Friday, August 24, 2012

Cagey Dresses

Just to give you a heads up, this Mythtory post is SUPER heavy on pictures. 

This is a picture that's been floating around the interwebs lately. It's usually claimed to be either a woman getting dressed for a party, or a rich woman preparing for her regular day, or sometimes she's a bride getting dressed for her wedding. 

So what is shown in this picture, really? 

It's actually one of a series of pictures:

And before you get too worried about how that poor woman is supposed to get though a door with all that bulk, they're not real.

Well, they're real pictures, but they're a joke. It's a satirical series of pictures made around 1860  poking fun at the Caged Crinoline. 

At the time, it was fashionable to have a very full skirt, and what women did to get that effect was to wear layer upon layer, building out a very poofy skirt. Then in the 1850s a modified farthingale surged in popularity because it gave the smooth, full look that was so fashionable, without the weight and leg-tangling-tendencies of layer upon layer of petticoats. This was called the Caged Crinoline. (If you're lost with all the clothing technobabble, don't fret it. There's not an exam on this later.)

In short, instead of wearing 10 layers to get the bulk for a poofy skirt, a girl could simply wear one of these:

This is what an actual Caged Crinoline from the same time as the pictures parodying the style looked like. You'll note there is a dramatic size difference, at it's widest the Crinoline made a skirt 6 feet across. The picture series mocking the fashion show a skirt at least twice that size, if not more. 

One of the main reasons it was made fun of so much was that it was so light. Which meant that a huge and heavy looking skirt could get a lot of swaying going on with just a little bit of hip movement (try walking in one sometime. You'll quickly see what I mean). Sitting could be a challenge  since if you sat wrong the skirt might pop up over your face. It also meant that things like wind were suddenly a bit more treacherous: 

 Harper's Weekly, 1857 (New York).

And because it was fashionable, with a chancing of going hilariously wrong with those who aren't used to wearing them, there were a lot of comics about them. Most of them were drawn, but this particular parody was made using photos. 

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