The Rococo period (from around 1730 – 1790) was one characterised by excesses in fashion. One of the excesses of eighteenth century fashion was “false hips”, or panniers as they were later called.
They consisted of a material structure, braced by whalebone or cane, tied to the waist by strings. The false hips could be enclosed in one petticoat, or alternatively each hip could have a separate structure tied over it.
As the width of skirts grew, a metal structure was invented to hold the ever-increasing weight of brocade and silk. Three different sized U-shaped metal rods were hinged together at the front and back so they extended out over the hips and folded upwards.
Reports of the sizes of hooped petticoats defy modern day imagination, reaching from 10.5 feet wide (a lady in 1742) to 5 yards wide! A lady dressed in such a gown would occupy the entire side of a coach or park bench, and would have to turn sideways to fit through a double door! Fashion (sometimes luckily) is always changing, and this particular fashion reached its peak from 1740 to 1750.
The tide eventually began to turn against the excesses of the false hips. By 1750, even The Gentleman’s Magazine had something to say about it!
Having been within the hearing of some debates in a society of ladies, concerning the proposal for subscribing the four per cents, relates some of their eloquent speeches; and it being moved by Corinna, in case reduction of interest took place, that they must reduce their equipages, apparel, and diversions; Reformata proposed that the hoop-petticoat should be reduced one ell in the circumference. Upon this a loud squall ensued, but silence being imposed by the chair, she proceeded to support her proposition as follows:
“This reformation will be attended with the like in our upper garments: the quilt-coat, the fly, and the gown, which, as I compute, may, in one moderate suit, save about 8 l. The hoop is but an uncouth addition to us, as it is now modelled, in the eyes of men, who make no scruple to assert, not only that it was the invention of some shoplifter for facilitating the conveyance of stolen goods, but that we look as if we carried a hamper on either side under our coats, and gives us such an enormous croup, as renders us quite out of proportion. We pass along, as it were, balancing between two icales. Every person we meet, every post we pass, and every corner we turn, incumber our way, and obstruct our progress. We fit in a chair hid up to our very ears on either side, like a swan with her head between her lifted wings. The whole side of a coach is hardly capacious enough for one of us. We go up a pair of stairs, as if we were pushing some great burden before us, and with our lifted hoops in our hands, expose such a hollow in coming down as surprises all below us. In short, every convenience attends on our reducing this awkward circumference within a reasonable compass, save only that, as we employ our hands so much in the conduct of it, we may be at a loss how to dispose of them, when it no longer requires their assistance. But…”
Here a general murmur occurred that gave Fantasia an opportunity to put the previous question, which passes unanimously, and prevent Reformata’s project of reducing the hoop to the original standard in good queen Anne’s days, when women looked so lovely in the eyes of men. It was then proposed and carried, that a committee be appointed to enquire what persons were chiefly concerning in promoting the pernicious reduction of public property, and prostitution of public faith; and the pretensions of men to engross public offices among their own sex, in exclusion to so many women of abilities, more capable of serving the public, for ought that has appeared for some years in the past, in the government of Goat’am; with power to the committee to extend their enquiry, as occasion shall offer, for the good of the public weal, and of woman’s pretensions to place and power.
Gen. Advertiser, March 15.
The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1750.
This fashion for large hips continued in accepted court dress for another 20 years after that, but the size of hoops for everyday wear began to gradually reduce, and at least resumed a manageable and decorous size.
Caricatures of women’s fashion (and other things, like politics) were beginning to become popular in the later half of the eighteenth century. The one below did not appear until the skirts of women had fallen completely, near the turn of the century.
Once the skirts had fallen to the place where gravity intended, the next thing to rise to excess was the hair! And RISE it DID! In my next post, we will look at the hair styles during the Rococo period.
What is your favourite fashion excess? Is it from the rococo period or some other time?
Sources and Relevant Links
Dr Johnson’s London: Everyday life in London 1740 – 1770, by Liza Picard