In a time where having skinny hips is the height of fashion and the hipster spray on jeans is de rigueur, the concept of the pannier is completely alien to most.
Panniers are part of the hooped petticoat family that includes the farthingale and bustle. The fashion first appeared in England around 1709 and Paris took them up with gay abandon around 1718, giving the Rococo era its unique and sumptuous silhouette. The word pannier literally translates from French as basket; think of wholesome peasant girls with baskets laden with baguettes on their hips. The whalebone and tape framework
sat under the skirt and pushed it out at the side of the hips. Think of Glenn Close in the movie Dangerous Liaisons ; that marvelous seductive shape was given by the panniers under her voluminous skirts. They came in various shapes and sizes but the whole aim is to give hips, big hips, the extreme ones as wide as two metres. The resulting shape was heaving bosoms, tight, laced corseted waists with a massive flare out from the hips from the sides, though the width was not translated to the front and back of the skirt.
This extreme fashion was not only a boon for the textile industry but also the furniture industry. Special couches and chairs were designed to accommodate these wide hipped wonders. Sound wacky? Well, that was not the only consideration made for the style. French doors were an innovation to allow women to go through doors without having to turn sideways. Picture the foyer of the grand mansions with those awe inspiring sweeping double staircases, a luxury made so that one woman could go up and the other come down without have to pass the other and dice with death. Some concessions were made to the dress by making the panniers collapsible, to help with maneuverability.
The Rococo era, especially in France, is known for its amazing excesses. The end of these excesses came
rather rapidly with the advent of the French Revolution. The next major hooped underwear era was the Victorian with the crinoline.
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