Saturday, March 16, 2013

, , ,

How Wide Should Your 18th Century Panniers Be?

I've set out on the adventure of making a Grand Pannier to wear under voluminous 18th century apparel, and the first question that came to mind is - how wide was the typical pannier?

I thought perhaps they ran the gamut (and they do), but the more I looked at various mid-18th century gowns, the more I noticed the same proportions.

Proportion in historical costume is just as important today as it was then.  Proportioned garments are why that 1760s Robe a la Francaise looks itty-bitty, but actually has a 30 inch waist.  Too wide in the panniers didn't seem to be a problem, but too narrow does not flatter the figure.

So what are these magical proportions?

Thirds and Quarters.

The A, B, and C boxes represent the thirds - the blue box in the center is the width of the waist (your waist measurement divided by two).  The yellow boxes roughly measure the distance from the side seams to where the pannier begins to slope downwards.  Surprise!  The blue and yellow boxes are the same size. The length of each side of the pannier is also half the circumference of your waist.

The 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the bottom are the quarters - these divide the hem of the skirt into four parts.  These parts are roughly equal to the width of your shoulders.

You can use Thirds and Quarters to break down the width of the hoops in your pannier, too.  For instance, my bottom hoop will be 2 thirds added to two quarters, like this:

So with these measurements, I know that my pannier, at the top, will be 39 inches across, and my bottom hoop 54 inches across.  Multiply each of these by two, to account for front and back, and that will help determine the length of your pannier hoops. (You will need to add the depth to this front/back measurement, or else you pannier, when wrangled into hooped position, will "shrink")

Whether you are robust or thin, this proportion should work for you.

If your waist is 36 inches, then your grand pannier should be 54 inches across at the waist.

If your waist is 20 inches, then your grand pannier should be 30 inches across at the waist.

These are not hard and fast rules, just some things to consider when planning your side-hooped ensembles.  Remember, bigger is always fine, but too narrow and you may not be displaying yourself or your gown in the best way.  


  1. Wow, thanks! I think I'm not gonna make one but this is very helpful when drawing 18th century fashion! Yay, thank you:)

  2. As a math enthusiast I have to comment on your calculations. It's not half of your waist measurement but the diameter of your waist measurement (now assuming the waist is roughly a circle...). So each box is waist divided by Pi.
    For a less circular approximation one could and probably should pick something between waist/Pi and waist/2 so the pannier doesn't end up being too narrow.

    1. However you arrive at the same idea...

    2. Too much math! >.<
      I'm in high school..I already have math like this, and I know there's math involved in sewing.. but I don't like it.. and not to seem stupid, what is pi???
      It's bad enough to have math come into my hobbies, but now it's on my favorite blog! I personally can understand Lauren's way of thinking.. but I don't even know what pi is.. OMG I can't stop looking at this! It's making my brain want to explode!

  3. Lauren you have a fantastic eye, this is such a great revelation! To get the apparent width of the waist, a couple of sticks or rulers held against the sides of your waist while someone measured the distance between them would do it, I am sure, and maybe the diff between this and the circumference of the waist could give a tracking proportion for the rest of the depths since they are all ovoid not circular? It could be the Robe a la Francaise Pi! (which as Paula said, is probably somewhere between 2 and Pi) So, each layer as you go down would be its apparent width x RalF Pi. :)
    I wonder if mantua makers knew this or just eyeballed it. It's like the golden proportion in architecture.
    Tell me, do you ever sleep, or do you just lay awake coming up with gorgeous shoes, photo shoots, clothes, costumes, proportional keys, and the myriad other incredible and creative ideas that we are so fortunate to benefit from? :)

    1. I don't know if 18th century makers were using the math calculations, but proportion, most certainly. I wonder if anything was published in surviving manuals...?

      I sleep...sometimes, hehe.

  4. Thank you for making that fantastically easy to visualize and figure out!

  5. How interesting, reminds me of some of the proportion rules in Who Wore What (Civil War focused book).

  6. This would be useful to apply to paintings, too! I always wonder whether museums always display skirts over the exact right measurement hoop...

  7. Thank you! I've always wondered how to know what size to make my pannier....though I suppose to err on the side of too large is better then too small.

    Thank you for all your hard work!

  8. This is most helpful!

    A question about depth: You mention adding 1/2 of your waist measurement to either side to account for the depth. Is this applied at both the hem and the top of the pannier? Or do you add 1/2 of your waist to the bottom and then taper upwards?

    Thank you!