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The crinoline fashion trend that killed thousands of women, 1855-1870


Crinoline appeared on the fashion scene in the mid-1800s and takes its name from the French word crin ("horsehair"), a hard material made using horsehair—and "linen."

A crinoline (hoop) is defined as a framework consisting of a round/oval circle (shaped like a hoop) of whalebone, wire or cane to extend the skirt.

The steel-hooped cage crinoline, first introduced in April 1856 by R.C. Millet in Paris, and a few months later by his agent in Britain, became extremely popular.

Steel cage crinolines were produced in huge quantities, with factories around the western world producing tens of thousands a year.

Alternative materials, such as whalebone, cane, gutta-percha, and even inflatable couchchokes (natural rubber) were all used for the hoops, although steel was the most popular.


At their widest point, crinolines could reach a circumference of up to six yards, although by the late 1860s, crinolines were beginning to decrease in size.

The size of the crinoline often made it difficult to get through doors, get into a vehicle, and generally move around.

Crinolines were worn by women of every social standing and class throughout the Western world, from royalty to factory workers. This led to widespread media scrutiny and criticism, particularly in satirical magazines such as Punch.

In 1855, an observer of Queen Victoria's state visit to Paris complained that despite the number of foreigners present, Western fashions such as crinolines had diluted the national dress to such an extent that everyone, whether Turkish, Scottish, Spanish, Or Tyrolean, dressed alike. ,

Victoria herself is said to have hated fashion, inspiring a song in Punch that began: "Long live our merciful queen / Who won't wear crinolines!"


Crinolins are also dangerous if worn without proper care. Thousands of women died in the mid-nineteenth century when their hooped skirts caught fire. As well as fire, other hazards included hoops stuck in machinery, cart wheels, gusts of wind, or other obstacles.

It is estimated that around 3,000 women died in crinoline-related fires in England in the late 1850s and early 1860s.

Although reliable figures on crinoline-related deaths are scarce, Florence Nightingale estimated that at least 630 women died in 1863–64 when their clothing caught fire.

One such incident, the death of a 14-year-old kitchen maid named Margaret Davy, was reported in The Times on 13 February 1863. Her dress, "delivered by a crinoline", ignited as she stood on the fenders of the chimney to reach for something. spooned onto the mantlepiece, and he died as a result of extensive burns.

By the early 1870s, the crinoline fashion trend faded and was replaced by bustle. It has been revived from time to time, notably as part of Christian Dior's New Look after World War II. Even today, the crinoline is still worn on formal occasions such as weddings.

These stereocards and illustrations collected in this article are on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and offer a glimpse into the long-standing fashion trend of crinolines.




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