Wednesday, April 8, 2009


My book is set in 1864, about the time the crinoline was nearing its apex as the must have fashion item of the Second Empire. Championed by the French Empress Eugenie, consort of Napoleon III, all the most  fashionable ladies wore them beneath their skirts; but crinolines were also popular amongst working class women, with maids and factory girls wearing smaller versions of the huge hoops worn by their wealthier, upper class counterparts. I find the devotion to this fashion accessory absolutely fascinating - they may have made one's skirts look fabulous (and were quite useful for smuggling pigeons beneath whilst traveling by train, a feat attempted by one intrepid crinoline wearer according to the author of Gossip from Paris) but their width placed their wearers at risk of being set alight by lamps, or being pulled into machinery. And many a maid received a scolding (or worse) when her wide skirts knocked over a precious vase.

It seems I'm not alone in my fascination. The Galliera Museum in Paris is currently holding an exhibition devoted entirely to crinolines - SOUS L'EMPIRE DES CRINOLINES. If like me, your schedule is so full (and your purse so empty!) that you simply cannot attend, then head over to Le Canape instead, where you'll find pictures plus a video (in French)  of the exhibition. Plenty of crinolines, of course, but also many beautiful gowns, gorgeous silk slippers, and decorated fans to swoon over.  


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