All about the bustle

All about the bustle

A fashion plate from 1885

With Valentine’s Day here, my mind can’t help but drift to the romance of Jane Austen. For those of us who have watched the epic North and South, there is something inherently romantic about the fashion, horseback riding, and the dancing of these days gone by. Probably easy for me to say this as I’ve never been asked to lug all those layers of dress around, ride a horse weighed down by said layers, or remember choreography in a public setting where I’m there under incredible pressure to impress everyone! But regardless this time period can’t help but captivate (just ask one of our experts, Liza). Let’s break the mystique down by examining one of the most iconic vintage fashion accessories: join us as we learn all about the bustle.

What is a bustle?

A bustle is a structural framework that gave a woman’s rear end a noticeable boost (while making sure her skirt didn’t drag on the muddy ground – this is the time of horse droppings on city streets after all!). Let’s consider that concept for a moment in this modern time where athleisure rules supreme on both runways and grocery stores everywhere. Can you imagine today’s woman being okay with having an additive structure under her outfits? It’s like the anti-Spanx! But when you consider that we’re simultaneously a bit obsessed with getting bigger booties, perhaps bustles will make a come back… what do you think?

The history of the bustle

So where did this rear-end rescuer come from? Well the idea for the bustle evolved from the crinoline. A crinoline was basically a structural petticoat, which on its own looked a bit like a bird cage. Over time as fashions changed the popularity of having volume around the entire skirt shifted. By 1870 draping toward the back was on trend.

For those interested in understanding the nuance of the different bustle stylistic developments – check out this great article.

All about the bustle

Dept store catalog – apparently bustlin’ knew no age restriction!

While women fell in love with the silhouette it presented a logistical problem: how to keep your skirt from dragging behind you and getting dirty, being stepped on, or making you look like you are trying to break free from the ground plane. Naturally over time the bustle’s shape and prominence ebbed and flowed. But amazingly this highly complicated little apparatus lasted until the first few years of the 1900s when corset technology and popular fashion deemed it obsolete. That’s basically three decades of defined structure and heavy layers weighing women down (and making the act of getting ready in the morning a group effort!).

The bustle’s role in society

The bustle helped to idolize the female form. Historically women have never caught a break when it came to fitting into society’s narrow view of “pretty.” But in the Victorian and Edwardian era women were very blatant about using some aids like corsets or bustles to get them to this “perfect” shape. No need for plastic surgery to get you that lift on your rear end or your chest – just add some more layers of structure. The use of corsets and bustles combined to create that “s” bend epitomized by the Gibson girl. In a way it makes me think of Jessica Rabbit – that obviously cartoon adaptation of a more subdued natural shape.

Speaking of cartoons, as women became more vocal about their desire for freedom and political equality, cartoons of the day compared the bustle to that of a snail’s shell or additional weight keeping women from reaching their full potential. Do you think that means that today’s fashion trend toward less layers, less structure, and less mystery means the modern woman is less obstructed from reaching her full potential? Some days I think a resounding yes and others a resounding no as studies show we still struggle with much the same worries as our Edwardian counterparts. Now that we’ve learned all about the bustle, do you think fashion can be a catalyst for meaningful change?

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