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Baby Got Bustle: Victorian style of the 1880’s

By: Jeanmarie Tucker 

This week, we rehoused a young girl’s blue and white pin-striped two-piece dress which features a puffed back line to insert a bustle. The size of the two-piece dress suggests it was for a young girl who was probably about 10 to 12 years old.

A bustle is a padding or cage secured under the skirt of a dress to emphasize the posterior and create the silhouette associated with the late Victorian era. The bustle appeared at the end of the 1860s when the bell-shaped gowns of the Civil War era evolved to have narrower skirts with greater emphasis on the back of the skirt. The circle of a hoop skirt gradually became an oval with flatter skirt front and a more dramatic back. It is said that designer Charles Frederick Worth created the silhouette for the Empress Eugenie of France who began to favor this new look in the late 1860s.  The shape of the bustle changed over time as silhouettes became more streamlined. The earlier bustles of the 1870’s were full having an elongated form that fell to the floor. By the mid 1870’s the bustle was sewn into the skirts of dresses and the bodices became very tight to create a ‘fish-tail’ silhouette. The bustle became the most popular in the 1880’s when it extended straight out from the back of the gown, creating an exaggerated profile from the side.


The gowns of the late 1880’s featured bustles fitted close to the body to give a more prominent shelf at the back of the skirt and featured structured square shoulders. In the early 1880’s the bustle was flattened out, creating  only slight emphasis to the back. In 1883, fashion saw the complete revival of the bustle. Pleating and folding around the thighs of the dress emphasized the fullness of the bustle. The sides of the dress were pulled up to create an apron drape style common between 1883 and 1887. By the end of the 1880’s the bustle died out giving rise to the princess-line.

Bodices from 1880’s were often elaborately decorated with trim and folds. Many different sleeve styles were worn from loose to tight. A popular style bodice was the basque bodices worn from the 1883-1886. The basque bodice was fitted tight to the waist and flared at the hips. The bodices typically featured very high standing collars. The bodice, in addition to the bustle, help give the desired curvaceous, thin-waisted silhouette so popular in the time period.


Monet, Dolores. “Women’s Fashions of the Victorian Era: From Hoop Skirts to Bustles – 1837 – 1901.” Bellatory. N.p., 27 Dec. 2015. Web. 17 June 2016.

Virag, Melissa. “The Birth and Death of the Victorian Bustle: An Apologia.” Such Eternal Delight. N.p., 10 Oct. 2008. Web. 17 June 2016.

“Women’s Clothing-1880’s.” Vermont Landscape Change Program. The University of Vermont, n.d. Web. 21 June 2016.