The Bustle Dress – A Brief Overview, Part 3

We continue on to the Mid-Bustle or Natural Form Era from 1877 through roughly 1882. Compared to the large, overstuffed and somewhat chaotic-looking bustles of the early 1870s, the Mid-Bustle Era was a direct contrast, acting in reaction to the excesses of the previous period. The most striking characteristic is that the profile had become much more slim with just a vestigial hint of a bustle and a general lengthening of the bodice creating a more slimming, upright appearance. The end result is a sculpted silhouette that in many ways is reminiscent of a Classical Grecian statue (of course, aided by the corset). This fashion plate from November 1877 issue of The Young Ladies Journal illustrates some of the styles during this period:

Now, it must be noted that one of the key dress styles that greatly influenced the move towards the cylindrical silhouette of the Mid-Bustle Era was the advent of the princess line dress.  The primary characteristic of the princess line style was that the bodice and skirt were one unified body which provided a large, continuous space for decoration. With its long horizontal lines and lack of a waist seam, the princess line style was especially suited for the “natural form” aesthetic, especially with its low train and lack of a bustle. Below are some examples from the fashion press:

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, July 1877

Below are a few extant examples starting with this circa 1876 dinner dress:

Dinner Dress c. 1876

Dinner Dress, c. 1876; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1975.227.3)

Here’s a close-up of the bodice:

Dinner Dress c. 1876

Dinner Dress c. 1876

Side Profile

Dinner Dress c. 1876

Rear View

And here’s a view of the upper hem:

Dinner Dress c. 1876

Close-up of hem.

Here we see knife pleating combined with bow attached to what appears to be beaded cables. It’s hard to determine just what exactly the bow are made of. Above the upper hem line, we also catch a glimpse of the silk brocade fashion fabric. Here’s a close-up of the fashion fabric which appears to be a silk brocade composed of a combination of French blue and gold:

Dinner Dress c. 1876

Close-up of fashion fabric.

Overall, it’s an incredible dress with a luminescent color combination and very clean princess lines. Next, for a little contrast, we have this example from circa 1876-1880 (although the original auction site had this labeled at 1874, we believe that date is too early):

Side Profile

Rear View

In terms of silhouette, this example is somewhat less “sculpted” (although this may be due to poor staging) and features a more conventional two-color combination of a dark teal silk velvet combined with a light mint green/celedon silk and incorporating lace trim on the front and lower hem to frame the velvet. The low train is typical of the Mid-Bustle style, characterized by a low demi-train. Below is a close-up of the train:

The train is fairly standard with one row of knife pleating running along the hem accented by a strip of teal piping running along the tip. Below are some views of the skirt:

Finally, here are some views of the bodice:

Although the colors are faded and the velvet has worn down, it’s still an interesting color combination. Based on the use of a two-color scheme for the fabric, we would be inclined to date this a bit towards 1876-1877. Below is another example, this time from circa 1878-80:


Close-Up Of The Front


Rear View

The dress design attempts to create the effect of a contrasting bodice/outer skirt and under skirt; the lines are somewhat reminiscent of an 18th Century coat worn with an outer and under skirt. The dress itself consists of a top and rear train made from a blue silk woven in the Jacquard manner combined with a white ruched silk running along the complete and at the bottom of the train. Running along the hem are rows of white silk knife-pleating and the top is trimmed with white lace around the neck. Finally, there is a minimal trailing “tail” on top of the train. Finally, what is striking is the contrast between the silk floral leaf top and train combined with rows of ruching providing a contrast between smooth and textured fabrics as well as color and fabric.

Finally, here’s another example that employs contrasting colors while keeping the same fabric type:

Princess Line Dress c. 1878

Day Dress, Princess Line, c. 1878; National Museum, Prague (H2-193316)

Czech Dress3

Three-Quarter Side View

Czech Dress4

Three-Quarter Rear View

Style-wise, this dress is simpler than the first example in that there is simply two contrasting colors with little added except for rows of knife-pleating along the hem and some ribbon trim on the front and shoulders and some lace around the neckline.

The “natural form” silhouette was created through shaping and sculpting through the use of foundation garments, principally underpinnings and as such, the design aesthetic of the era sought to create a silhouette that was more “natural” to the wearer’s body (as opposed to the bustle/train). Below are some examples of the sorts of underpinnings that were employed:

Le Moniteur De La Mode 1876

This post has focused primarily on the princess line style but that wasn’t the whole picture. In the next post we’ll explore other aspects of the Mid-Bustle Era so stay tuned…

(To be continued…)


One thought on “The Bustle Dress – A Brief Overview, Part 3

  1. Pingback: The Bustle Dress- A Brief Overview, Part 4 | Lily Absinthe

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