Natural Form/Mid-Bustle Era Style

The Mid-Bustle or Natural Form Era of the late 1870s/early 1880s was characterized by a drastic reduction in train sizes, shifting away from the extreme bustling, and an emphasis on a more upright cylindrical style. However, within this general trend, there existed a wide variety of styles that all worked to show off this new silhouette to its best advantage. Below is just one style that was out there during the Mid-Bustle Era, in this case a circa 1878-1880 afternoon dress:

Merlot-Larcheveque, Afternoon Dress, c. 1878-1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.50.39)

From the pictures, it appears that the dress was constructed of burgundy red silk taffeta for the skirt front and inner bodice combined with a floral patterned striped silk brocade in a combination of black, brown, burgundy, and gold colors. The striped fabric has been arranged so as to create the illusion of a robe that leads down to a demi-train.  The pseudo-robe effect is further enhanced by the princess line and there’s no separate bodice and skirt combination (at least as far as we can tell, anyway).

In this picture, we get a better view of the upper part of the dress and we can see that the dress is one piece although the “bodice” opens up. Ivory lace is used on the cuffs and around the neckline, serving to outline the wearer’s face and hands. Below is a close-up of the striped fashion fabric:

And below is a good illustration of the dress silhouette:

While there’s a bit of a rear bustle projection, it’s relatively restrained and more about supporting the demi-train. Note that the dress train extends from the bottom rather from the waist as was the case with earlier 1870s styles. Here’s another view of the train:

The fact that this dress has a demi-train suggests that it was meant for more formal daytime occasions (hence the designation “afternoon dress”). Below is a full-on view of rear of the dress:

The dress label- Merlot-Larcheveque, 25 Boulevard des Capucines, 25, En face le Grand Hotel. Unfortunately, we were unable to find out more about the maker.

The above picture is a black and white view of the dress that was taken back in the 1950s and while it doesn’t capture the dress colors, it does highlight the pattern of the outer fashion fabric very nicely. Overall, this dress is an excellent illustration of one type of  Mid-Bustle Era style which involved creating the illusion of an underskirt covered by an outer robe.  Stay tuned for more!


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  1. Pingback: More Mid-Bustle Style | Lily Absinthe

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