Saturday, August 2, 2014

Underpinnings and False Silhouettes

I have been thinking a lot about foundation garments lately.  Or, more specifically, the idea of false silhouettes and how the under-structure of an outfit can radically change how a garment looks.  Petticoats from the mid-twentieth century are quite tame in comparison to the underpinnings that came before, although their function is similar.

Farthingales, hoop skirts, cage crinolines, petticoats, crinolines, panniers, bustles . . . who comes up with this stuff?!   Some of them look rather goofy, some are beautiful, and some look like torture devices to a modern individual used to spending the day in stretchy clothing.

Sometimes the shape is conical, circular, bell-shaped, or even oblong.  Exaggerate the silhouette in one area, and everything else suddenly looks small in comparison.  The Victorian wasp-waisted figure wearing a massive hoop skirt is an extreme example.

But the crinoline and petticoat are really just modified and more “modern” versions.

The dress I am working on has a very bell shaped skirt, so I went for more of a poof from the waist, but there are so many other options.

Focus the gathers over the hips and the silhouette begins to look like panniers.

A petticoat is never going to look as extreme (and is so much easier to fit through a door!), but there are definite similarities.

A little like hip pads under a peplum, n’est-ce pas?  Or perhaps a more obvious example would be the Robe de Style of the 1920s.

My absolute favorite kind of petticoat extends the silhouette from the hipline.

The shape begins to look like a conical hoop.

It really is fascinating to see how one style blends into the next over time, and how “modern” clothing design borrows from historical clothing again and again. 

And hey, even some ultra modern designers like the cage crinoline.  For most individuals, this look is not suitable for daily activity, but I quite like this underwear as outerwear.  My biggest concern would be getting caught on a doorknob.

I have some very fond memories of flouncing about in a hoop skirt.  So much fun, right?!  And while I am certainly glad that it is not an everyday requirement, I do love me a fluffy petticoat.

[Click on image for source]


  1. Did you know there's a lingerie exhibit at the Museum at FIT in NYC? As for crinolines, I had to wear too many in grade school!

  2. I love historical underpinnings! Even the proper vintage underpinnings can really help an outfit look more authentic! I think it's important to remember these shaping undergarments when ever we enjoy fashions of the past so we don't feel bad about our bodies. Ladies of the past had a lot more "help" in that area then modern women are used to!

  3. About the time you write "see how one style blends into the next over time", I realize this is why blogs and the Internet are such a wonderful confluence of the image and the text.

    It's like a scroll that unrolls and tells a story in sequential images that flow, gain speed, eddy and pool then pour over and down again. This is how its supposed to work; thank you for such a beautiful post!

  4. I once made myself a Marie Antoinette costume, complete with the panniers - perhaps not wide enough to be historically accurate, but wide enough to make going through a doorway difficult. It was certainly fun to swish around in!

  5. I do love the effect undergarments can have - even though I have a stange voice in my head saying that it's cheating. (As if two meter wide hips would be humanly possible...)

  6. Like Stephanie mentioned, I too love vintage and historical undergarments! They are so fascinating to me! They say so much about a time period!

    Also, like you, I ADORE underwear as outerwear, and have loved the cage crinoline look since high school, but never got up the nerve to wear it!