Transit Tuesday: Crinolines and Omnibuses

Crinoline. 1860-65. V & A Museum. T.150-1986.

It was the 1850s. Skirts were big. Transportation, not so much. Prior to elevated railways, streetcars, and subways, mass transit meant the omnibus, a horse-drawn wagon, often enclosed.

Crinolines (hoop skirts) gave lampoonists of the mid-19th century ample tongue-wagging material. Photographs were staged and prints distributed to make fun of the wide skirted fashion. Crowded public transportation just provided the perfect stage for denigration of the crinoline.



But anyone who’s actually worn a hoop skirt to work on a regular basis (I did for work in my early 20s) knows that they aren’t quite as difficult to manage as the 19th century press and modern brides make them out to be. I drove a manual pick-up truck in mine. The tipped rings collapse on each other when one sits. Yes, it provides extra width to the sides, but not so much to the front. Crinolines dangling from the sides of omnibuses in photographs are obviously a farce – no woman is going to dig under her dress in public for the crinoline’s buckle at her waist, and then reverse the process after disembarking the omnibus. Fishing the crinoline up between underpetticoat and overpetticoat and dress skirt is nearly impossible in the privacy of one’s bedroom, let alone a fetid nineteenth-century London street.

New York Public Library. Oct 2, 1858.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.