By the middle of the 19th century skirts had become very full, using up a lot of fabric - the circumference of a skirt could measure up to 10 metres!. They had been growing slowly over the preceding decades and with them grew the petticoats that gave them their shape. By the 1860s the crinoline had been developed. This was a metal cage that was hinged, or held together by tapes so that it had movement. The crinoline held the shape of the dress but was much lighter and cooler than the layers of petticoats that preceded it. In fact, it was the development of the crinoline that allowed dresses to become so extravagant. There are many stories and cartoons from this period that show the dangers of the crinoline. It could blow up into the air in a strong wind, caused difficulties in sitting down, and made stairways difficult to climb.
This dress is a day dress. It has a high collar and is quite restrained in its width, considering the skirts of some dresses. It is in a very bright and vibrant plaid. Strong colours like these were achieved by synthetic dyes. In 1856, an 18 year old chemist, William Henry Perkin, accidentally produced the first ever synthetic dye - known as mauveine. Queen Victoria wore a gown dyed with mauveine at the Great Exhibition in 1862. The new vivid colours appeared quite garish and not everyone approved of them. But under harsh electric lights, the rich, intense colours looked stunning.