The smallness of a woman's waist became a very important fashion element by midcentury. To accentuate the smallness of the waist, the skirts of gowns were stiffened and padded to increase their size. Panniers were metal and wooden supports used to hold the skirt out away from the legs; they looked like baskets fastened around a woman's waist. Panniers expanded skirts to widths as large as five feet, so large that two women could not walk through a doorway at the same time or sit on a couch together. Women's large skirts during the mid-1700s influenced the widening of furniture at the time. Just when panniers had spread skirts to enormous and cumbersome proportions, fashion trends shifted to prefer slimmer silhouettes and panniers dropped out of fashion. However, skirts would later be billowed out and supported by crinolines in the following century, just as they had been supported by farthingales in the sixteenth century.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Contini, Mila. Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Edited by James Laver. New York: Odyssey Press, 1965.