Saturday, 17 October 2015


The panniers started out simply as a petticoat made from stiffened fabrics; in this way the main function was to give shape but it was as of yet not an individual article of clothing. It should be said that the idea of the pannier was nothing new. The farthingale of the 16th century and eventually the crinoline dresses of the 19th century both represents a different variant of a pannier.

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.

Around the middle of the eighteenth century the panniers reached their maximum width (between 150-2 metre or 5-7 feet) and became flatter too. The width eventually made certain social functions almost impossible. Two ladies could not walk through a door at the same time and would often be obliged to walk sideways through a door; neither could they sit on the same couch since these were often of limited size.
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.

The 1760's saw a the emergence of a new kind of pannier. Two iron hinges on either side of the waist meant that the hoops could be raised and lowered. Suddenly, ladies found themselves capable of manoeuvring through narrower spaces. Either way the widest panniers were only required on formal court occasions while much smaller ones were accepted for morning use.

"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.

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