This is a carte de visite (CDV) of the Empress Eugénie and an excellent image of a crinoline dress.
The following is from Maurice Fleuty, Memoirs of the Empress Eugenie, 381 – 386 (1920): "When one speaks of fashion, it is difficult to refrain from criticism and a smile. The elegant women of today, with their dresses which are more or less tight-fitting – little by little we are returning to more ample and becoming shapes – cannot understand how any one could have worn those wire cages called crinolines, which held up a whole shopful of material! Three ladies so attired used to fill up the space of a moderate-sized room! What quantities of material were there and what a variety, -- cunningly arranged draperies, fringes, ruchings, pleats, real or imitation laces, the whole ending in a long train which it was no easy task to pull about with one.
There was a mixture of all styles during the Second Empire. You saw Renaissance sleeves, Louis XVI panniers, Grecian draperies, and those little basques formerly worn by ladies at the time of the Fronde. It must be admitted that this was not an easy task, with such cumbersome and varied elements, to offer an elegant deportment and to make a charming appearance. Success depended on gracefulness of gesture, on carriage, on a sliding motion in one’s step, and a supple bust. In the evening, when shoulders were bared, and the easy movements of the body were possible, the silhouette was more attractive; and had it not been for the panniers and the crinolines, the dresses of that day would not have been ugly for dinner and after-dinner wear.
During the Second Empire, it was quite a feat to walk when you were forced to carry about with you such an unnatural rotundity as the crinoline. When you sat down, you had to guard against the flying up or out of the rebellious wires. To get into a carriage without making a mess of it required not a little skill, especially as many dresses were made of very light materials, such as tulle, gauze, and lace. Husbands and fathers needed to be blessed with a large stock of patience and restive horses had to be well trained, for considerable time and much fine calculation were necessary on these trying occasions. It was almost impossible to shake hands with a child and very difficult to take a gentleman’s arm. In fact from this moment comes the custom which prevails to-day of not offering the arm in the drawing room and particularly on the street."From Paul Frecker; sepia tone removed by gogm.