A-Z Blogging–C Is For Crinoline

Crinolines were originally structured of stiffened petticoats made to hold out lady’s skirts. They became especially popular during the 19th century. The petticoat fabric was made of horsehair (crin) and cotton or linen. The hoop skirts came into fashion first as completely round and then more elongated to the back. I’ll do a more complete post on this later.

R.C. Millet patented the first steel-hooped cage crinoline in 1856. Before that they were mostly made of whalebone, cane, gutta-percha, and caoutchouc (vulcanized rubber).  Hoop skirts were more round than the crinoline proper that came later with a more elongated shape.

While thousands of women died due to accidents with the skirts, mostly skirts catching on fire, some of the more ingenious ones learned to use them to great advantage during the Civil war. Several enterprising young ladies tied contraband including drugs, shoes, weapons, information, to the hoops to smuggle to the Confederacy.

More than one spy escaped capture by hiding under someone’s hooped skirt as in this scene from The Rain Crow. Lorena is in Washington visiting with an old friend, Janet Reid and her companion Adele, when a young man bursts into the house looking for shelter.

Note: I have always included a Janet Reid character in my books, but I may change this one. J’et Reid was a lady horse trader in Far Rider.

“I’d like that very much.” I reached for a Madeleine, but dropped it when a wild-eyed young man burst through the front door and slammed it behind him. His breath came hard as a horse fresh from the track. He leaned against the door a moment, locked it, and looked into the parlor where we all stared at him completely astonished.

“Frank,” Janet said, “what on earth are you doing?”

“Mrs. Reid. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize this was your house. A man’s chasing me.”

“Well, come in here and tell me what happened.”

He strode into the parlor. “Two men are after me. I didn’t steal anything.”

“Well, I don’t expect you did.” Janet appeared shocked at the thought.

Before he could explain further, someone banged on the door, demanding entrance.

Frank’s eyes widened, his head swiveling like a cornered coon staring at a pack of hounds. “I can’t let him take me.”

Janet raised her crinolined skirt. “Duck under here.”

Without a thought, he dove under the hoops and curled around her legs like a pillbug. She rearranged her skirts and nodded at Sarah to open the door.


Crinoline cage



  1. The thought of ladies dying from skirt-related accidents seems really strange. Perhaps almost as strange is the fact that ladies continued to wear these contraptions despite the danger. Nice story excerpt, too. 🙂

    1. Colin,

      Well, most women gained an innate sense of where the edges of their skirts were, but there were still a number of fires and skirts getting caught in machinery, etc. I believe a president’s wife died when her skirts caught fire if I remember correctly.

      Thanks so much for coming by and the kind words.


  2. My mother used to have to pin me to the ground to get a dress on me for church. Even without the crinoline, I always saw dresses as cages. And I am a wild thing. One simply does not put me in a cage.

    1. E.M.

      That’s too funny.

      I used to love the special Easter outfits Dad would buy me and bring to the farm. It was the whole thing from hat, coat, to shoes, including white stockings I had to wear garters with. And the ringlets! Lawsy, it took forever to get all the rags rollers out and the ringlets in place.

      I would love to do CW reenactments.

      Thank you so much for coming by.


  3. I’ve worn hoops before (and crinolines a couple of times) when I worked at a Living History museum. They do look elegant, but it takes some skill to be able to move in them.

    There’s a technique to sitting. One must gather up the hoops in the back before sitting, or they pop up like Morning Glory.

    Never thought of them being a cause of death before, though I have seen and experienced their treachery.

  4. Heidi,

    How interesting! I’m sure it does take a certain amount of skill and practice. I’ve watched a few videos about using them, dressing with them and sitting etc. It’s hard to believe they stayed that popular so long.

    Thank you so much for stopping by.

  5. I’m getting confused with time zones, I think – I didn’t think I’d missed your “C” entry but I obviously must have, because there’s both “C” and “D” to read this morning (my time)!

    Still, I love this one – and the idea that a Janet Reid character would hide a man under her skirts. I immediately had the mental image of those sharks that allow smaller fish inside their mouths to clean their teeth!

    Like Colin said, lovely story excerpt 🙂

  6. Ceridwyn,

    Oh, I posted this last night instead of in the morning, so that’s probably why the time zone was off. The Janet Reid character is a fun, feisty thing. I’m not sure the real Janet will appreciate her as much as I do.

    Now, you’ve put that darned shark image in my mind!

    Thank you so much.


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