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Steeled for Style: Hoop Skirts of the Civil War Era

May 1, 1999–May 14, 2000

In the middle years of the nineteenth century, the ideal feminine figure was enhanced by wide skirts. To support these, hoop skirts, made of graduated steel rings suspended from cloth tapes, were introduced in 1856. In contrast to the numerous petticoats, hoops were lightweight, comfortable, healthful and economical. Hailed as a blessing, they quickly became indispensable understructures and stand as the defining garment of the era. Hoop skirts evolved from dome-shaped to conical during the 1860s, but remained fashionable until the end of the decade, when they were gradually superseded by the back-emphasizing bustle.

The installation includes a variety of hoop skirts suspended to show their types and constructions, a mannequin in a corset, hoop and other underwear, and two mannequins in the full-skirted dresses of the period. A paper doll and her wardrobe, and reproductions of advertisements, cartoons and other topical materials complement the hoop skirts.

Main Building


H. Kristina Haugland, Assistant Curator of Costume and Textiles

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