I’m working my way through Karen Bowman’s Corsets and Codpieces (2015) from Pen and Sword Books.
Be aware that if you’re looking for an academic text on the subject, this is probably not the book for you. It’s got great information, but no citations for any of it.
If fashion has taught us anything, it’s that any device which makes your skirt poof out is going to be dangerous as shit and give plenty of women cause for embarrassment. As long as you stand perfectly still, away from any furniture, fire, or other people, you’ll look fantastic. Let’s start with eighteenth-century hoops and panniers:
According to the Derby Mercury on Friday, 7 December 1748, “Last night the ball at St. James was very brilliant, their royal highnesses the prince and princess of Wales opened it, and afterward Prince George and Princess Augusta danced. An accident happened at the ball which put two ladies into a great confusion; one of them going to take her seat by the other, in taking up the side of her hoop happened, by accident to fling it over her head, which caught hold of a spring of diamonds and could not be disentangled for some time which however ended with no other bad consequences than much disordering the ladies [sic] head and occasioning some mirth to the noble audience” (67).
Hoops and panniers gave way to a different shape at the end of the eighteenth century, a shape that is probably more famous in its later reincarnation as the Victorian bustle. Instead of women being wide from side to side, they’d be long from front to back. This early version was rather hilariously called a “cork rump”. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A big lump of cork, in the shape of a butt, that was tied around a woman’s waist, filling out the back of her dress, like so:
However, some people were just as baffled by the cork rump as they were by panniers. In an issue of the Weekly Miscellany from December 1776, one contributor writes, “A most ingenious author has made it a question, whether a man marrying a woman may not lawfully sue for divorce on the grounds that she is not the same person? What with the enormous false head-dress – painting – and this new-fangled cork substitute – it would be almost impossible for a man to know his bride on the morning of his nuptials” (69).
One hysterical story reads thus:
“During a riot which broke out during an election at Westminster in 1784 the Guards were called and the crowd fired upon. Two ladies lost portions of their wigs, several were ‘deprived of their eye-brows’and one woman had her cork rump shot off” (69).