The Evolution of the 1850’s Tiered Ruffle Gown

Crinolines on an Omnibus by Charles Vernier, 1850s.

Crinolines on an Omnibus by Charles Vernier, 1850s.

“I’ve been inspired by some recent froofy 1850s tiered dresses … probably not [for] Costume College as hoops can be bothersome in a crowded room or classroom.” – Val L.

When I started this adventure in learning about historical fashion a few years ago I had three distinct fashion allergies: hoops, ruffles and bows. Heavens, how that has changed. Now I see dresses and fashion plates featuring one, two or sometimes all three and think “I’d like to make that one.” This is a dangerous passion.

But Val’s comment above, made in reference to a recent post on Victorian summer dresses, is valid…not every venue is suitable for a hooped skirt. Luckily, hoops didn’t become The Fashion until the mid-1850s. (The generally agreed upon date seems to be 1856, although in Paris, where all things fashion come early and with no small amount of impact, they seem to have appeared a few years sooner.)

So, can Val have her froofy 1850s tiered dress and not wipe out an entire room of Costume College attendees? Yes!

Stiffened petticoats appeared in the 1830s in response to the need to support increasing skirt circumferences. They were made of horsehair and linen. The name “crinoline” was invented by one of the fabric’s manufacturers who combined the word crinis (hair) and linum (flax).

David Hough invented the cage crinoline and he earned a U.S. patent in 1846. By 1850 “crinoline” evolved to mean the rigid supporting structure itself. The next leap forward in design came in 1858, when W.S. Thompson developed an eye fastener so that the steel hoops could be hung with vertical tape…the familiar cage crinoline shape we recognize today. At that point, manufacturers were able to incorporate petticoat layers over the crinoline under-structure and the results were wildly successful. These “adjustable bustle and skirt” models were patented by Douglas & Sherwood in 1858:

Of course, tiered ruffles weren’t new in the 1850s. The 1840s saw plenty of tiered ruffles, albeit confined to the shape created by layers of petticoats (usually three) over a corded petticoat.

The 1850s saw changes to bodice shape and style, as well as underpinnings for the skirts. Mimi Matthews, who writes primarily on topics regarding the 19th century, gives an excellent guide to the evolution of general fashion during the 1850s in her blog article here.

So, when it comes to a froofy tiered 1850’s dress, cage crinolines aren’t necessarily required as long as you stick with a bodice appropriate for the earlier years. I don’t know about Val, but that is great news for me given my previous attempt at making a cage crinoline (which, as you may recall, ended in utter frustration).

Here are a few examples of tiered styles from the early 1850s – no hoops required!


And here are styles from 1855, just as the cage crinoline was poised to become the definitive fashion necessity:


And here are three more examples of tiered ruffle gowns of the period, dated only “1850s” (although I’d wager the center plate is from later in the decade, given the bodice on that fabulous plaid gown and the hair styles):


Lastly, a gorgeous example – one of my favorites: a gown dated from 1855 (photos courtesy of Kent State University) which I was going to save for a Weekend Wow but, since I missed this weekend and we’re on the subject…

Dress ca. 1855 From the Kent State University Museum (fripperiesandfobs) - front

Dress ca. 1855 From the Kent State University Museum (fripperiesandfobs) - side

Dress ca. 1855 From the Kent State University Museum (fripperiesandfobs) - side back

Dress ca. 1855 From the Kent State University Museum (fripperiesandfobs) - back


Antique Finds: Photos and a Fashion Plate

A few days ago I was itching to get out of the house. The weather was gorgeous and I had a serious case of cabin fever, so I decided to check out an antique mall I’d heard about in a town close by. Just as I approached the front door a woman came from inside the mall and locked the door. They were closing early in order to attend their son’s baseball game. Bah! So I ended up wandering into the Brocante shop next door and spent an hour wandering around and pawing through things.

I found some great photographs. This one interested me because of the way she’s wearing her watch – suspended in loops from what looks like a bar pin at her neck. (More on this photo later.)



This one had to come home with me – such a great portrait of the two couples. Love those hats!



I bought this one because the hem on the woman’s sleeves is so long it covers her knuckles, much like in Regency fashions, and I’d not seen anything like it before.



And this one is such a great photo I couldn’t say no. It’s dated 1912 on the back, but the style looks more like 1915-ish to me. Doesn’t matter – the 2-piece dress and big ruffle-y hat are marvelous. I love she’s wearing gloves. Too bad the feet are too blurry to really see the shoes (boots?).



I also discovered a Miroir des Modes fashion plate from the 1850’s in a very old frame. The glass needs a good cleaning, but the print isn’t foxed or otherwise damaged. The colors are still bright, I liked the dresses and the price was incredibly low. So it went in the bag with the photos.

fashion plate1

Not bad for a little jaunt to get out of the house, huh?