Whilst we are making patterns, cutting out ruffles and dusting off our sewing machines here’s a bit about the silhouette:

Considering the bustle era the silhouette is probably the most striking part of an outfit. Obviously the exaggerated form was not natural, and took a lot of fixing and trixing to get. But since it is so prominent (the period is referred to by the bustle so…) there is no point in making an 1880’s dress without paying some attention to this.

First some background: During the late 1860s the fullness of the skirts started moving to the back of the dress. People started drawing up this fullness in ties for walking and  that created a fashionable puff. This was expanded and had to be built up with supports from a variety of different things such as horsehair, metal hoops and down.  Around mid-1870’s, the style altered and the skirts began to hug the thighs in the front. The the bustle at the back at this time was more of a natural flow from the waist to the train. But near the beginning of the 1880s the trends altered again and it included the full-blown bustle. During this period it reached its maximum potential with some skirts looking like they had a full shelf at the back.  This feminine silhouette continued the 1880’s until the 1890’s when the skirts began to reduce and make way for the S-curve silhouette.

Here are some examples of bustles from the era:

A cage bustle from ca 1885.

This bustle is made like the crinolines before the bustle era; the metal hoops are held together by linen ribbons. This would have been worn over the chemise, corset and drawers and at least one petticoat would be worn over the bustle. This was to prevent the hoops from showing through the dress fabric and also to protect the same from tears and wear.

Cane bustle, 1880’s.

This is another type of bustle, this time there is no metal but instead cane for stability. Versions of this would be small collapsible ones in metal, stuffed “pillows” or something like the one below:

Bustle of metal coils and cotton, ca .

Both of these would of course be worn over the same amount of underwear as the first bustle and also demanded a petticoat over. One of the potential problems with this kind of small bustle is the so-called “bustle collapse”. Now these might create the shelf-like silhouette that was popular, but if the many layers of skirts were heavy the dress might cave in just below the bustle. To prevent this a “lobster tail” could be worn:

“Lobster tail”, ca 1870s.

Ours will be a simplified version of a lobster tail and a petticoat (like the one below) in one. This is because of the practicality of having them all in one layer so as to minimise the bulkiness around the waist, and due to the limited time frame.

Petticoat, 1880’s.

Now imagine the different bustles above with petticoats and then a corset like this:

Corset, mid 1880’s.

It is not so difficult to see how they achieved that exaggerated hour-glass figure, now is it? Just like this enhanced and minimized certain assets, so do we. Just think of all the shaping underwear and tights, the push-up bras and the more permanent solutions…

Now stayed tuned for the making of our bustle petticoats!

The pictures come from the Metropolitan Museum of Arts and the FIDM Museum.