Utah women were captivated by “hoop mania” back in the 1860s. The fashionable hoop-skirt swept through Mormon society.
The headline on the September 7, 1859 issue of Salt Lake’s Valley Tan newspaper read “Progress of the Hoop Mania.” The article that followed did not discuss basketball hoops or even hula hoops, but rather the hoop-skirt rage sweeping through Mormon society. Hoop-skirts, worn to extend a woman’s dress into a bell shape, were the most iconic style of the Civil War Period.
The American fashion for hoop-skirts started in the early 1850’s on the East Coast, and spread across the country as people moved West. Utah was isolated in the 1850’s and lacked the latest styles in women’s clothing. In fact, Utahns did not have much contact with “outsiders” until the 1858 arrival of Johnston’s Army, the federal troops sent to quell problems with the Mormons. National newspapers that covered the Army’s movement published political cartoons erroneously depicting Mormon women wearing hoop-skirts interacting with the soldiers, no doubt assuming that women in Utah dressed like women back East.
But it’s likely the Army did spread the fashion in Utah by bringing officers’ wives, stylish women who had already adopted hoop-skirts into their wardrobes. The “hoop mania” article in the Valley Tan and the first advertisements for hoop-skirts in the Deseret News appeared the year after the Army’s arrival, which was plenty of time for the fad to spread locally.
Mormon Church leaders reacted against any fashion they saw as “worldly” and distracting for their women members. Hoop-skirts were specifically mentioned by Church President Brigham Young in an 1863 sermon where he urged women to make their own clothing rather than bankrupt their husbands with imported goods. In reality, hoop-skirts took a while to catch on. Travelers to Utah reported only a few women had embraced the fad by 1863. But while the “hoop mania” touted by the Valley Tan may not have been widespread, the ongoing adoption of “worldly” fashions by Mormon women bedeviled Church leaders for many years to come.
Image: Brigham Young's oldest daughters wearing hoop-skirts, circa 1860-1870. Courtesy Utah State Historical Society.
See Harper’s Weekly October 10, 1857, November 28, 1857 and May 22, 1858; Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, December 19, 1857; Nick Nax, June 1858; Radford Account Book, January 1859 to June 1859, Utah State Archives; Valley Tan, September 7, 1859; Deseret News, September 28, 1859, accessed ; Brigham Young, June 7, 1863, Journal of Discourses, 10:204; Woods, Fred E., “Surely This City is Bound to Shine: Description of Salt Lake City by Western-Bound Emigrants 1849-1868,” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 74, no. 4, Fall 2006, p. 347; Defa, Dennis R., “The Utah Letters of Alexander C. Badger, Jr.,” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 1 Winter 1990, p. 75; Michelle Hill, “Hoop Mania: Johnston’s Army, Eastern Fashions, and Mormon Leaders’ Condemnation,” unpublished paper for the Utah State History Conference, Fort Douglas Museum, Salt Lake City, September 10, 2011.