I think a lot of costumers, especially newbies and those that haven’t sewn from the Romantic Era, start out by thinking the best way to achieve the skirt silhouette is to begin with a hoop skirt. That couldn’t be farther from the authentic truth as the metal cage crinoline/hoopskirt we know of wasn’t invented until 1856. (That’s the first patent year.)
The absolute finest way to accomplish the silhouette of the 1830s and 40s is do what they did – multiple petticoats. But not just layers and layers of plain ones (although they were there too). No, what you need is a petticoat with cords running through it.
Corded petticoats are the structured undergarment of this in-between period from after the Regency through Early Victorian (up to the American Civil War, 1860s). The stiffening of cotton muslin or linen with horsehair (crinoline) and cording helped to hold the petticoat away from the legs for easier movement. Of course, many more layers of petticoats were worn over the corded one to create the fashion of the day.
Let’s take a quick look at just how supportive and fashionable a corded petticoat can be when worn underneath a plain muslin petticoat.
Below is a straight panel cotton petticoat worn over chemise and corset with no corded petticoat. Notice the drape of the single layer of muslin against the legs.
This is an organdy corded petticoat with an 86” hem width. This corded petticoat is not starched. It gets its flare from the stiff organdy fabric and the heavy cording set into sections.
Ta-da! The plain petticoat worn over the corded one. Look at that hem flare!
You can see the width of the over-petticoat is slightly flared at the hem and lies more evenly around over the corded petticoat. Also notice that by not sewing the cords in closer to the waist that only the skirt hem is flared and the silhouette becomes more bell-shaped rather than domed.
Here’s another example.
This is a cotton muslin corded petticoat with an 82” hem width. Notice that the cording goes a lot higher up towards the waist on this one. This corded petticoat is also not starched. It is standing out only by the heavy cotton rope used as cording.
Now take a look at the same plain petticoat worn over this particular corded petticoat. You can see the over-petticoat lies smoothly around the corded one.
Amazing, huh? What is clearly seen is the effect of the cording being sewn as close to the waistband as possible. This gives a nice 1840s dome shape to the over-petticoat. Add a ton (like 3-5) more petticoats and you’ll get an early 1850s look.
Remember the following tips when you are researching, sewing and wearing your own corded petticoat.
-Corded petticoats DO NOT give you the same silhouette as a hoop skirt
-CPs will not be as strong as a metal-boned hoop skirt
-CPs naturally wave in and out as they circle your body (This is smoothed out with over petticoats and is VERY period accurate.)
-CPs are soft undergarments that sway and fold easily
-The more cords in a CP, the more supportive a garment
-The higher the cording in a CP, the more dome shape you’ll get (perfect for 1830s and 1850s)
-You can starch CPs for added body and support but they will still not be as supportive as a hoopskirt
Have you noticed the difference a corded petticoat makes under your Romantic Era/Early Victorian costumes? What do you like about the look they give to your overall silhouette? Please leave a comment below for discussion.