Alexander McQueen's external crinoline dress for Spring 2013

Social Distancing – Crinoline Anyone?

Can clothing offer help to distance those strangers who don’t seem to get the Spring 2020 idea of social  /  unsocial / anti social distancing? Perhaps an extra wide hat brim, very spiky umbrella? I rather like the idea of a crinoline. Alexander McQueen had a great external one in his 2013 Spring Collection.

Alexander McQueen's external crinoline dress for Spring 2013
Alexander McQueen’s external crinoline dress Collection Spring 2013

The word ‘crinoline’ comes from the French ‘cin’ for horse hair and ‘lin’ for linen. Steel wire rings are kept in structural place with what look like patterned bands or braids, presumably horse hair which is wiry and hard wearing, often used in upholstery weaves. We can tablet weave our own bands for this.

Museum Collections of Crinolines

Many museums including the V & A Museum and Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Rijksmuseum have delightful crinoline collections. The Rijksmuseum is fun to use as you can make an account to save your favourite search results for later. I found out about the Rikjs Museum online from Kate Davies’s inspiring post on stoplap.

© Metroplitan Museum, New York

The V & A states that ‘spring steel structures were also very light so rather than imprisoning women in cages (as some of the reports and images suggest) they had a liberating effect’. Goodness!  How might a woman’s life be, that someone could suggest that walking around in a steel cage would feel liberating?

V & A's Empress Crinoline
Favourite of the Empress © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Just the thing for stepping into for a school run/ supermarket dash is the ‘Thomson’s Express‘. You may want to arrange the fullness all around you, rather than just at the back.

Thomson's Express Crinoline
Thomson’s Express © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Attitudes towards Crinolines

Rebecca Mitchell of Birmingham University balances the view of the liberating effects of wearing crinolines. In ‘15 August 1862: The Rise and Fall of the Cage Crinoline’ she cites examples of various dangers, some fatal. So a crinoline can be seen as a symbol of a repressive patriarchal order intent or as a threatening tool of emancipation. It hasn’t been mentioned in the social distancing context, yet. Perhaps it will soon.

Find more crinoline history at Fashion in Time and Fashion History Timeline.

Comments 2

  1. Enjoyed learning about crinolines from this. The Thompson Express sounds most daring! Are you familiar with one of the plots from the Cranford stories, by Elizabeth Gaskill, where the gift of a ‘cage’ is sent from Paris (I think), only for the locals to attempt to house their parrot in it.

    1. Post

      Hi Leonie, I enjoyed Cranford, but had forgotten that. There must be many weird stories like that about crinolines.

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