False Hips and What Not | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: False Hips and What Not

November 04, 2009

False Hips and What Not

Let's discuss panniers, aka false hips! In the first part of the century women were still wearing their panniers in a pyramidal or cone shaped fashion. The cone morphed into a bigger, full dome shape, and in 1711, as one male observer noted in The Spectator, "The hooped petticoat is made to keep us at a distance."

This style soon changed into a more defined cascade, where the hooped petticoat extended from the hips allowing fabric to fall down at the sides. The front and back became flat, rather than a general dome shape. The silhouette was dramatic and the waist looked tiny. In 1739 you could find panniers reaching 2 3/4 yards in circumference (over 7 ft around!)

Passing through a doorway was not an easy task when donning an enormous hooped petticoat. Ladies would sometimes do an elegant turn to the left or right to glide through gracefully. Another option was to press down on the hoop and make it collapse enough to get through. But double doors were a welcomed architectural feature, making passing through easy and proper.

Another feature that was sometimes used to make life a bit easier for ladies of fashion, were curved banisters along walk and stairways. The slight C curve of spindles allowed ladies to reach the railing better, allowing more room for billowy skirts!


  1. So is that form following function or form (and function) following fashion?

  2. And to think women spend all of their time now trying to make hips look tiny! How fashions change!

  3. This outfit would make my waist look as tiny as Scarlet Ohara's

  4. then we must get you some panniers! Imagine! a 17 inch waist!

  5. I have a quasi-authentic Marie Antoinette costume (my panniers are a softer, more modern contraption) that I use for book promotion. Three lessons I've learned:
    1. Even turning sideways, it's difficult to get through doors.
    2. The dress is HEAVY. Your back aches after a short while in it. How these aristocratic women wore these dresses AND 20 pounds of crazy hair is beyond me.
    3. There is a very practical reason why a lady needed a lady's maid. It is completely impossible to dress yourself.
    That said, it's still fun to dress up as Marie Antoinette!

  6. I never thought of the reason (or bonus) for the curved bannisters! Makes so much sense when you think about it. I always wondered how they sat in the huge panniers. I know they collapsed, but I'm thinking of all the comical drawings of later years (like our Civil War) where the giant hoops would fly up as the lady sat down, exposing pantalettes and whatever.

    I can only assume that the sheer weight of the fabric of the gown and its multitude of trimmings weighed down the panniers enough so that a skirt wouldn't fly up.

    I'm about to find out. I had a Marie Antoinette styel dress made to my measurements last month, complete with panniers and I understand it's on its way to me now. I can't wait to try it on and figure out how to walk in it.

  7. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a hooped skirt in an alcove on the second floor that anyone can try on. It made me feel like I had a tiny waist but a much bigger physical presence. I was also not surprised that women needed help getting dressed!

  8. @Ingrid Mida, Ooh, I have to try that hooped skirt next time I'm there. I've always wanted to see what it was like to wear something like this. I can imagine, like Christine said, that it was incredibly heavy. Women in those days must have been very strong. Alternatively, if you have very good posture, perhaps it all balances well and doesn't need much strength.

  9. Leslie - when you get your costume I think you will find that sitting is much easier than you think it will be. There is just sort of a natural way that you lift the dress in order to sit.

    That said, you're about a mile wide when you sit down on a chair and the people on either side of you end up wearing your dress in their laps!

  10. Hello !
    That's incredible !!!
    But so amazing !
    Mille bises, Béatrice

  11. I love curved banisters and stairs and I bet the dress was heavy!