The middle of the nineteenth century was the great age of the crinoline. Lynda Nead examines what this unique fashion meant to women, how it empowered and constrained
The middle of the nineteenth century was the great age of the crinoline. Dresses became bigger and more ornate; skirts grew wider and wider, devouring metres of fabric and decorated with flounces, fringes and ribbons. The style was facilitated by the development of the sewing machine and technological developments in textile production that introduced new machine-made light, gauzy fabrics, which supplemented the more established and expensive silks and taffetas and were suited to the purses of the middling classes. The key to this fashion, the frame for this confection of fabrics and ornament, was the hooped cage crinoline. Historians have been divided on whether the crinoline turned women into ‘exquisite slaves’ or was a sign of female assertiveness and subversion.