Crinoline, to Crinolette, to Bustle

From 1866 the crinoline craze began to subside. In this year the magazine Le Follet announced 'The size of the crinoline is very sensibly diminished, but it cannot be altogether dispensed with while the dresses are so very long'. This helps account for the small size of many crinolines in the V&A's collection such as the red Thomson's crinoline of 1867. Punch, not to miss an opportunity for humour, anticipated a new use for discarded crinolines--as plant protectors during the winter!

[Image] V&A
Miss A Johnson, Elliott & Fry, 1869. Photograph.
[Image] V&A
Crinolette made of spring steel hoops covered in black and white striped cotton. British, about 1870. Given by Messrs Harrods Ltd.
[Image] V&A
Cage crinoline made of spring steel hoops covered in red cotton braid. Stamped with 'Thomson's Empress A'. Manufactured by W S and E H Thomson. British, 1865-68. Bequeathed by Mr E W Minot.

By 1869, instead of flowing out over a wide cage, the skirt fabric was draped over the hips and bunched up into elegant draperies behind. This ruched and folded look also required some kind of support. This was provided by the crinolette. Crinolettes marked the mid-point between the cage crinoline and the bustle. They were fashionable between 1867 and the mid 1870s. As can be seen from above they were often made with extra loops of steel at the top to give extra support. Some were laced inside like a corset. This lacing, combined with the tying of internal tapes, enabled the shape of the structure to be adjusted.

[Image] V&A
Bustle. Black and grey, woven and padded with horsehair. British, about 1875.
Bequeathed by E.W. Minot.
[Image] Punch
Punch cartoons poked fun at this fashion, comparing women with their bustle shapes behind to beetles and snails. Punch, 1874.

During the 1870s the bustle became a separate undergarment in its own right. The new form of bustle was known as a 'dress-improver' or by its French name 'tournure' as the word bustle was considered vulgar in polite society. As you can see from the example, bustles were often stiffened with horsehair to retain their shape and give form to the dress. Sculpted pleats and ruffles were very popular, as was the 'waterfall' bustle which cascaded down the back of the dress. Like the crinolettes some had corset style lacing and most had tapes for attaching around the waist and petticoat.

Crinolettes and bustles were probably more restrictive than crinolines. The flat front and tapes fastened around the body made ease of movement less easy. The problems of sitting down could usually be overcome by pushing the bustle to one side or sitting forward in a seat. Punch cartoons poked fun at this fashion, comparing women with their bustle shapes behind to beetles and snails.

As the skirts became narrower and flatter in front more emphasis was placed on the waist and hips. A corset was therefore needed which would help mould the body to the desired shape. This was achieved through making them longer and from more separate shaped pieces of fabric than the corsets of the 1840s. To increase rigidity they were reinforced with many whalebone struts, cording and even pieces of leather. As well as making corsets more constricting, this heavy structure helped prevent them riding up or wrinkling at the waist.

[Image] V&A
Corset (front view). Made of white silk satin with a lace trim and whalebone. Steel spoon-shaped busk. British, 1878.
Given by Miss Benjamin.
[Image] V&A
Corset (back view). Made of white silk satin with a lace trim and whalebone. Steel spoon-shaped busk. British, 1878.
Given by Miss Benjamin.

Steam-moulding also helped create a curvaceous contour. Introduced in the 1860s this was a process whereby once the corset was finished, it was heavily starched and dried and shaped on a 'mannequin' mould fed with steam. Another technological invention which helped make corsets more restrictive was the 'spoon busk' which was invented in 1873. New ways of shaping steel made this spoon-shape possible. It was supposed to make corsets more comfortable by equalising pressure on the abdomen--in reality the curved shape meant that corsets could be laced tighter at the waist as they fitted the curves of the body better.

No wonder that these types of corsets were referred to as 'cuirasse' bodices. Just from looking at them one can see that they would have been restrictive garments, not allowing a great degree of freedom of movement. Moreover, the woman's body was thrown forward by the rigidity of her underwear and high-heeled shoes to create a distorted shape. The silhouette created by the this fashion for corsets, crinolettes and bustles gave rise to what was termed 'The Grecian Bend'. The caricature in the cartoon from Punch gives an idea of the shape of the Grecian bend, although it has been exaggerated for satirical purposes.

[Image] Source unknown

'The Wasp Waist' was shot in the 1890s but it shows how photographic 'retouchers' sliced off and curved womens waists to create their own ideas of shape, form and size.

There were even worse accusations thrown against the corset. Journals such as the English Woman's Domestic Magazine devoted space to a whole run of letters on the subject of tight lacing--some of which claimed that waists were reduced through corsetry to 15 inches and that girls were forced to wear corsets at night as well as during the daytime. Doctors and medical writers cited countless diseases caused by corsets, which included consumption, curvature of the spine, rib displacement, cancer, hysteria, hunchback, abortion, melancholy and epilepsy. In addition, although corsets were considered by many to be good for the morals, they were also criticised for titillating qualities, especially when used in erotic literature.

But one should take care when analysing these accusations. Although it is clear that some people laced their corsets very tightly, and there are horror stories of damage done to the internal organs, extreme tight-lacing was probably the exception rather than the rule. Many of the letters on the subject in the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine may have been written by fetishists or those trying to shock women out of wearing restrictive underwear. Ordinary people probably adapted the tightness of their corsets for the occasion--lacing them looser when they expected to be more active such as at dances or out walking. They would also wear models which were less heavily boned during pregnancy or when engaged in sporting activities such as riding.

Modern doctors and nurses have confirmed that although wearing corsets from a young age was uncomfortable and restricting there is no real evidence to support claims of corset-induced diseases. Although extremely unpleasant, the worst side-effects were probably discomfort, muscle weakness, breathing, circulatory, respiratory and digestive problems. The Queen of 1880 refers to the more probable ailments corset wearers were likely to suffer which included:

nervous headaches, feelings of 'sinking' which call for strong tea or coffee, or sherry; back aches and pains in the sides, indigestion and poor appetite, short breath and imperfect circulation, cold hands and feet (and even red noses).— — Source:


# Secret History of the Corset and Crinoline # Flamboyance and the Crinoline Craze
# From Crinoline, to Crinolette, to Bustle # Over-Structured Opulence to the 'Healthy Corset'
# A Turn Toward the Bust: Early 20th Century # All Tied-Up: The Corset in Contemporary Fashion

# Fashion | Page 1 # Charles Frederick Worth # Court Fashion # Fashion Plates
# Dress, Fashion and Modernity # Corset Controversy # Bloomers and Reformers # Bicycles

Victorian Age Fashion Galleries
# 1837-40 # 1840 # 1850 # 1860
# 1870 # 1880 # 1890 # 1900


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