What Exactly Is A Historical Bustle?

A bustle is a historical garment that was worn underneath your skirts to create a ‘humped’ effect at the back. This enhanced the hips and overall silhouette, which was sought after in the late 19th century. 

What Exactly Is A Historical Bustle?

Today, we’ll be diving into the history behind the bustle and the different ways they were worn, depending on the desired effect and style of the time. 

What Is A Bustle?

The bustle appeared in the United States in late 1881. In the spring of 1882, it became fashionable among women of the upper classes and reached its height around 1886. The term “bustle,” meaning “a hurried walk”, originated during this period.

In the early 1880s, the bustle consisted of a tight skirt worn over a petticoat and covered by a long coat. This style was popularized by actress Fanny Davenport and her husband, actor Willet MacDowell. 

By 1888, the bustle had evolved into a full dress consisting of a short jacket, a high waistline, a low neckline, and a wide skirt. At this time, the bustle was still called a crinoline, although many people now referred to it simply as a “bustle.”

As the bustle gained popularity, some women began wearing the garment without underwear underneath, thus creating what came to be known as the “late bustle”.

What Is the History Of The Bustle In Fashion?

The bustle is one of the most recognizable elements of 19th-century clothing. Its earliest known use dates to 1860 in France, where it became popular among women of the upper classes.

By the mid-1880s, it had spread throughout Western Europe and North America, becoming a symbol of femininity and elegance. The bustle was used in many different styles of dress, including corsetry, petticoats, and hoop skirts.

In the United States, the “bustle” was a highly fashionable style of dress for women in the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

The popularity of the style resulted in a number of patents being filed, and several manufacturers began producing bustles. 

The transition from voluminous skirts of the early 19th century to the simpler structures of the turn of the 20th century was aided using bustles. These hump-shaped skirts sat just below the waist to enhance the back of the skirt, which changed the silhouette entirely. 

Why Is The Bustle Significant In Fashion?

The bustle was invented in France in the early 1880s and became popular among women of European descent during the latter half of the 19th century.

A bustle was a petticoat attached to the skirt of a dress, usually under the bottom edge of the skirt, to create a wired cage shelf of sorts.

In the mid-19th century, the bustle was used as a way to give the appearance of a larger waistline, especially for young girls. This was achieved by creating fullness at the front of the skirt, giving it the appearance of being fuller around the hips. 

The fullness of some sort was always considered necessary to make the bustle look good. Some women wore a bustle without any additional fullness, while others chose to add a padded bustle. 

By the end of the 19th century, the bustles were no longer necessarily required to achieve a slimming effect.

However, the bustle remained fashionable throughout the beginning years of the 20th century, although styles changed frequently. 

What Are The Different Styles Of Bustles?

What Are The Different Styles Of Bustles?

The American bustle is one of the most popular bustles out there. There are several ways you can wear it, like adding it to a long dress or adding it to your wedding dress to create volume and movement.

Victorian Bustle

The Victorian bustle is one of our favorite styles because it creates such a beautiful shape. The Victorian bustle is traditionally created with ribbons at the bustle points to hide the attachment and give it a more natural look.

However, this elegant and vintage-inspired design can be created without ribbons when creating a custom bustle.

This intricate bustle is created by gathering the train and adding multiple bustles points down either side of the skirt where the train attaches.

These bustles are attached to the bodice of the dress, making it appear as though there are many layers of fabric. To complete the look, the train is gathered and attached to the bottom of the dress.

Ballroom Bustle

The ballroom bustle / train-flip bustle is a style that is created by folding up extra pieces of material underneath the skirt and sewing them into place around the waist.

It creates a beautiful, low-key illusion that your dress wasn’t ever meant to be worn to a formal occasion — it was always meant to be a floor-length gown.

This particular bustle is designed to work best with a very basic dress, but it works equally well on dresses with more elaborate hems. 

We’ve seen it paired with strapless styles, off-the-shoulder designs, and even a few bridesmaid dresses (Also check out Vintage Bridesmaid Dresses).

If you don’t love the idea of a traditional bustle — or if you’re looking for something a little different — try out the ballroom bustle /train-flip bustle instead. It gives your dress a totally casual vibe while still keeping everything neat and tidy.

French (Under) Bustle

The French bustle utilizes a folding technique with hidden fasteners underneath the skirt. The extra train fabric is tucked under the skirt to shorten the overall length while creating a beautiful billow in the back of the dress. 

This bustle style is best suited for mermaids, sheaths, and A-lines.

Final Thoughts

There’s no right or wrong way to create a bustle. You can choose to go all out and create an extravagant bustle or keep things simple and classic.

Today, many wedding dressmakers opt for using traditional styled bustles and skirts to create their garments, and this is where you can be playful with how you design a wedding dress.

The bustle can be added as a feature without it being a necessary requirement of today’s time period, compared to when they were first introduced. 

Willa Price
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