The Victorian Crinoline and its Caricaturists

Christina Walkley reflects on the crinoline, a controversial style of skirt that became a short-lived fashion phenomenon.

Cutaway view of a crinoline, Punch magazine, August 1856

Few single garments are so well-documented as the crinoline; yet few have been so misrepresented by posterity. To some the crinoline is the symbol of a kind of passive femininity now vanished; and to Hollywood, in its youthful excesses, it was an essential ingredient of any period drama: thus we have the absurd spectacle of Wuthering Heights in crinolines.

But to the Victorians themselves the crinoline had little of submissiveness, seeming rather a monstrous plot to increase woman’s stature and make man seem insignificant; in the words of one writer, ‘we awake to look upon the excited iron age of England, and to be reminded of its existence even in the dresses of England’s fairest daughters’.

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