The Darker Side of Crinolines


Anybody who's seen Gone with the Wind knows the beauty of a crinoline-formed dress. The graceful image of Scarlet O'Hara descending the staircase, hooped skirt gently swishing back and forth, makes crinolines seem like the epitome of elegance.
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Crinolines started out innocently as stiff fabric woven of linen and horsehair, but later turned into monsters of wood and whale bone. While crinolines were in many ways an improvement upon wearing the layers of heavy starched petticoats previously needed to create the same amount of volume, they came with their own set of problems. While many crinolines were fairly springy, women still had to be aware of how they sat down so as to avoid showing their undergarments or being buried in a pile of ruffles.

On a much more serious note, when crinolines were combined with the flammable fabrics of the day, stepping too close to the fireplace could set a skirt alight, resulting in severe injury and, in some cases, death. Famed nurse Florence Nightingale even criticized the fashionable undergarments in her Notes on Nursing, calling them an "absurd and hideous custom." So while crinolines might make for a lovely silhouette in the movies, it's probably a good thing this fashion trend is no longer.

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