Hooped skirts typically consist of a fabric petticoat with casings to hold a stiffening material, often steel, whalebone, even wood, and of course now, plastic and other modern materials. Lightweight hoop skirts, usually with nylon hoops, are worn today under very full-skirted wedding gowns. They can sometimes be seen in the Gothic fashion scene.
The Spanish dressmakers in the 14th century initially used light de-barked sapling laths of graduated lengths to create a cone-shaped skirt. This design came to France and England through the 16th century, although portraits suggest that additional padding (the bum-roll) was used for comfort and to create a more perfect circular shape. Cane and whalebone (baleen) later provided the stiffening.
By the end of the 17th century, huge supporting petticoats became necessary to flare out more elaborate female dress designs. Initially stiffened with paste and/or glues, such garments were called ‘crickets’ (criardes) because of the rustling noise the overlapping petticoats created rubbing against each other when the wearer moved!
For the first quarter of the 18th century, the vertical and extremely diaphanous Greek-style Regency dresses did away with such massive under-skirting in England, but by the middle of the 18th century, very large hoops were back again, being worn especially for full-dress occasions; smaller side-hooped garments (later renamed bustles) being more convenient, were used for day wear by the female upper classes.
About 1840, the horse-stiffened petticoat became popular. It became called the crinoline, form the French word for horsehair (crin). Although mid-18th century materials such as muslin ’s and silks were very popular, they have little inherent stiffness.
Change came around 1860 with the invention of the cage crinoline, which was a framework of steel wires, later improved even more with spring steel stiffenings. Some petticoats were quite literally welded or bolted into a cone shape and covered with suitable materials to disguise the engineering!
But fashions changed again and by the end of the 19th century clothes had become much less bulky and the hooped petticoat disappeared for a while. By the Roaring 20s, clothes had become so straight and simple that there was no place for the crinoline in any form. Unsurprisingly in this modern age, it has not been a common fashion item since.
Does the crinoline still exist today?
Well, yes, in its simplest form. For example, many modern wedding dresses and some formal evening gowns still use hooped petticoats to give them their upside down ‘tea cosy’ or wide-bottomed cone shaping.
Occasionally the fashion designers of today, will break out into a hoop skirt frenzy, but only for wedding or party wear.