Controversy over the Hoop Petticoat

“The very sight of these cursed hoops is enough to turn one’s stomach”- A.W. Esq.


museum #E.2262-1888 (1)

These words were written in The Enormous Abomination of the Hoop-Petticoat As The Fashion Now Is, and has been For about these Two Years Fully Display’d: In some REFLEXIONS upon it, Humbly offer’d to the consideration of Both Sexes; especially the female, about the hoop petticoat in London in 1745. The hoop petticoat then and now represents eighteenth century fashion, but during that time period this article of clothing was a point of contention between men and women. The subject of much debate, the hoop petticoat remained popular with women. Throughout the eighteenth century, with the skirt growing wider and wider as the years passed, the hoop petticoat gained contempt with men. (Haulman 638) A source of satire the hoop petticoat was adopted by women “as a means of protecting, controlling, and, ultimately, liberating female sexuality.” (Chrisman 5) The sack back robe and petticoat made of silk and velvet at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was made in 1774-1775 (2) and highlights the luxury garments women desired. Although not the widest of hoops, as by the time this garment was made hoop petticoats were going out of fashion still shows the exaggerated hips that were so fashionable in the eighteenth century.


museum #T.93:1, 2-2003 (2)

Although the creator and date of design of the hoop petticoat remains a mystery it is estimated that it came into creation around 1709 and remained fashionable into the early nineteenth century. (Chrisman 6-7) The design is historically related to the farthingale, which was thought to be of Spanish origins and popularized by England’s Queen Elizabeth I. (3) The hoop petticoat allowed more freedom of movement and its delicate construction using whale bone worked better with the lighter weight fabrics now being used in dress making. Part of the controversy of the hoop petticoat was the design that allowed for glimpses of undergarments and even bare leg. This was scandalous for the time, but the freedom it gave women in the ease of movement and comfort was worth the risk of exposure. (Chrisman 8) The design “by widening the hips while accentuating the small, tightly corseted waist, the hoop suggested both fertility and virginity, two characteristics universally valued in women.” (Chrisman 12) Women were keeping their hoop petticoats despite the scandal, mockery, and ridicule found in print.


museum #E.3288-1960 (3)

Satire was common in the eighteenth century and the hoop petticoat was a prime target as, “an enormous body of criticism had grown up around the garment, encompassing every available form of satire and social commentary—pamphlets, essays, caricatures, sermons, and poems—and every possible point of debate.” (Chrisman 12) From its inception men had written complaints about the hoop petticoat. Men complained of injury by women’s skirts as they walked down the street, that women could not go to church because there were not enough aisle seats, and that men could not tell the virgins from the non-virgins. (Chrisman 13) The “garment bec[ame] a publick nuisance” (A.W. Esq 7) for men and they would continued to vocalize their objections.

The hoop petticoat has become synonymous with the eighteenth century fashion and culture. By the time this garment went out of fashion styles had completely changed, with fashion being a means of displaying wealth and simpler, more tailored designs became popular. (4) The hoop petticoat had its moment in the world of fashion, and its detractors were happy to see it go though they were surprised how long it took for it to finally fall from fashion.


museum #T.124-1913 (4)

Chrisman, Kimberly. “Unhoop the Fair Sex: The Campaign Against the Hoop Petticoat in Eighteenth-Century England.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 30, no. 1 (1996): 5-23. doi:10.1353/ecs.1996.0042.
De Passe, Crispjin. “Elizabeth I.” Digital image. Victoria and Albert Museum. February 03, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2014.
“Dress.” Digital image. Victoria and Albert Museum. February 03, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2014.
“Fashionable Dresses in the Rooms in Weymouth 1774.” Digital image. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed March 10, 2014.
Haulman, Kate. “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia.” The William and Mary Quarterly 62, no. 4 (October 01, 2005): 625-62. Accessed March 11, 2014.
“Robe and Petticoat.” Digital image. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed January 10, 2014.
A. W., Esq. The enormous abomination of the hoop-petticoat, as The Fashion Now is, And has been For about these Two Years Fully Display’d: In some Reflexions upon it, Humbly offer’d to the Consideration of Both Sexes; especially the Female. By A. W. Esq;. London,  M.DCC.XLV. [1745]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. UC Los Angeles. 11 Mar. 2014

One thought on “Controversy over the Hoop Petticoat

  1. I was surprised to learn that the hoop skirt was not regarded as beautiful by many initially for I have seen it being depicted in fashion for centuries. Also, I had thought that the hoop-petticoat would have been a male design imposed upon women to enhance a distinct feminine figure as well as to express social status. It turns out that the inverse of this is true, and that the hoop-petticoat was employed by women as a method of sexual liberation and self-assertion. I found it contradictory however, that an object that was so large and “sometimes dangerous” was also something that “increased mobility”.

    The idea of a hoop-like skirt is still resonant today in modern designs of dresses and ball gowns. Perhaps that still goes to say that the power of the hoop as a signifier of beauty and opulence is still relevant.

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