Styles are defined by their silhouette and nowhere is this more evident in the styles of the 1870s and 1880s which were built upon skirts being draped towards the rear and supported by a supporting structure known as the bustle (also known as the tournure). As described previous in this previous posts and others, the size and positioning of the train might have varied but the overall effect was still the same. So how was this achieved? Simply, draping fabric and fastening to the rear only works with the lightest of fabrics, in almost all cases support is required and that’s where the bustle came into play. Bustles varied in styles and shapes and were made from various materials, ranging from ones constructed of elaborate steel cage structures to ones that were little more than a pillow.
Below is a selection of some of the bustle styles that were out there during the 1870s and 1880s:
The above examples show two of the more common bustle styles, the “lobster” and the pillow. The “lobster” style gets its name from its resemblance to a lobster shell and was held rigid by steel boning or reeds.
Here’s a semi-rigid example from the 1870s (probably more mid-1870s):
The above style employed a fabric shell, typically made of a tightly woven cotton fabric with steel boning or reeds. This style was also common during the 1880s:
The above example is interesting in that while it’s similar to the 1870s example, it differs at the top where a large pad has also been installed- no doubt to help create the more sharply defined silhouette characteristic of the Late Bustle Era dresses such as this one:
Here’s another typical example from 1885 that employs an open cage-like structure made from flexible steel bones secured by tape strips:
Steel or reed boning where not the only materials in use as demonstrated by this 1873 example utilizing horsehair padding:
The idea of the bustle creating the dress silhouette can especially be seen from this example:
The example below is especially fascinating in that its shape dates it: late 1870s, most likely circa 1878 – 1880 (although the museum has is labeled 1870 – 1888). Note that the silhouette is slender from the waist to mid-way down and then flares out in the demi-train style that was characteristic of the later 1870s such as with these examples:
The above bustle examples are on the complex side and could almost be considered works of art on their own. However, there were more simple designs out there such as various types of pads:
And there were some other interesting designs:
The above examples are only a small sampling of what was available and no matter what style a bustle came in, its primary job was to support the dress and help define its shape. When we reproduce 1870s and 1880s fashions, we are constantly mindful of the supporting structures that are necessary for wearing these fashions in the most optimal way and they are almost as important as the dresses themselves.
Normally, one does not associate the bustle with 1890s style but we recently came across this item from the October 10, 1897 edition of the Los Angeles Herald that claims that the bustle will be making a return:
We have heard rumors of this event for a very long time, but that it would really come, no one had the grace to acknowledge until the present time. l am free to admit, however, that I think the bustle in its present form is bound to be popular, for it is far from being the monstrosity of a few years ago. Neat and graceful, it is just large enough to round up the hips and give a stylish set to the skirt and. prevent its sagging.
The modern idea is to use the bustle in the only sensible way- that is, to suit the individual, and not have one shape and style for everybody. Thus they are being made in great variety, both long and short, and some much fuller than others, and if we will only select one for ourselves which is suited to our particular figure, I think it will really be acceptable. The style most in vogue is moderately long and has hip extensions, which suit the woman who is tall and not too full of outline. But, as I say, there are shapes to suit everybody and no rule can be said to govern this important matter. Each must choose her own style. But a pad of some sort is essential In order to be fashionable.
WHAT? The bustle returning…just what exactly is the author talking about? Well, to begin, it’s definitely not the previous styles, either the 1880s style bustle or its 1870s predecessor, which the author terms “a monstrosity.” What exactly did the author have in mind? Well, probably something more along these lines like this bustle pad:
Going a bit later, we have this example from 1907:
Bustle pads came in an assortment of sizes and types as detailed in this page out of the 1902 edition of the Sears and Roebuck Catalog:
It’s interesting how ideas change- from the cage-like bustles/tornures of the 1870s and 80s to the fairly minimal padded versions of the 1890s and early 1900s. But either way, the goal was achieving a ideal fashion silhouette that could only be accomplished through the use of body modification. While the specific methods have changed, body modification is still sought after today. 🙂