Stays and corsets, panniers and crinolines from the 18th to the 19th century
Dress "à la française" (1760)
During the 18th century stays and panniers transformed the female body, shaping the silhouette according to the beauty standards of the period: a slim waist and a "raised bust, firm and well rounded."
The female body was essentially remodeled, its natural lines erased and new contours created.
Alphonse Leroy, Recherches sur les habillemens des femmes et des enfans ou Examen de la manière dont il faut vêtir l’un et l’autre sexe, Paris, Le Boucher, 1772, 2e partie, chap. III : "De l’origine des corps et de leurs différentes espèces," 184
Colored corsets were first worn by prostitutes before becoming a fashion for the elites, thus inverting the top down model of the fashion diffusion from elites towards the masses.
Following the economic crisis of 1871, prostitution had become a necessary job for certain women from already precarious social classes. These courtesans, who were thought of as fascinating yet threatening to the social order, undoubtedly helped contribute to the adoption of color in bourgeois underwear.
Formed by steel hoops, cage crinolines increase in size from the waist to the calves and are either built directly into a petticoat or are independently linked together with straps. Over time, the volume of skirts augmented due to the use of increasingly solid hoops and heavier fabrics. Lighter to wear than superimposed petticoats, the cage crinoline gave women the impression of "liberating" their legs.
The crinoline was essential component to women’s fashion for over 25 years. Its shape changed over the course of the years, yielding three distinct silhouettes.
... Dresses were still highly ornamental, but the emphasis was on the small of the back. The flattening of the front of the body forces the bodice to change. The bodice is pointed at first, and then transforms to favor the donning of a tunic - an over-skirt tapered towards the back which reveals the under-skirt, often of a contrasting color." - Lina Maria Paz, "Crinolines et tournures. Le règne des artifices métalliques," in Denis Bruna (dir.), La Mécanique des dessous, une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette, catalogue d'exposition (Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 2013), 179
At the end of the 19th century, after having attained exaggerated volumes, the female silhouette simplified. Couturiers in the 1890s, inspired by the romantic fashions of the 1830s, revived the gigot sleeves. It was around this time that crinolines and bustles disappeared, but they remain up to today, symbols of an era of decadence.
This virtual exhibition echoes the exhibition "La mécanique des dessous, une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette," presented at the Arts Décoratifs from 5 July to 24 November 2013.
Commissariat: Denis Bruna, chief designer of fashion collections before 1800.
Text and choice of images: Denis Bruna, Hélène Renaudin, assistant fashion and textile at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Editorial coordination of the virtual exhibition: Maude Bass-Krueger, assisted by Alexandra Harwood and César Imbert