The visual object that I chose is a dress from the 1760s during the reign of England’s King George III. (Figure 1) Worn underneath this type of dress is a hoop petticoat. (Figure 2) A dress with an expanded hoop from the 1780s is also shown. (Figure 3) The article by Kimberly Chrisman entitled “Unhoop the Fair Sex: The Campaign Against the Hoop Petticoat in Eighteenth Century England” discusses how the hoop remained in fashion for over a hundred years even though it was uncomfortable to wear and was not considered attractive by many (1). One gentleman, using only the initials, A. W., in 1745 expresses his views of the petticoat and laments its longstanding popularity after its first appearing in England in 1709: “Tho’ I was then young, I well remember Every Body thought this New Fashion would be out in a Twelve-month at fartheft…But We all found ourfelves miftaken: the Hoop ftood its ground; and has continued to this very Day”(6). A. W. further complains that the growing circumference of the hoop had reached the point of becoming a “perfect publick Nuifance” and that seeing them “is enough to turn one’s Stomach”(7). In response to A.W. and in defense of the women who wear hoops, Jack Lovelass scolds him as follows “What the dear Creatures, the fweet Females, you fo wantonly defcribe and whom you like fo daintily well, become a perfect publick Nufance?…for fhame, Sir, retract, or never, perfume to own the Power of Beauty” (8).
As the hoop expanded over the years, it became increasingly derided by many. As A. W. argues, the hoops have become “extremely inconvenient…painful to thofe who wear them,” as well as causing “Many Hundreds” of deaths (9). A. W. and Lawless are good examples of the strong feelings that hoops generated. Nevertheless, despite the ridicule and derision the hoop remained in fashion for over a century.
Initially, hoops were made from whalebone, which was purchased from the Dutch who operated the whaling industry, but was later substituted with cane because it was cheaper (Chrisman 3). One can appreciate that in the increasing industrialized society it was more practical and less costly to manufacture hoops than import them. Chrisman points out that over the course of the eighteenth century women acquired more finances so they were able to show this off by the clothes they wore (9). Indeed, Chrisman contends that “clothing was the first mass commodity to cross both class and gender barriers” (9). discusses how fashions are different the farther away one gets from London wearing such an elaborate style was a way for aristocracy to demonstrate their wealth and elevate themselves above the lower class, the fashion eventually spread to the lower classes as elite women handed down their old castoffs to their servants (9). An article in The Spectator that appeared when hoops were in fashion discusses how the farther away one traveled from London the more reasonable the people were dressed: “As I proceeded in my journey I obferved the Petticoat grew fcantier and fcantier…that a Woman might walk in it without any manner of Inconvenience” (251). In his view, the dress of lower class country folk, although unfashionable, looked better and was more sensible than what the aristocrats in the city of London were wearing.
As for the hoop’s popularity and longevity, various reasons are discussed by Chrisman. According to her, the hoop was popular with women because it gave them autonomy by “protecting, controlling, and ultimately, liberating female sexuality” (1). This implies that the sheer size of the hoop would keep men at bay by creating a barrier to prevent them from advancing. As for liberating a woman’s sexuality, Chrisman contends that the hoop’s flexibility and light weight allowed it to be upset by the wind or a quick movement, thereby exposing the legs (4). Presumably, a woman could tilt the hoop purposely to show off her some of her assets if she so desired.
Another theory about the hoop is that Queen Charlotte wanted to keep the hoop in style for economic reasons because the hoop used more fabric and employed more people because of the hours and labor it required, thus the hoops continued to be worn “past their vogue”(Chrisman 4). According to Chrisman, upon Queen Charlotte’s death, her son and heir George IV, who was “fashion conscious,” announced at his first Drawing Room appearance that “His Majesty is graciously pleased to dispense with Ladies wearing Hoops,” whereupon hoops were discarded for French fashions that were in vogue (5).
Whether one gives credence to Chrisman’s female sexual autonomy explanation, women’s increasing access to funds, increasing consumerism brought about by industrialization, or the dictates of royalty, it is evident that whether it was one or all of these reasons, the hoop played an important part in the fashion history of eighteenth century England.
Expanded Hoop Dress
Chrisman, Kimberly. “Unhoop the Fair Sex: The Campaign Against the Hoop Petticoat in Eighteenth-Century England.” The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies30.1 (1966) 5-33. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.
Lovelass, Jack. “The Hoop-Petticoat Vindicated, In Answer To The EnormousAbomination of the Hoop-Petticoat.”Eighteenth Century Collections Online: 1745.PDF file.
The Spectator. Addison and Steele. No. 129, July 28. PDF file.
W., A. “The Enormous Abomination Of The Hoop-Petticoat, As The Now is, And hasbeen For about thefe Two Years.” (1745). PDF file.
Georgian Dress. Bath Fashion Museum. http://www.museumofcostume.co.uk/exhibitions/past_displays/dresses_of_history.aspx
Side Hoop. Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum Item No. T.120-1969.
Expanded Hoop Dress. Bath Fashion Museum.