Bustles Fashion History
The Victorian bustle, sometimes known as the Grecian bend was first in fashion between 1870 and
next in fashion between 1883 to I891-2.
People often find it difficult to distinguish between the two quite
different effects the Victorian bustles produced. If you look carefully you
can see quite clear differences of style in the dress silhouettes. This is
almost always verified by checking the hairstyle which also shows specific differences
between the eras. The first bustle silhouette existed between 1870 and 1875
and the second bustle silhouette was worn between 1883 and 1890, but had been
introduced in Paris in 1880, so appeared in
French fashion plates a little
earlier than actually worn.
1872, 1875 and 1876
1884, 1886 and 1889.
When the crinoline of the late 1860s had reached its maximum extreme width
it began to subside. As had happened 100 year earlier, the surplus fabric was
draped and the dress was pulled into shape by tapes and buttons sewn to the
skirt. The tapes were tied or buttoned up underneath to foreshorten and bunch
up the fabric drawing it to the garment back.
To support the drapery a small crinoline was provided with an additional
steel frame which was attached to the back at the waist. Otherwise a separate bustle
or tournure made from several layers of flounced horsehair was worn
over the crinoline. By the 1870s the crinoline was discarded in favour of the
Now look carefully at the 1870s picture again and notice that there is
fullness at the front of the dress with this style of bustle. So around 1870
the bustle shows festooning drapery almost completely down the front or
with an apron effect as shown in the 1870 header illustration.
Also the hairstyle is very important.
Note the fullness of ringlets and plaits.
Then compare this to hairstyles of 1885 which are very neatly styled,
packed more tightly curled, frizzy fringed and closer to the head. In the
earlier Victorian period of around 1870 there is lots of fallen, almost
glamorous draped hair which would not look amiss with an 1860's
À. Challamel wrote in 1871 'False hair was worn more generally than ever'.
Interesting statistics of the era show that 51,816kgs of false hair were sold
in France in 1871 and 102,900kgs in 1873. Yet by 1876 false hair was denounced
as passé by The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine.
By 1874 the fullness was waning and complex tape arrangements were being
used inside the dress back to draw in the silhouette shape and produce a more
The fashion line became slender round the hips and the drapery became
important. There was no bustle worn, but a trained
petticoat as shown in crinolines
was used to
support the narrow fanned train. Because the dress was so narrow foot movement
was limited to 6 inches. The fullness of the draped fan train was emphasized
by deeply trimmed pleated frills of box or knife pleat ruching.
The bodice fitted closely and there were two main fashion cuts. One was
called a cuirasse and the other a princess body which is often used today. The
slim style emphasized by lots of tiny buttons at the centre front needed
skilful cutting and making up. Poor workmanship was often camouflaged by
swathed fabric. But nothing could disguise the fact that the style needed a
proportionate slender body to be shown at its best and so the fashion was
quite short lived. It was at this time that the Tea Gown, a loose and flowing
robe became popular and was probably sweet relief from the restrictions of the
The slim dresses that lasted until 1883 were swiftly replaced with a
totally new style in 1883 when in the UK the bustle reappeared. It had been
introduced in Paris 3 years earlier, but had failed to take off. This was a
new bustle in a much more exaggerated shape. The bustle consisted of a straw
filled cushion sewn into the skirt with a series of steel half hoops inserted
in the skirt lining down to the ground. This had the effect of throwing the
skirt out almost horizontally from waist level behind. Women appeared to have
the hind legs of a horse.
Mesh Bustles Circa 1883
Other Victorian bustles included the Langtry bustle and the braided wire health
bustles shown right.
There was much less drapery with this second form of late
Victorian bustle silhouette.
What there was, soon disappeared from the skirt.
Drapery moved to the sides or
to the front panel of the skirt, but ball dresses remained more draped.
recognise this later bustle silhouette look for a smoother more shelf like outline worn
with a very tailored or quite structured square shouldered bodice. Do remember
to check the hair for that tighter less free frizzed look shown above. It appears
more to belong to the 1890s than the mid Victorian eras. Despite the gown
drapery, the lady in pink is post 1880 as the tighter neater hairstyle
owes nothing to Victorian ringlet styles.
One other factor that emphasises the second bustle is the use of fabrics
such as velveteen, plushette, and sateen. Because of the economic depression
between 1880-1890 cheaper materials were frequently used. The wealthy still
dressed well, but using a different, wider range of materials often gave an
effect like steel armour.
The bustle simply diminished in size and by 1893 was just a pad. But the
silhouette had taken on an hour glass form that developed into the S-Bend
shape corset, the hallmark of early Edwardian fashions and discussed fully on
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between Paniers, crinolines, bustles, bras and corsets and the affect this
has on the outer silhouette of female costume
My How to Recognise Undergarments in Fashion History e-book has 12 chapters about the changes in under foundations in costume history found in
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articles on early corsetry, C18th Paniers and the sack dress, stays to corsets,
crinoline styles from 1830s to 1860s, bustle styles of 1870s & 1883/5,
Edwardian corsetry, bras and girdles
before and after 1950, and a new chapter on drawers, pantaloons, knickers to
panties. A look at Rational Dress Reform, the contribution of Mrs. Bloomer and Dr. Jaeger
to the resultant
cycling and swimming dress.
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