Every era has its "typical" fashion, and the crinolines of the 1860's are a good example. A crinoline is a stiffened or structured petticoat designed to hold out a woman's skirt. Originally, crinoline described a stiff fabric made of horsehair ("crin") and cotton or linen which was used to make underskirts and as a dress lining. Hence the name, crin-o-lin.
By the 1850s, the term crinoline was more usually applied to the fashionable silhouette provided by horsehair petticoats, and to the hoop skirts that replaced them in the mid-1850s which were able to hold skirts out even further!
The steel-hooped cage crinoline, first patented in April 1856 by R.C. Milliet in Paris, and by their agent in Britain a few months later, became extremely popular. Steel cage crinolines were mass-produced in huge quantity, with factories across the Western world producing tens of thousands in a year. Alternative materials, such as whalebone and natural rubber were used for hoops, although steel was the most popular. At its widest point, the crinoline could reach a circumference of up to six yards, although by the late 1860s, crinolines were beginning to reduce in size. By the early 1870s, the smaller crinolette and the bustle had largely replaced the crinoline.
Crinolines were worn by women of every social standing and class across the Western world, from royalty to factory workers. This led to widespread media scrutiny and criticism, particularly in satirical magazines such as Punch. They were also hazardous if worn without due care, popping apart and blowing inside out. Thousands of women died in the mid-19th century as a result of their hooped skirts catching fire. Alongside fire, other hazards included the hoops being caught in machinery, carriage wheels, gusts of wind, or other obstacles.