November 2, 2004–March 13, 2005

High Style and Hoop Skirts

1850s Fashion

The mid-nineteenth century was a fascinating period of industrial expansion, technical innovation, and exuberant fashion. As machines began to replace traditional hand sewing and the first synthetic dye was invented (in 1856), women’s fashions in particular represented a confluence of style and technology with their ever-expanding skirts and elaborate trimmings and accessories. "High Style and Hoop Skirts: 1850s Fashion" draws from the MFA’s rich holdings of mid-nineteenth-century dress to focus on this innovative but often overlooked decade.

The "artificial crinoline," or steel hoop skirt, was introduced in the mid-1850s as a revolutionary way to support the enormous skirts of the time, which were made of yards of specialized fabrics (often woven to shape), and embellished with lace, fringe, and ribbon. The prodigious yardage, lavish trimmings, and ornate accessories of women’s dress functioned as the outward manifestation of mid-nineteenth-century prosperity and ingenuity.

Visit the Loring Gallery to see the elaborate daywear and fanciful evening dress - complemented by hats, gloves, shoes, fans, and jewelry - of the high-style 1850s.