Date: ca. 1750
Medium: linen, cane
Credit Line: Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1973
Accession Number: 1973.65.2
Panniers, or hoops, widely worn in the eighteenth century, first came into fashion around 1710, when three or more hoops of cane, metal, or (later) whalebone were suspended from tapes attached to the waist, giving a dome-shaped structure to the skirt. As the shape evolved, flattening at the back and front, the hoops took on the form of a fan spreading out from either side of the wearer. The fan-shaped hoops gradually became flatter and more horizontal in emphasis, resulting in oblong hoops. This style grew to its largest proportions during the 1740s and 1750s, with incredibly cumbersome dresses being worn to formal occasions (C.I.65.13.1a-c). There was much social commentary on the absurdity of this fashion and many caricaturists poked fun at the women who wore them. In 1741, a contributer to the London Magazine noted, "I have been in a moderate large Room, where there have been but two Ladies, who had not enough space to move without lifting up their Petticoats higher than their Grandmother's would have thought decent."
Hoops were an expensive item to buy and the Old Bailey criminal records in London record that in April 1747, Mary Capell and Elizabeth Goff were indicted for stealing one "Whalebone Hoop-petticoat, value 5 s. the Property of Frances Capell," and another "Cane Hoop petticoat, the Property of Elizabeth Wood."
Another, more practical style of hoops consisted of two separate baglike structures attached to a waistband and tied about the waist like a set of panniers. In England, these were referred to as "false hips"; in France, they were known as "paniers." These panniers had a slit opening in the top, as did the petticoat and dress worn over them, which enabled the wearer to use her panniers as a form of pocket in which to keep small personal belongings. The fashion for hoops had died out by the 1780s, replaced with a rump or bustle. However, in England they were still required to be worn at court by order of Queen Charlotte. This rule persisted into the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the hoops creating a bizarre silhouette when worn with the extremely high waistline of fashionable dresses of the period.