designed to create the desired amount of poofiness
in a skirt
There is some dispute over the identity of the crinoline's inventor. Most sources acknowlege Charles Frederick Worth, a brilliant and insanely arrogant designer known as the founder of haute couture, to be the creator of the first crinoline. Other authorities credit a Frenchman known to history only as Tavernier with filing the first patent in 1856 for a device he called the "cage" or "crinoline". It was originally fashioned of flexible metal strips (!!!) in a characteristic cage-like form to support the intensely heavy full skirts of the day. Surprisingly, it was considered to be a great improvement over the multiple layers of petticoats that had previously served the same purpose, but to much sweatier effect.
The crinoline grew so popular that an entire era has been named after it ("The Crinoline Period"-1846-1865). By the 1890's Mr. Worth had modified the crinoline so that the bulk of the poofiness was in the back. This naturally led to the next level of opulent under-garment: the bustle. Thankfully, the bustle was a short-lived (if memorable) concept.
Crinolines grew to such amazing proportions by the end of the Gilded Age that a number of deaths were attributed to it. It seems that some of the most fashionable ladies of the time would venture a bit too close to open fireplaces, and...well, you get the picture.
Made primarily of taffeta, some crinolines were made of such materials as organdy (a common choice for little girls), satin, muslin, starched cotton, or lace.
Perhaps because of the increasing number of toasted Southern Belles, the crinoline fell out of favor in the early part of the twentieth century. Not for long, though; it poofed back on to the fashion scene in the 1940's, creating a trend that reached its apex with 50's sitcom attire on such role model housewives as Donna Reed and June Cleaver, who apparently wanted to maintain that desirable wasp-waisted silhouette while dusting and vacuuming.
The 1960's feminist sensibilities pretty much caused the crinoline to slink off to the back of the collective closet in shame, but it lurked there, nursing its hurt pride, waiting for the right moment to stage a triumphant comeback. Enter the 80's.
This was the return of glamour by way of wretched excess, and what could be more excessive than wildly poofy dresses? I challenge anyone who lived through high school in the 80's to find a prom picture that does not include a crinoline (or at least its perky little sister, the bubble skirt). In this incarnation, the crinoline was even saucier...shorter and stiffer than ever, often made of tulle that caused nasty rashes.
By the early 90's, death metal and grunge hed pretty much displaced the crinoline vibe. I wouldn't count another comeback out, however...the poofiness is very appealing to the inner girlie that primps and preens within the collective unconscious.