One enters this exhibition by brushing through a row of long petticoats. This seems rather odd. All is explained at the start of the fshion exhibition “Crinolines & cie”, at the Brussels Costume and Lace Museum.
The small museum situated near Brussels’ fabulous Grande Place, hosts interesting fashion exhibitions. These not only focus on the past, but usually include a link to present styles, fashion, fashion designers. This exhibition is no exception. It includes at least two creations by contemporary Belgian designer Maxime Laprade, fascinated with crinolines.
The long petticoats one needs to brush through? Before the introduction of the crinoline into 19th century fashion, women had to wear loads and loads of these to ensure their dresses puffed out as fashion dictated.
It is difficult to imagine, but for many women, the crinoline was a liberation. It enabled them to move more freely. Of course, they still wore several layers of underclothes.
The exhibition sprawls over all of the museum’s floors. It does contain examples of male and children’s fashion, but focusses on dresses. It is astonishing how much has been preserved. There are not only dresses, but also accessories ranging from gloves to stockings, shoes, fans, bags, parasols.
Of course, there are several impressive dresses on show. One of the most impressive ones can be found on the top floor. It is lace from top to bottom, but … a recreation. Similar dresses were only made possible by the invention of industrial lace, which put many poor lace makers creating lace by using bobbins and pillows out of business. Such fabulous dresses could also only be afforded by the rich and wealthy.
The exhibition does not solely focus on dresses which needed a supporting crinoline. It also shows how crinolines changed shape. Towards the end of the 19th century, the crinoline was replaced by the bustle or “Parisian bum” as Belgian wags christened these. It is interesting to see that such contraptions were even worn a-symmetrically.
The crinoline may have liberated women from layers of petticoats. It did introduce other problems. As the exhibition shows, sitting down on a chair required some manoeuvring. The bustle made sitting down even more problematic.
The exhibition does not go into hygiene, or the labour involved in creating crinolines and crinoline-dresses, nor the problems of cleaning them. It does have a special corner where children can try out wearing a crinoline and other 19th century costumes. For as the exhibition makes clear: bourgeois and upper-class children had to wear laced boots, corsets and crinolines. What a relief sneakers, jeans, and t-shirts are!
For those who visited the fabulous exhibition on 19th century fashion, from roughly 1800 to Downton Abbey at the Gemeente Museum The Hague, this Brussels exhibition is not as impressive. Those interested in 19th century fashion from 1850 – 1900, can visit this exhibition till the 10th of April 2016.