Six years ago, I posted a blog about crinolines that included a number of 1860s political cartoons poking fun at women wearing hoopskirts and petticoats. In spite of the ridicule, the fashion resurfaced in the 1880s, when Laura Ingalls Wilder battled her hoopskirts on the way to school as a teenager. I concluded the blog with the observation that the style “just keeps coming back” and suggested that the poodle skirts of the nineteen fifties, “held out by all those stiff mesh petticoats so that they would swirl around the dance floor,” were just “a shorter version of the same style.” Recently, as I scrolled through the pages of the San Francisco Bulletin, I noticed that voluminous petticoats had enjoyed a brief resurgence in 1915, too. While I was not surprised, I was amused to find that the male political cartoonists again lampooned the fashion for some of the same reasons they had decades earlier.
Cartoonist Maurice Ketten critiqued the style on February 17, suggesting that the return to grandmother’s crinolines made finding a seat in a public place a difficult feat. A month later, Rolf Pielke took a different and perhaps more modern tack, lamenting the loss of the sheath skirt. In an article that accompanied his cartoon, he suggested that the “au-natural figure” and “the long-and-lithe-like lady” in the sheaths were more pleasing to the masculine eye than “the flounces and charms of the plump baby doll.” He concluded that the return to “frills and fullness and flounces” proved “that women dress for themselves and not for men, as cynics would have us believe.” For their part, women had learned that the fuller skirts kept men at a respectful distance, a need that was obvious to any woman “who had been pinched, groped, or harassed on crowded streets or public transit.” Women also found the “bell-like shape” to be airy and cool.2 With both men and dress reformers continuing to push for greater simplicity, the crinoline resurgence was short-lived. By the 1920s, skirts had gotten even shorter and more sheath-like than before.
Nancy Tystad Koupal
- “On the Zone, on the Street, on the Cars in Every Quarter the Graceful Flounces Are Now Seen,” San Francisco Bulletin, Mar. 22, 1915, p. 11.
- Emily Remus, A Shopper’s Paradise: How the Ladies of Chicago Claimed Power and Pleasure in the New Downtown (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2019), p. 43.