Tag Archives: crinoline

Fashion Moments – The Bustle

Fashion Moments by Deborah SweeneyWelcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a piece of female clothing or fashion trend from the age of photography (1840s through the the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived, and that includes the clothing they wore.

The Bustle

During the 1870s and 1880s (and even into the 1890s), women continued to wear long skirts which typically included a bustle. There are three distinct phases in appearance and style of the nineteenth century bustle. Being able to identify the bustle phase of a woman’s skirt is a plus for dating photographs.

Phase One (1867-1872)

The 1850s and 1860s were known as the era of hoop skirts. As the Civil War ended, fashion transitioned away from this style of skirt. The steel cages which had previously supported the various layers of petticoats and skirts were phased out. By the end of the 1860s, instead of wearing a structure that encircled the body (diagram on left), the crinoline or bustle evolved into an rear only structure (diagram on right).


This beautiful silk gown from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a typical example of the transition style. (Link to the circa 1870 dress in LACMA’s collection). The decoration of the skirt is linear around the bottom half of the hem and the skirt’s volume is full and rounded.


Woman’s Promenade Dress, c. 1870 (LACMA collection)

Phase Two (1869-1876)

The second phase of the bustle overlapped with the transitional phase for a few years. This phase of the bustle was characterized by a draped over skirt which gathered to the back. The overall fullness of the skirt began to diminish. The skirt were generally flatter in front with emphasis shifting to the back bustle. As sewing machines in the home began to be more common, decoration and flounces became increasingly excessive.

Interlude (1876-1881)

By the middle of the 1870s, the bustle dropped out of fashion. Bodices became long and narrow, extending over the hips; they were seamed in the princess style and were also known as the cuirasse bodice. Like their namesake the cuirass (a piece of close-fitting defensive armour), these bodices were made to fit as closely as possible. All over decoration and flounces on the back of the skirt were typical during these years.

Phase Three (1881-1889)

The bustle of the 1880s became the fashion nightmare of its day. During the eighties, fashion swung between a desire for simplicity and a tendency towards excess. The bustle of this era looked like a shelf (according to fashion illustrations) built upon the female posterior.

1885 dress

Dress, c.1885, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

By the 1890s, the bustle was on its way out. Some posterior padding continued until 1905, but in general, the bustle was finished. The average female did not engage in excessive bustling. However, the bustle was common enough to be ridiculed and satirized in the newspapers of the day. Most women did have access to fashion magazines such as The Ladies Standard Magazine and a growing number of households acquired sewing machines in the late nineteenth century. Women re-created what they saw in the magazines according to their abilities (and their wallets). Mail order catalogs like Bloomindales sold ready-made clothing. Butterick and McCall sold paper patterns. It would be foolish to assume that our ancestors were out-of-touch with the latest fashions. Whether or not they could afford to replicate them was a different matter entirely.

Some Additional Resources:

English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by C. Willett Cunnington is a great comprehensive guide of the evolution of fashion during the nineteenth century.

Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper’s Bazaar, 1867-1898 edited by Stella Blum

American Victorian Costume in Early Photographs by Priscilla Harris Dalrymple

©2015 written by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/06/12/fashion-moments-the-bustle/