elegant to wear.

Its dangerousness, moreover, was often connected to other types of accidents, such as the cases in which crinoline got caught in the wheels of carriages, or ended up under the feet, causing falls. Embarrassing, but decidedly less dangerous, the circumstance in which the crinoline lifted because of the wind, revealing the underwear.

Salentina, class ’86, always passionate about communication. Writing and reading are part of my being!