"the height of fashion"

Satirical cartoon mocking the crinoline
Public DomainSatirical cartoon mocking the crinoline

The predominant fashion of the 1850s was the crinoline, a skirt of extremely wide diameter, supported either by multiple layers of petticoat or a frame of steel hoops.  It was a target for mockery even as it reached the height of its popularity, as shown by this satirical cartoon from 1857 (click for a larger image).

From the two images below can be seen the contrasting fashions described in this passage as well as the strikingly coloured dyes and colour combinations popular in the period.

1861 Crinolines
Public Domain1861 Crinolines
1869 Fashion Plate
Public Domain1869 Fashion Plate