Fashion and comfort have always been two concept that cannot find a middle ground in real life. It seems that elegance, charm and sensuality have always asked in every historical period for a sacrifice in order to highlight the feminine ideals of beauty of the time.
If wearing such fashionable garments had someone paying with their own life, some example of accessories such as the extremely high Chopine give almost the idea that the nowadays 5 inch heels are only running shoes.
Replica of a dress from the 18th century
Above: picture by Shakko via Wikimedia Commons – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Throughout the years the ideal of feminine beauty changed and inevitably with it the fashion. In the 18th century France started spreading the trend of the “pannier”: a frame made out of whale bones which would enlarge drastically the width of women’s hips, keeping front and back of the dress relatively flat.
Above: picture by Jean-Pol NONNA via Wikimedia Commons – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
At the time the women used to wear something pretty similar to the saddlebag placed on top of the horses and donkeys, secured on their waist,under their garment, which were measuring all the way up to 1.5 or 2 m (5 or 6.5 ft).
Above: picture by Marshall Astor – Food Fetishist shared via Wikimedia Commons – licence CC BY-SA 2.0
With time the pannier was sewed directly onto the undergarment which in middle 18th century became as big as 2 m (6.5 ft) and beyond. Pannier as big were generally used for extremely formal events, while in day-to day life the women would opt for some reduced solution.
Court Dress from 1759
Above: picture by Eric de Redelijkheid via Wikimedia Commons – licence CC BY-SA 2.0
The Parisian fashion of the pannier implicated some disadvantages: you could not go through a door if not by going by the side, talk with a friend while sitting on the same couch, and entering a carriage was actually a tricky undertaking.
“Robe a la française” – 1765 circa
Above: public domain
Even though the use of the pannier was coming from France, back then already one of the leaders in terms of fashion trends, the accessory was instead derivation of a Spanish item from the 16th century, called farthingale. This was an rigid understructure circle-like, maybe used for the first time by Queen Joanna la Beltraneja, as a trick to cover the illegal pregnancy.
Picture of young Maria Theresa of Spain by Diego Velasquez – 1652-3
Above: public domain
While in Paris, where the Enlightenment had somewhat changed the social rules, the pannier trend spread (around the disdain of the aristocrat dames) amongst the less fortunate classes, maids and other workers. In England it became a status symbol: the bigger the structure the richer its owner, even just for the massive amount of fabric employed as well as time to realise them.
Marie Antoinette in a court dress – 1779
In France instead, the French Revolution blew away the fashion industry, so the dresses reduced their sizes and it was utilised both for women and men the “English Fashion”
English or French court dress
Above: picture by Ludi Ling via Wikimedia Commons – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Source: Enciclopaedia Britannica