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Panniers, hooped petticoats fashionable in Europe for much of the eighteenth century, provided support for the era’s voluminous gowns. They also tested a woman’s “natural” grace. The ability to carry oneself elegantly and with the impression of ease despite such cumbersome undergarments was a learned skill and a marker of high social status. This pannier, a rare surviving example, has been fitted with hinges that allow the hoops to be lifted, facilitating movement in tight spaces. From their introduction, panniers were a subject of ridicule. They were attacked, mainly by men, on a number of grounds: as unnatural in their distortion of the figure; as socially destabilizing when adopted by bourgeois women; and as an invitation for women to behave promiscuously, since their volume could obscure pregnancy. The charges had little effect on the pannier’s popularity.

Panniers, silk, cane, metal, French

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