Thursday, June 28, 2012

28 June 1860: Hoop Skirts For the Ladies

On this day in 1860, the Grady, Nicholson, & Company general store advertised their new shipment of hoop skirts in the weekly Southern Banner:

The wide, bell-shaped hoop skirt, such as the ones featured in Gone with the Wind, was popularized in the mid-1850s by Empress Eugenie of France, the wife of Emperor Napolean III. The first ad for hoop skirts in the Athens newspapers appeared in 1857. 

The hoops were constructed with circles of cotton-covered steel wire held together with strips of tape that ran the length of the hoop, from waist to floor. The hoops were collapsible, but also broke easily. 

This method of creating a full, round skirt was lighter and cooler than the layers of petticoats previously required, though women of this period still wore multiple layers of clothing (chemise, stockings, corset, drawers, shirt, hoops, dress, gloves and bonnet) on a regular basis, regardless of the weather. 

After the Civil War, the large skirts went out of style quickly, much to the relief of historian and parliamentarian Justin McCarthy, who, in his book Portraits of the Sixties, wrote of hoop skirts that 
Its inconvenience was felt by the male population as well as by the ladies who sported the obnoxious construction. A woman getting out of a carriage, an omnibus, or a train, making her way through a crowded room, or entering into the stalls of a theatre, was a positive nuisance to all with whom she had to struggle for passage.

Others looked back just a generation later and remembered sidewalks "practically monopolized by moving monstrosities," noting that "then no lady was correctly attired according to the prevailing idea who did not present a spectacle curiously suggestive of a moving circus tent." 

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