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.