The use of panniers began in Spain; the paintings of Velazquez show some fine examples of early panniers. The actual pannier appeared around the early 1710's in France. At this point in time the pannier was made of either metal or cane - later whalebone - and was attached to the chest by tapes around the waist; in this way the pannier would essentially be hanging from the wearer's body. This meant that the shape would often be rather bell-like.
There was another unfortunate aspect about the widest panniers. Since panniers in general only reached to about the knee (as did the chemise) there was a genuine risk of revealing a flash of the calf!
Panniers could also consist of two bags hanging from either side of the wearer; these, too, were suspended from the waist. Occasionally, a pannier would be sewn into the petticoat itself rather than being an individual piece.
|"False Hips" - an English satire on the panniers|
A key aspect of the pannier was to highlight the tiny waist-line which was also in fashion. Combined with the effect of the corset the width of the panniers meant that the waist seemed ever smaller.
It might seem odd that such a troublesome article of clothing could have any practicality to it but nonetheless there was some. At the very top there was a discreet slit (also in the petticoat and dress) which meant that the wearer could use it as a pocket!
In France the fashion died out around the 1780's when the chemise à la Reine became all the rage. From then on the stiff panniers were only used for formal occasions.