As an American fashion designer Anne Klein once said, “clothes aren’t going to change the world. The women who wear them will.” No doubt everything we do, feel or experience is constantly changing and evolving while at the same time being somewhat locked in cyclical comebacks. Certainly fashion and history march together and from time to time they celebrate a repetition of one another by creating anew synthesis of past and future. In fashion future reinvents past and past dictates the future. Modus vivendi becomes inevitable companion leading us to new fields of fashion and tastes of styles. Things go in and out. The new reinvents the old. This is how fashion works and if you stop asking culture’s permission to express your visual aspect, you are already changing the world.
By the same token, a modernization of hoop skirt can be of great example on how future reinvents past and the same past adapts to the present vogue. Thanks to tireless fashion designers who are always in quest of impressing the world by incorporating pioneering fashion designs as visual stimulants to people. If you take a closer look to any of so called “new trend” you will always find something that can get labeled as “reinvented”. What goes around comes around. By saying so let’s glimpse at hoop skirt and how it became a “cage skirt” during the time.
Short Long History of Hoop Skirt
A hoop skirt is a women’s undergarment worn to hold the skirt extended into a required shape but it took some time to evolve into what we now know as “hoop skirt”.
The predecessor of hoop skirt is Spanish “farthingale” deriving from “verdugados” (“green wood”) that were made of subtropical giant cage rings to stiffen and maintain skirt’s shape and volume. It is believed that scandalous Joan of Portugal (1439-1475) started wearing farthingales to cover up her pregnancy. 15th century’s art depicts Spanish farthingales showing hoops positioned outside the skirt material rather than being under. Farthingales did not provide any shape to the skirt and, later, only lower class women were swearing farthingales as a fancy outer-part of their attire. As an undergarment farthingale remained popular in upper class and during time was adopted by English, French and Italian aristocracy. Actually, Catherine of Aragon brought this undergarment to England by marrying Arthur Prince of Wales in 1501. In 16th century farthingale evolved into “great farthingale” but in the beginning of 17th century farthingales were completely forgotten.
Later farthingale became a pannier (“wicker baskets”). A pannier is a women’s undergarment that extends a width of a skirt at the sides making front and back flat. Panniers were usually worn only to very formal gowns or within court fashion.
In 18th century petticoats were used to support and shape the growing length and diameter of the early Victorian dress. During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 to 1901) petticoat was replaced by ahoop skirt, we know now, to eliminate layers and layers of crinoline in petticoats. Steel wire hoops were incorporated and it made the garment light but strong. Most importantly, steel wire helped the skirt to maintain it’s originally shape after severe bent, it collapsed flat for easy storage or sitting to. Women started to move freely without heavy petticoats around their legs and could pass building doors comfortably. Women’s fashion magazines named it as crinoline cage. This type of underskirt was extremely popular and was worn by all women classes and ages. Crinolines cage skirts were mass produced by several companies (including Douglas & Sherwood, W.S. Thomson, J. Holmes & Co. and other) making prices affordable. As a consequence women were able to have several skirts in different styles, sizes and shapes. Some companies offered even more advanced designs. Crinoline cage skirts lost crinoline and became known as “cage skirts” as their open frames resembled cage. It was among the most significant fashion innovations liberating women of the Victorian era.
Even though cage skirtswere extremely popular among all social classes, from royalty to working women, after Victorian era this undergarment was forgotten for first several decades of the 20th century.
What is a Cage Skirt?
Traditionally, cage skirt is a light and resilient open structure garment of horizontal metal hoops vertically joined with fabric tape. Usually cage skirt is long and does not go above knees, but can be in various shapes and widths. The purpose of a cage skirt is to provide a desired shape and volume to upper skirt, dress or fabric layers worn over it. At present moment, thanks to extensive number of materials, fabrics, sewing appliances and technologies, traditional cage skirt transformed beyond recognition and even changed it’s purpose.
In the first place, a modern cage skirt now has become an external garment and is very often used as an accessory to emphasize a desired look of certain style. Today, cage skirt is most commonly used in Steampunk fashion. It gives a slight touch of historicism being an important ingredient of Steampunk style. On the other hand, by its mechanical features a cage skirt itself becomes a technological element – another important ingredient of Steampunk concept. If cage skirt is being used as undergarment, the skirt or dress is usually front-open to expose skirt’ cagy structure. Alternately, the caged skirt looks great over a pair of leggings. Sometimes cage skirt is not fully covered by upper layer and few lower hoops are exposed.
Furthermore, cage skirts do play a role in Burlesque fashion. To achieve a Burlesque style cage skirts are usually worn over lingerie assembly, without any top skirt to cover it. As Burlesque is more about keeping clothes on and not off, so an open frame cage skirt gives a perfect impression of a skirt being worn but at the same time exposing dancers hips and pelvis in attractive manner. Keeping a cage skirt short in length helps dancer to move freely without significant limitations.
As a matter of fact, certain wedding dresses still require petticoats, hoop skirts or cage skirts to hold it in desired poofy shape and volume. A Victorian innovation of hoop skirt is very popular in wedding fashion (and always was) as lots of brides choose to get married in fairy-tale or princess style by wearing wide dresses incorporating corsets to make their waist look slimmer. Hoops skirts or cage skirts help bride to move in a free manner. A hoop skirt does not have layers of fabric and is ideal for brides that do not like fabric rubbing against their legs. Quite often hoops are adjustable or even removable for easier wear during wedding ceremony or travel. The number of hoops will be depended on the length of skirt as well as the silhouette of wedding dress.
Secondly, modern cage skirts or hoops skirts are now made of different fabric and materials when they were during Victorian era. If cage skirt is purposed for outside wear it usually has plastic boning inside as it does not have to support any heavier material. Metal boning is more popular in bridal wear. Today emerging designers use a vast variety of materials for their progressive designs. Equally, online shopping also made market more competitive and forced young designers to think more “outside the box” when presenting designs for online shoppers to catch their attention. Now, a cage skirt can be made almost of anything, including plastic tubes, hardware wire, ribbons, plastic, various tulles, leather, latex, elastic or even be 3D printed.
Cage Skirts Return to Modern Fashion
In 1947 Christian Dior (1905-1957) revived a crinoline skirt in his collection called “New Look”. Designer used strengthened underskirts to support full skirts and dresses. Wide circular, pleated or swing skirts were worn with several layers of fluffy petticoats of net or frothy chiffon for extra stiffness and lift. This look was loved my women with wide hips and tights. Those shapes looked great on most body types. A “New Look” gave a soft and feminine feel. Voluminous skirts and wasp waist were popular during 50s and continued to early 60s. In 50s and 60s petticoats used to poof out a-Dior-inspired full skirts became known as “crinolines” although they did not have any built-in hoops in their structure.
Spanish fashion designer, labeled as “The King of Fashion”, Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) is well known for his exceptional technical skills in tailoring and his famous balloon skirts. Balenciaga was the master of architectural fashion creations with surprising volumes. Women wearing Balenciaga’s designs were transformed into geometric and exaggerated shapes. Designer worked with custom made stiff fabric called “gazar” exclusively made for him by Swiss fabric house “Abraham”. Instead of heavily padded garments introduced by Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga knew well structural qualities of fabrics and by cutting them and using innovative construction technics, he created a space between woman’s body and the outfit. He managed to achieve a volume of his groundbreaking silhouettes without petticoats or cage skirts underneath.
In the mid-1980’s British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood invented a “mini-crini” that was a combination of 1960’s emancipating miniskirt and restrictive Victorian long hoop dress. Playful, colorful and packed of child-like prints mini-crini had several built-in hoops of plastic boning to keep it’s short bell-like shape. Vivienne Westwood, a mother of modern punk, basically started a curiosity of underwear pieces to be used as outer garments. It was a breakthrough in modern fashion. Caged skirts definitely kept attention to hips and by all means iconic mini–crini gave way to eroticism in structural clothing. Westwood’s shortened version of Victorian crinoline is a compelling example of modernization of cage skirts.
In beginning of 21st century, hoops skirts and crinolines were borrowed from the past once again. Fashion designers started incorporating hoop skirts and cage skirts returning a feminine silhouette back to life. Cage skirts popped out not only in the collections of emerging fashion designers but also in wearable compilations of well established fashion brands across the world. Modernized cage skirts appeared in Betsey Johnson, Peter Pilotto, Yohji Yamamoto, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen collections. This past undergarment became rather common tool to build their innovative ideas on. Most couture collections consisted of crinoline cages that were heavily decorated, restructured and misshaped, emphasized and complex, incorporated in coats, dresses, skirts and capes. Sometimes there was little left of what was previously known as crinoline cage. Actually, in couture, a use of cage skirt is limitless and without any rules on how it can be worn. Today, cage skirts are being reshaped and rebuilt into headgear, corsets or add-on accessories of any type. Regardless, modernized cage skirts have not lost their role in raising a feel of sexuality. Furthermore, the 21st century was the time when “caged fashion” was born. Although this undergarment is not a norm today but evening gowns and wedding dresses still require have hoop skirts, petticoats or cage skirts to hold them in shape.
As can be seen, hoop skirt went through various stages of transformation until ultimately taking a firm position in the 21st century’s fashion as a modern cage skirt.
Along with trends of fashion cage skirt changed it’s shape and manners of how it can be worn. Most interestingly, modern cage skirt is a clear resemblance of the 15th century’s Spanish vertugados as it is now worn on top of other clothes instead of being just a tool to maintain dress shape and volume. Once again, future reinvents the past, but this time with a much stronger modern twist. Today, cage skirts periodically emerge in haute couture and contemporary fashion when a striking sculptural effect or exaggerated proportions are required. From fashion point of view modern cage skirt has become a beautiful timeless element withstanding continued use on its own as a symbol of seduction and temptation.