In a previous post, we discussed the influence of the bustle, or more properly the tournure or “dress improver,” in defining 1880s style. Specifically, in contrast to bustles of the early 1870s, those of the 1880s were designed to create a very sharply defined train. Often times, the bustle/train became the center of focus for the dress, dominating the visual effect. One example of this effect can be seen with this dress ensemble from circa 1885 – 1888:
In the above picture, we see an asymmetrical skirt in a solid royal blue silk. The skirt has been drawn up sideways so as to create a flat surface on the right and draping on the left. On the right side there are panels of a floral pattern which matches the fabric used for the lapels and cuffs on the bodice. The bodice has been arranged so as to create a jacket/waistcoat effect with the “waistcoat” fabric being ruched and pleated. In the above picture, we also a see a wide belt also made from the same patterned fabric as the skirt trim panels, cuffs, and lapels that is very suggestive of an obi (the wide belt typically found on a kimono). While the fabric pattern is decidedly Western, the style is definitely influenced by Japonisme and it definitely catches the eye, possibly minimizing the massiveness of the train.
In the above picture, we see the same dress only the wide belt has been replaced by a thin belt of royal blue silk that matches the rest of the dress. With this substitution, the focus is brought back onto the train.
In the above picture, the dress is now worn with a shawl made of the same patterned fabric as the skirt trim panels, cuffs, and lapels. The shawl definitely provides contrast to the solid royal blue of the dress and serves to balance the train somewhat.
However there is one caveat: the staging of the dress for the museum display can make a difference and skew our perceptions- often times one will see a dress in a museum display in which is displayed without the proper bustle and underpinnings thus creating a flat look. On the other hand, it can also be overdone so we have to be careful. In the case of the above dress, in the pictures below, we see that the train and bustle have been toned down; it’s probable that a different bustle was used in these pictures:
In order to counter the possibility of getting a skewed portrayal of the 1880s silhouette, here are some period pictures:
Above, we see the “shelf bustle” in full flower and for this woman, the style works. The train, skirt, and bodice appear to be in relative proportion.
Here is a less effective rendition of this style. The bustle and train appear to be an appendage that’s been tacked on and it lacks unity and the proportions are somewhat off. The woman’s severe look also doesn’t help the look.
Here we see a definite mismatch in proportions between the train, skirt, and bodice. The bodice bottom is too short in relation to the bustle and skirt- it looks oddly truncated.
In this picture, the bustle is more restrained, perhaps because it was taken in 1884 before the second bustle trend has completely taken hold.
Fashion is a constant process of extremes followed by reaction and it was no different with the tournure as we see from the following comments from the February issue of Peterson’s Magazine:
The diminution of tho tournure, the falsely -so- called “dress-improver,” appears to be definitely decided upon. Worth is using all his powerful influence in that direction,
as he dislikes very much the ungraceful stiffness imparted to the upper portion of the toilette by its undue dimensions. The newest articles of this description are composed of ruffles of hair-cloth— the genuine “crinoline”— and the sides are simply laced together underneath, neither steel springs nor whalebone being used in the fabric.
The most stylish toilettes have simply a silk cushion, stuffed with horse-hair, set just at the back of the skirt-band, and three rows of steel springs are set in the lower part of the skirt to hold it out. This is merely a return to the combination which was in vogue before the present— or, rather, the recent—exaggeration of this detail of feminine dress.
Even Worth had enough of the “shelf bustle” and was pushing back and the results were to become strikingly evident as the 1880s gave way to the 1890s. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the world of the “shelf bustle” and stay tuned for more.