The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a cage post, published here earlier, discussed the encumbrance of this fashionable accessory mostly in a humorous way. Yet there was a serious—one may say tragic—side to the matter.
When the crinoline had reached its greatest degree of expansion, it was extremely hard—indeed, practically impossible—for more than two ladies to manoeuvre their skirts in one small room. “It was necessary,” remarked a lady of the Empress Eugénie’s court, in later years, “to watch one’s every movement carefully, to walk with a gliding step, and to supply the elegance lacking to the outline by a certain yieldingness of figure. It was not easy for a woman to walk with such a mass of material to carry along with her. But as to sitting, it was a pure matter of art to prevent the steel hoops from getting out of place. To step into a carriage without crushing the light tulle and lace fabrics required a long time, very quiet horses, and a husband of extraordinary patience! To travel, to lie down, to play with the children, or indeed merely to shake hands and to walk with them—these were problems which called for great fondness and much good will for their solution.”
Women, moreover, with the introduction of the most advanced Victorian fashions, had become highly inflammable. Though gasoliers now lighted ballroom and drawing-room in place of the crystal chandeliers and silver sconces, candles and oil lamps were still set in dangerous proximity to flimsy shawls, sleeves and skirts, and the chronicles of the nineteenth century are full of stories of dreadful deaths by fire – of how the Duchess de Maillé was burned to death at her friend’s fireside; how the Archduchess Mathilde, discovered smoking, attempted to hide the surreptitious cigarette in her petticoat and went up in flames; how a French actress was incinerated on stage; and how Queen Victoria’s daughter, the Princess Royal, narrowly escaped death by the same agency.
Source: Victorian Panorama by Peter Quennell
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