If a hoop skirt strikes you as an unlikely agent of feminist change, you'd be in good company. But an exhibit at Paris's Palais Galliera seeks to make just this argument. Despite its obvious restrictions, a crinoline provided a measure of comfort: one was not required to wear heavy undergarments and could move with relative ease.

In addition, the curators claim, the garment was instrumental to "the founding of a commercial fashion industry and the force behind democratic department stores and women's active new lives." While it seems difficult to prove whether the trend's correlation to these movements was influence or merely confluence, it is certainly true that the crinoline presided over an amazing period of women's history - and was a triumph of engineering. [IHT]