Obsolete Fashion: Age of the Cage?

[Image Above: blog.costumesupercenter.com]

In the 1830s, along with Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne, bell shaped skirts became all the rage – both in England and across the Atlantic. By 1842, this increasingly voluminous silhouette required a lot of extra support, and women were piling on as many as six starched petticoats (adding as much as 14 pounds) to achieve the “big skirt” effect.

While Amelia Bloomer denounced this and instead advocated a bifurcated garment (bloomers!), other manufactures (all men) began to design and market steel cage frames, which “emancipated” women from the excessive petticoat weight and let the legs move more freely beneath the skirt. This contraption, built of hoops of flattened steel wire, was  strong, yet bendable, so the skirt could be severely bent (going through door frames, for example), and then instantly pop back into its original shape. Around 1860, when the crinoline reached its maximum dimensions, it had a diameter of nearly six feet. The only problem was that it could be a little unstable on windy days, so you’d want to rethink leaving your ‘drawers’ at home!

[Image Above: dorlana.blogspot.com]

While I am utterly thankful for Amelia Bloomer, and couldn’t dream of a world without jeans, I must confess that, as impractical and inconvenient as they might be, I’ve had a secret desire to wear dresses with ginormous skirts ever since I was first enchanted by Scarlett O’Hara’s wardrobe in Gone With the Wind. But what do you think, ModReaders? Do you yearn for big skirts (and the hoops that go with them) to make a comeback?


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  1. Avatar
    Kate 02/01/2010 at 2:32 pm #

    when I was little I had this red velvet dress and my mom made me wear it with this huge poofy slip underneath that I hated (adored the dress, hated the slip) I always wished I could just wear it flat! SO, no, They look good in the movies, but I really hope they don’t make a comeback. Besides, the whole notion of “popping” through doorways is just laughable.

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    Emily 02/01/2010 at 2:43 pm #

    I did musicals and plays in high school, and the one dream I had was to wear a corset and a hoop skirt for a costume, just to know what it felt like. I never did get to wear a corset, but my dream of wearing a hoop skirt came true! I had the loveliest dress to wear over it too! However, though I loved wearing it(and it was fun to twirl in), I don’t think there’s any chance for a come back. Can you honestly see tiny models in huge skirts as the new fashion trend? It makes me want to laugh! But oh how fun it would be.

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    Elizabeth B 02/01/2010 at 2:43 pm #

    As completely impractical as they are, I do wish they would make a comeback! I secretly always had the desire to wear them also! Luckily, down south, there is this tradition that still goes on called “Azalea Trail Maids” in which outstanding high school girls are chosen based on many different things. Those girls have the honor of getting an “Azalea Trail Maid” dress made for them and wearing it to different local functions. These dresses have all the charm of the Scarlett O’Hara dresses!

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    sixela 02/01/2010 at 3:16 pm #

    Make a comeback?!? All I can do is laugh at the very idea. The juxtaposition of this in a modern world would be hysterical. You can just picture a woman trying to get through a subway turnstile, squeeze into a Smartcar, or filling up an entire cubicle at work.

    These fashions, although beautiful, were mostly a show of affluence. The bigger the hoop, the more leisurely the life. I don’t think that’s as obtainable or attractive to woman as it once was.

    That being said, I would totally rock one of these for Mardi Gras or Halloween!!!

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    Rosy Rocha 02/01/2010 at 3:18 pm #

    I would la la la la love for hoop skirts to make a comeback…but honestly like Emily I don’t see any tiny models wearing this soon or the modern day woman for that. But I do have a suggestion…to have mini hoops (for lack of better verbiage) go under our cute full circle skirts, or our ModDresses! Example? Wear a mini hoop under your “Soda Fountain in Grape” dress. Super cute! Mini hoops should be what are in this year…a new take on the big wire hoops…so don’t call it a comeback!

  6. Avatar
    Sydney 02/01/2010 at 3:31 pm #

    Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of mega-volume in skirts. I actuallly bought 2 of the “Belle of the Ball” skirts, and cut the tulle out so that they would lie flatter!

  7. Avatar
    Kate 02/01/2010 at 3:37 pm #

    Corsets and hoopskirts are so much fun! But extremely impractical, especially in today’s world. (Ever tried taking the subway in a full hoopskirt? I have, and boy did I feel like a nuisance.) So as much as I wish they’d come back, I highly doubt it.

  8. Avatar
    Natalie B. (ModCloth) 02/01/2010 at 3:56 pm #

    I also confess that in a high school musical, donning a hoop skirt was fun. However, when I think of the practicality of donning this in daily life… the smile fades from my face. Can you image getting on a bus for the morning commute and the hoop shooting straight up when you sat down? This type of skirt would certainly call for an additional layer underneath, and who wants to wear what would amount to two bottoms? I have enough trouble choosing just one!

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    Janette 02/01/2010 at 4:17 pm #

    When I was in 8th grade, my class did a “Blue and Grey Ball”, which was a Civil War-era reenactment, without the war part. We had activities in the daytime and a full ball in the evening, complete with hoop skirts all day long. I kept having trouble with my skirt: First I tripped over the front and landed on my face, with the back of skirt flipped over the back of my head (the school principal was near by with other people from the school, videotaping. Thank goodness I was wearing shorts underneath!). In the evening, I tripped over the back of my skirt while we waited to be announced! As fun as the hoop skirt were to dance in, I really hope they don’t come back in style.

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    Sarah 02/01/2010 at 5:37 pm #

    I was Scarlet O’Hara for Halloween when I was about thirteen Hoop Skirt and all. It would be impractical for everyday use (I don’t think I would even fit in my dorm room), but even Scarlet didn’t wear a hoop all the time. I greatly wish that I had the opportunity to get all dressed up with a hoop skirt and go to a ball.

  11. Avatar
    Maya 02/01/2010 at 5:39 pm #

    I love crinolines, don’t get me wrong. They make me feel all pretty and poofy and like I should live on top of a cake and smell like strawberries.

    Though a massive one whilst attempting to drive or be on a train full of people is not the easiest of things. I nearly choked on my skirt attempting to drive home.

  12. Avatar
    Jeremy 02/01/2010 at 6:10 pm #

    I have no personal feelings about hoop skirts, having never been subjected to one, but I just want to say what a good read this was!

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    Aleda 02/01/2010 at 7:54 pm #

    I’ve always dreamed of a New Orleans tea time in one of those dresses with a parasol. The idea is romantic and Romanesque! With those perfect curls and little white laced gloves, it’s one of my wildest fantasies!

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    Vera 02/01/2010 at 8:44 pm #

    Oh, yes! Gone With The Wind is my favorite movie of all time…mainly because of the dresses. And who can resist Rhett…

  15. Avatar
    Emily B. 02/01/2010 at 9:26 pm #

    I’ve always wanted to wear a poofy dress like Scarlett and other women of that time wore; this time period fascinates me, and if I ever got the chance to play dress-up with some dresses that belong in the Gone With the Wind wardrobe, I’d definitely jump on the chance!

  16. Avatar
    Marcey 02/01/2010 at 9:31 pm #

    I would love for the Gone with the Wind Era to come back into style jsut i dont think it will happen…I at least the last few dresses she wore that were more fitted come in

  17. Avatar
    Elizabeth B 02/01/2010 at 10:13 pm #

    To be clear on my comment earlier, I did not mean for girls to begin wearing such dresses all the time. I meant for them to be worn as a style of evening gowns, not as an every day thing to be worn on subways or buses and throughout the day!!! Since when have you seen someone wear a formal evening gown to all of these places?

  18. Avatar
    Sam 02/01/2010 at 10:41 pm #

    I’d rather avoid being a walking metaphor for the ‘imprisonment’ of women. This thing is a literal cage that you wear around your bottom half…a few things are better left to history.

  19. Avatar
    Shara 02/02/2010 at 12:20 am #

    Yes! Just one excuse to wear one please! A ball, a high society social, anything!!!

  20. Avatar
    Victoria 02/02/2010 at 4:57 am #

    The huge hoop skirts everyone seems to be thinking of were only worn when it was appropriate. There is a myth that women wore 6 feet wide skirts all the time for decades and that just isn’t true.

    I also know that wearing hoop skirts isn’t as hard as people think it is. It requires a slightly more graceful way of walking to accommodate, but that shouldn’t be an issue.

    Hoops had a purpose and a place to be worn. In kitchens, while walking and traveling, while lounging about the house, playing tennis, summer picnic, and many other occasions, crinolines were often forgone completely in favor of more practical grab.

    with all this in mind, I do think that the look of hoop skirts can come back. In a way it already has. I very much doubt that women will walk around wearing all 11 layers of an 19th century woman’s wardrobe because vogue recommends it, but there is room for elements of the style to return.

  21. Avatar
    A.D 02/02/2010 at 8:27 am #

    As a Civil War Reenactor, there is a slim chance that hoops, corsets, and petticoats will even make a slight comeback. I would like to note that Scarlet O’Hara was a very impractical character, and most of her wardrobe was not true. A great example of 1860’s wear is in Little Women. (&, hoops will ‘crush’ meaning that they will move together to fit into will fir into a doorway or some other place.

  22. Avatar
    Heather 02/02/2010 at 4:55 pm #

    Oh please no!!! As beautiful as they may look, after many long hours studying fashion history and learning about the weight of a skirt like this, how difficult they are to get on, and how much a cage would cost- I just can’t get behind a comeback!

  23. Avatar
    Natalie 02/02/2010 at 5:32 pm #

    For my 16th birthday, I asked for a hoop skirt. I was a Civil War reinactor and I loved being all dressed up.

    It was a mucho laborious process even to do it the way we did — but I love honoring their style a little by wearing a slip with tulle now and then.

  24. Avatar
    Amy 02/02/2010 at 5:56 pm #

    I can’t imagine a better way to conceal my thighs on a day when I’m not feeling as thin as I’d like to feel!!! Bring ’em back!! LOL

  25. Avatar
    Ali 02/03/2010 at 8:57 am #

    Jen, did you know that hoop skirts were also intended to be protection for women? Hoops literally made a protected space around the women wearing them, so men could come only so close, and not closer.

    Great article. 🙂

  26. Avatar
    Emily 02/03/2010 at 9:22 am #

    I have always wanted to try on even just a costume…I love history, and especially English so I’ve always had a love for the fashion styles. They intrigue me!

  27. Avatar
    Jennifer (ModCloth) 02/03/2010 at 12:53 pm #

    Thank you all for your insightful comments and impressive knowledge of cage frames and hoop skirts…I’ve learned a lot more than I ever expected!

  28. Avatar
    Victoria 02/03/2010 at 1:12 pm #

    I’d totally wear one.

  29. Avatar
    Taylor 02/04/2010 at 7:12 pm #

    I am obsessed with historical costume and I must say that the hoop skirt has always been fascinating to me. I tried one on once, and it is an absolute pain to sit down in! I would much rather wear several petticoats than a huge cage. That said, yes, I hope large skirts come back in style. We now have the technology to make skirts poofy without tons of petticoats (tulle, anyone?) and I think it’s absolutely gorgeous. 🙂

  30. Avatar
    KC 02/08/2010 at 3:42 am #

    Love the idea but as others have said, full skirts aren’t very practical today. I’m greatly anticipating the bustle fad though. I’ve seen a few pieces today that have more and more emphasis on the derriere.

  31. Avatar
    Ashley 02/25/2010 at 3:36 pm #

    My wedding dress was VERY big. Not Scarlett O’Hara big, but larger than the sleek body-hugging gowns you see today.

    I actually had to order my crinoline from a company that makes Civil War Re-enactment costumes.

    And of course, I go to Renaissance Festival every year. So I guess big skirts and I get along just fine.

  32. Avatar
    Ashley 02/25/2010 at 3:45 pm #

    Janette, I have friends who still attend the Blue and Gray Ball. They seem to have no trouble with their skirts. It just takes practice. I’ve actually been invited to this year’s ball. Not sure if I’ll attend, though. I’m more of a Ren Fest junkie than anything else. Still, it might be fun. (Only problem is my hubby can’t dance. He has CP, and is horribly off balance. Doesn’t stop him from trying though, God bless him!) 🙂

  33. Avatar
    Royalle 02/27/2010 at 11:16 pm #

    I love our freedom to wear whatever we want as women but I still wish we could wear dresses not just for special occasions. I’ve always yearned for ball gowns, going to balls, and wearing huge dress with petticoats lol It must be because I was raised knowing of Disney princesses like Cinderella, Belle, and Sleeping Beauty (: I want those fashions to come back because we already have the right to wear whatever we want. Why not ball gowns too? hhaha

  34. Avatar
    Hannah 12/16/2010 at 8:29 pm #

    The good old days before leaving the house in sweatpants and flipflops was semi-acceptable! I would love to see more class in the hallways of my school for sure.
    And I think hoop skirted dresses and ball gowns are so gorgeous! I miss the circle skirts of the fifties as well. Love wearing them and twirling around!

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