A Question for the Living Historians and Re-enactors

You probably all know by now that I love to do research and write (but mostly do research), and lately I've been working on turning that blog post, Fashion vs. Feminism, into an article, with citations and five times as much text and things. You probably also know that I haven't made very many ensembles, and that I haven't experientially explored many different eras (by which I mean my only full outfits that I've worn have been from the eighteenth century).  So I need a little bit of help.

When it comes to the cage crinoline/hoop-skirt, there is only so much satires, fashion plates, and photographs can tell me.  There are a lot of accounts out there of the regular use of corsetry, but I don't find many regarding skirt supports.  I'm hoping that some of you ladies can answer a few questions:

- Did figuring out how to sit down take a lot of practice, and does it take you much effort to control the hoop when you do?

- Do you find that you have much trouble with it in the wind, or with unexpected movements in general?  When wearing it for an extended period of time, how is your sense of place - do you tend to lose track of its "footprint" or knock it into things?

- Doors and staircases: difficult or simple?  Any special maneuvers necessary?

Comments

  1. I've worn a hoop for 16+ years, so here's my two cents.

    (1) No, not lots of practice. It's easy, except when trying to sit on a camp stool - they're so light they're easy to knock over. It's also a surprise the first time you try to sit back in a chair with arms. Hoops are wide.

    It does not take much effort to control it. Actually, learning how little it takes is the hardest - women routinely pick it up to their knees without realizing it. I think it's because they can't see their feet.

    (2) Wind, yes. It's very windy in Texas and when it's above 20 mph, it's hard to handle a hoop. The wind flattens it against your legs and it's hard to move. And only the leeward side the result is that skirts, petticoat, hoop, and all are streaming out high, even up to the waist. Hoops keep the skirts from wrapping tightly around the legs, but they have their own issues. Light winds can also swirl around and lift up a lightweight skirt off the hoop entirely (although that hasn't been a problem since I started wearing petticoats over the hoop). My sense of place is very good. I know instinctively the places it'll be awkward to go, and if I have to, I know when I'll need to wrestle it with both hands. I also (usually) know when I'm standing too close to something.

    (3) Doors are not a problem. Hoops are very collapsible. Going up stairs require picking up the skirt high enough/holding it out in front enough that you don't put your foot on it or through it. Long underpetticoats are a BIG no-no - when I wore one, I'd have to grab it through all the layers of skirt and hoop so I could move up the stairs.
    I'm not sure if this is relevant, but very narrow aisles like tour buses are extremely difficult. Hoops can move gracefully through narrow points - it's a matter of compressing it smoothly at the sides and moving fast - but long aisles don't work as well.

    For what it's worth, I find a cage easier to wear than a covered hoop. Both are perfectly period (as long as it's not a bridal hoop with drawstring and gathered casings), but the cage is more flexible. Period cages and hoops alike were made with very lightweight materials (far lighter than any reproduction except for the Needle and Thread one) and would be even more flexible. They are not stiff and heavy.

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    1. Another one - moving backward is a bad idea. Skirts were fairly long all around, but it's not hard to remember to take smaller steps and/or "slide" the foot a little bit instead of picking it up high. Sliding the foot makes it unlikely to step on the inside of the skirt. But skirts were almost always longer in back, sometimes far longer. Moving backwards sweeps the hem under the hoop toward the foot, and then the heel inevitably lands on it. It's very bad, because then your momentum is established, and you're "walking" up the inside of your skirt. One of the first things I learned in dancing - even in the waltz, men never make their parents step backwards.

      Another way to keep from stepping on the skirt is to use the waist. A quick turn at the waist will "flick" an appropriately lightweight hoop and skirt off the ground or out the way enough. Or a "swing" before skipping down the line will do the same thing. There are ways to manage it, and they become instinctive pretty fast.

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    2. Wow, the typos! That should be men never make their PARTNERS step backwards.

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  2. My experience is far more limited, so I haven't much to add to the awesome answer you've already received. Learning to sit was easy-breezy. The hoop (with a gentle pick-up) will mostly collapse under you when you sit. It actually looks very picturesque, because the skirt tends to fall nicely to the floor when you sit "right." (This applies to sitting on armless chairs and low sofas, not the ground or floor.)

    The most difficult situations I've experienced all involved old-meets-new scenarios. Hoops+driving compact car= Benny Hill skit. Narrow doorways, porta-johns, recliners, etc., all pose individual issues. The longer you wear a hoop, the easier it gets and the MORE aware you become of your "footprint." (Full disclosure: I have knocked over a toddler and an antique vase without realizing it, but those incidents were very early in my reenacting days.)

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    1. As usual, you guys make me laugh WAAY to hard for someone at work! I echo all of the above (the port-a-potty one is especially worth imagining -- perhaps "go" in your street clothes or pantaloons, if that's allowed?). Only one thing to add, really -- don't attach the hoop to overskirt for an easy all-in-one garment, or if you MUST, don't let a clumsy actor walk right behind you. Making a nice entrance in a lovely evening gown, a C.A. stepped on my hem at the back and I felt the hooks and eyes at the waistband "pop". Couldn't leave the stage. Spent the rest of the act with one hand gracefully draped at my waist. I remember seeing a period ad somewhere for a collapsible crin that enabled the wearer to fold it in front? Anybody seen that, and if so, was it for real?

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    2. A friend of mine who used to own a museum has a crinoline made from original spring steel, it does fold up beautifully (unlike the modern wire that is offered my most stores as it is thin, round and kind of spring shaped). It is very collapsible, but at the same time provides an amazing shape. I am still trying to source a similar product, as she is able to sit in old style cinema seats in her crinoline and when standing its about 120" round. I am very jealous.

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  3. I have little experience with these problemes but I want to share it with you because I really enjoy your research:
    - To sit down can be very easy if the chairs are large and low enough, like you can find it in these areas. So you are sitten IN hoops, not ON it.
    - The wind is not a problem for me because I don't try to wear hoop-skirts in extrem conditions. The weight of my petticoats and skirts were enough to stabilize it.
    - Stairs are easier when I go down. I swing a little my feet in front of me to put up the first hoop. And when I go up stairs I pick up my hoop with my hand.

    But I realise that, for me, the most dangerous thing is the distance between my skirt and the furniture, other people... In modern clothes we are used to move very close to the others but with a hoop-skirt you have to keep your distances. If you don't the front part goes closed to your legs and the back of your skirts goes up. So you are showing to all your pretty pantalons.

    I you want it I have a document where a french journalist of the Magasin des Modes explains how to pick up, or not, your skirt in a ball.

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  4. Here are my experiences with the questions you asked:

    Sitting down - totally not a problem. The hoop just squishes and collapses when you sit. If the hoop is directed at the back of the thighs or knees, I pull it up a bit before sitting. Otherwise it's not problem at all. Same goes for a lobstertail bustle. (if you are wondering)

    Wind - it happened to be extremely windy last year at Rendezvous. I had more trouble with my bonnet staying put than my hoop. It does pick up the wind, of course, because overall you're just so much bigger, but it didn't blow me over and cause me to stagger or anything.

    Sense of Place - the hoop just sortof squishes and deforms when moving through doorways, crowds, etc. I have knocked some things over, lightweight knick-knacks sitting on the floor in shops, for instance.

    The most difficult time I have had wearing a hoop was trying to do a modern waltz (very different than a Victorian waltz). The gentleman kept stepping into me, which pressed the hoop and caused the skirt to slump in front and the gentleman to step on it. This is not a problem with period-accurate dancing, though.

    Stairs - you learn very quickly to lift the hoop/petticoat/skirt combo up before you go up inclines or stairs. You can't see your feet, so you just have to feel, but it is not hard. As far as fitting in narrow staircases, again, the hoop deforms, so there is no issue there.

    There is a correct and incorrect way to walk in a hoop. You're not supposed to let it swing like a bell. This requires holding the hips still while walking, not difficult, but something to be conscious of. Those hoops can swing quite a bit with even just the slightest sway of the hip.

    Just my two cents!

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    1. I agree with you. And I found a détail in the 1964's Journal des Demoiselles that explains how not to "swing like a belle" (as you say). There was an elastic (named "caoutchouc") behind your legs that keeps the hoops in the right place.

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  5. (First, I just want to say thanks for posing this question, I've really enjoyed reading everyone else's answers!)

    My answer's not as helpful since I've only worn my cage a handful of times, but I gotta say I love it! As far as ridiculous skirt supports go, it requires a little bit more attention than my pocket hoops, but quite a bit less than my bustle! Very easy to handle with very little practice. Minus driving...but that's a whole other problem!

    My first extended wearing of the cage was in all the crowds at Gettysburg on Remembrance Day weekend, and it was actually pretty easy to squeeze through, though I'm sure I hit dozens of people with my hoop! I think they got over it. And it IS possible to fit four crinolines in a very small diner booth...if you needed that tidbit for your research. ;)

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  6. Dear Cassidy,

    I know I am late to the party, and haven't as much experience as some of your previous respondees, but do have a couple of remembrances having to do with sofa-sitting. I have a hoopskirt (with cane hoops), with about a 120" circumference. So not ginormous. However, I was surprised at how much real estate I took up. Sitting on chairs with backs but no arms was fine: the skirt just belled around, and flattened in the back with no issue, and actually felt rather pretty.

    Sitting next to other people on a sofa was a whole 'nother matter. The belling spread out on the sofa. The weight of my skirt and petticoats kept the affair from flying up, but each side easily took the space of another person, making a four-person sofa become room enough for two.

    When you add corset to cage, you find that sitting back on a sofa does not mean lounging back, all loose and easy like a lizard. Instead, you arrange the bell of your skirt, and artistically move around loose pillows to support the back, and then lean back...without a bend in the back. It's comfortable, but... Of course, you can sit upright, or find the corner of the sofa and support yourself at less of an angle. That's easier.

    The deeper the sofa, the harder it is to get in and out of without a deal of twitching.

    Oh, and getting something off the ground. The ladylike and good-for-the-knees way we're taught really is the best. The corset prevents you from just bending over, and the bell of the skirt hides anything near your feet anyhow. So it's best to bend the knees, straight-backed, and just quietly deflate towards the floor. It's pretty to watch, and then you can fish around with your hands and get whatever it is you want. It makes me wonder: did all the knee-bending mean that women back then developed stronger knees, or did they acquire knee pains at similar rates we do today?

    Very best,

    Natalie

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