Undergarments and supports were the foundation underpinning female fashion up until the early twentieth century. Foundation garments formed the rigid basis that moulded the contours of the wearers body into fashionable silhouettes, further enhanced by the drape and shape of the garment worn on top.
One of the earliest examples of a foundation garment in the Snowshill collection is the early eighteenth century Panier or side hoops pictured below.
This Panier comprises 4 metal half hoops wrapped with linen on a band of horsehair and linen herringbone braid. The nutria glazed linen is described in the conservation record as brazil nut and string coloured. Looking closely it is clear there have been a number of repairs as it has been extensively patched with bias binding over the top hoop and black satin tapes have replaced some of the original brown linen fastenings.
This particular style is known as the oblong hoop and was fashionable from the 1740’s – 1760’s. Phillis Cunnington described the oblong hoop as flattened in front and behind, but spread out on each side, giving enormous breadth to the hips. It is easy to see why Horace Walpole described such garments as ‘an unnatural protuberance.’
Foundation garments in the eighteenth century altered the shape of women’s skirts. Some examples of how hoops dramatically altered the wearers silhouette can be seen below. From 1710 – 1780 women wore hooped petticoats under their skirts to best display the ostentatious and luxurious materials that form the rich embroideries and beautiful silks of their skirts.
During the immediate decades after the French Revolution fashion briefly fell out of love with the full-skirted silhouette, preferring a slender column that no longer required the use of hoops and paniers. This fashion continued until the 1830s when skirt shapes returned to a fuller shape. In Inside Out, a brief history of underwear, Shelley Tobin explains that by the middle of the nineteenth century skirt widths had increased so much that as many as 16 petticoats were being worn for court dress.
Unsurprisingly the crinoline was a welcome addition to the wardrobes of fashionable women; the desired shape could be sought with one clever support as opposed to a multitude of petticoats. The crinoline, or hooped petticoat, was patented in 1856. Early examples of crinolines were constructed from whalebone hoops but technological developments in rubber and steel utilised for watch-springs lent themselves well to the construction of the crinoline.
The example above is a brilliant example of a mass-produced cage crinoline from the 1860s. The crinoline comprises 26 sprung steel hoops held in position by 9 strips of webbing. Deterioration reveals the use of watch-springs covered in red webbing. The use of steel in these garments was revolutionary to women at the time as it provided greater freedom of movement due to the lightness of the steel.
Despite the wide spread popularity of the crinoline the garment was fodder for much satire and ridicule due to its size and tendency to cause accidents. Many accounts from the period describe the countless trips and falls but, at its most dangerous, its propensity to catch fire if the wearer stood to close to a fireplace!
The Snowshill example has the makers stamp on the waist band; this belies its provenance in a factory as opposed to a couturier. The new technology also enabled these cumbersome garments to be compacted completely flat when not being worn. In her book, Costume In Detail, Nancy Bradfield has sketched the Snowshill crinoline in close detail, below.
Crinolines were at their widest circumference during 1858. At first crinolines were domed, becoming smaller by the early 1860s. The fashion for wide crinolines was beginning to wane by the late 1860s and by 1870 was replaced by the newest fashion, the bustle.
The Snowshill bustle crinoline pictured below is dated 1870s. The stamp inside the waist band states ‘Thompson’s Paris Prize Duplex No 376.’ The garment is made up of 9 sprung steel 3/4 hoops with 5 wider hoops around the hem completely covered in machine sewn, fine red wool. 7 narrow part hoops form the bustle. 5 strips of red wool with metal eyelets hold the hoops in place and is tied around the waist with white tape.
With the advent of the bustle a narrower silhouette came to dominate the period and this style has been well documented and captured by French Impressionists looking to appropriate a Baudelarian modernity in their art.
Bustles in their various guises remained popular until the very early years of the twentieth century before falling completely out of fashion…I would like to end by saying ‘forever’ but that’s fashion for you, you never can be too sure can you?
Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: clothes through history, 1500 – 1900. London: The National Trust, 1996.
Bradfield, Nancy. Costume in Detail, women’s dress 1730 – 1930.London, Eric Dobby publishing, 1968.
Cunnington, Phillis. Your Book of Seventeenth and Eighteenth century costume. London: Faber and Faber, 1970.
Mancoff, Debra. N, Fashion in Impressionist Paris, London, Merrell Publishers, 2012.
Mackenzie, Althea, Visit to Hereford Museum Resource and Learning Centre, August 2013.
Tobin, Shelley. Inside Out; A Brief History of Underwear, London: The National Trust, 2000.