it’s hilarious to me when people call historical fashions that men hated oppressive

like in BuzzFeed’s Women Wear Hoop Skirts For A Day While Being Exaggeratedly Bad At Doing Everything In Them video, one woman comments that she’s being “oppressed by the patriarchy.” if you’ve read anything Victorian man ever said about hoop skirts, you know that’s pretty much the exact opposite of the truth

thing is, hoop skirts evolved as liberating garment for women. before them, to achieve roughly conical skirt fullness, they had to wear many layers of petticoats (some stiffened with horsehair braid or other kinds of cord). the cage crinoline made their outfits instantly lighter and easier to move in

it also enabled skirts to get waaaaay bigger. and, as you see in the late 1860s, 1870s, and mid-late 1880s, to take on even less natural shapes. we jokingly call bustles fake butts, but trust me- nobody saw them that way. it was just skirts doing weird, exciting Skirt Things that women had tons of fun with

men, obviously, loathed the whole affair


(1850s. gods, if only crinolines were huge enough to keep men from getting too close)

(no date given, but also, this is 100% impossible)

(also undated, but the ruffles make me think 1850s)

it was also something that women of all social classes- maids and society ladies, enslaved women and free women of color -all wore at one point or another. interesting bit of unexpected equalization there

and when bustles came in, guess what? men hated those, too


(probably also 1880s? the ladies are being compared to beetles and snails. in case that was unclear)

(1870s, I think? the bustle itself looks early 1870s but the tight fit of the actual gown looks later)

hoops and bustles weren’t tools of the patriarchy. they were items 1 and 2 on the 19th century’s “Fashion Trends Women Love That Men Hate” lists, with bonus built-in personal space enforcement

Gonna add something as someone who’s worn a lot of period stuff for theatre:

The reason you suck at doing things in a hoop skirt is because you’re not used to doing things in a hoop skirt.

The first time I got in a Colonial-aristocracy dress I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The construction didn’t actually allow me to raise my arms all the way over my head (yes, that’s period-accurate). We had one dresser to every two women, because the only things we could put on ourselves were our tights, shifts, and first crinoline. Someone else had to lace our corsets, slip on our extra crinolines, hold our arms to balance us while a second person actually put the dresses on us like we were dolls, and do up our shoes–which we could not put on ourselves because we needed to be able to balance when the dress went on. My entire costume was almost 40 pounds (I should mention here that many of the dresses were made entirely of upholstery fabric), and I actually did not have the biggest dress in the show.

We wore our costumes for two weeks of rehearsal, which is quite a lot in university theatre. The first night we were all in dress, most of the ladies went propless because we were holding up our skirts to try and get a feel for both balance and where our feet were in comparison to where it looked like they should be. I actually fell off the stage.

By opening night? We were square-dancing in the damn things. We had one scene where our leading man needed to whistle, but he didn’t know how and I was the only one in the cast loud enough to be heard whistling from under the stage, so I was also commando-crawling underneath him at full speed trying to match his stage position–while still in the dress. And petticoats. And corset. Someone took my shoes off for that scene so I could use my toes to propel myself and I laid on a sheet so I wouldn’t get the dress dirty, but that was it–I was going full Solid Snake in a space about 18″ high, wearing a dress that covered me from collarbones to floor and weighed as much as a five-year-old child. And it worked beautifully.

These women knew how to wear these clothes. It’s a lot less “restrictive” when it’s old hat.

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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