A verdict of “Accidental death by fire, caused by a crinoline” was drafted by an English deputy-coroner after the Margaret Davey’s death. The lawman wanted to specify he was “surprised that mortality caused by that fashion trend was not reported with greater strength to the General Chancellor”.
Unlike other items of clothing, Crinoline was worn by all women of all social classes in the Victorian era. In an Etiquette Manual from 1875, an author criticised London maids because of their habit of wearing bulky ‘wheels’ in the workplace.
His observation wasn’t taking into account the discomfort of the accessory, but rather the inconvenient consequences of its use: when maids were kneeling during their cleaning duties, the crinoline would push their gowns up, revealing parts of their lower body which instilled in men impure thoughts.
Anyhow, many maids refused the ban to wear the crinoline while working, seen as a gigantic limitation of their personal freedom.
Apart from its extensive use in the workplace, the crinoline, a rigid fabric gown padded with horsehair, was criticised because of an even more concerning issue:
its high flammability
It’s estimated that, between the ’60s of the 19th Century to 10 years later, three thousand women died, only in Great Britain, killed by fire triggered by crinolines.
In 1863, 14 years old Margaret Davey and 16 years old Emma Musson died while doing their kitchen duties when their crinolines went on fire. Not only maids would have this kind of accidents; in 1871 evening dresses of the sisters Emily and Mary Wilde caught on fire, and made them die due to the burnts. An even more tragic episode was the toll of the accident happened in 1863 in Santiago de Chile. A severe fire, amplified by the large presence of crinolines, killed from one to three thousand people.
This accessory, worn by women of all the Western world, was the cause of loads of deaths. The Bulgarian journalist Slaveykov declared that, between the 1850 and 1864, around 39.927 women died all over the world as a consequence of fires linked to crinolines. Low flammable materials were already available back then, but they never caught on because considered not elegant.
Besides fire, the crinoline could also guide their wearers to other kinds of accidents: getting trapped through their legs, between the carriage wheels, or causing embarrassment if a gust of wind would lift the structure up, showing the ladies lingerie. In 1859, during a Treasure Hunt, the Duchess of Manchester found herself with the crinoline (and her many under skirts) all the way up to her head, showing her bold scarlet red underwear.
Far more serious was instead the fate of Ann Rollinson, a labourer working in a factory. In 1864, a rotating mechanism took the girl’s crinoline between its gears and wounded her to death.
Like any other fashion, the crinoline trend went out of style too, perhaps more for its dimensions than for the risks implied. The accessory started to be frowned upon by men who felt belittled near those women wearing them as ‘they took up space as much as five people’.