The History of the Bustle Skirt
The bustle skirt is a contemporary adaptation of a historical foundation garment
that once was as common as stockings and knickers. To appreciate this little modern wonder, we have to go back to the 19th century to see how women dressed during that quite conservative era. Women wore dresses both for formal occasions and the everyday, and even though just about every part of the body was covered up, sexuality was just as important then as it is today. The shape and curves of the female form were on full (although covered up) display thanks to two foundation garments, the corset and the bustle. As we have discussed before, the corset
was very good at emphasizing a narrow waist and pushed up bustline. The remaining part of the hourglass equation was the derrier, and that is just what the bustle was designed for.
During the first half of the 19th century, women wore crinolines
to shape their dresses and the silouette below the waist. The ideal shape was an exagerrated bell that hung right over the hips. But during the later part of the 19th century, women's dress styles began to lose much of the volume and flatten out in front and along the sides. The overall sillouette remained an hourglass but demanded a counterbalance to the shape of the corset that was still a staple foundation garment. Thus the bustle was invented. A bustle is simply a protruding piece of fabric or wire cage device which rides just below the waist in the rear to gently and smoothly lift the back of a dress and create an exaggerated bump along the derrier before the fabric flows towards the floor. The bustle remained a staple of a woman's wardrobe from about 1870 into the very beginning of the 20th century. By 1905, it was all but gone, replaced by more modern long line corsets and a sleek silouette.
So what is a bustle skirt? Well the bustle is very distinct and remains an iconic part of the late Victorian era. Retro performers such as burlesque dancers and period actresses often wear much of this style of clothing because it is so distinct and, well beautiful. A bustle skirt is a contemporary and very convenient take on the bustle because it at once invokes the style and appeal of the Victorian bustle, and is also quite convenient to put on and remove.
Bustles and bustle skirts are becoming popular again, although we don't think every girl will be adding one to her wardrobe! There is a popular resurgence though of incorporating bustles into wedding dresses where a higher level of opulence and formality is still considered normal and is often expected. And in line with the real surge of interest in burlesque performance, bustle skirts are a real hit with many of the ladies. This simple garment is both eye-catching and at the same time, easy to manipulate, making it an ideal addition to any burlesque outfit.
As we have written
about before, the Victorian era was such an interesting historical time with many fascinating contradictions. Sexuality was both repressed and expressed through culture and clothing just like any other time, and it was the interplay that gives us many of the lush lingerie fashions that we see today. The bustle era lasted for about 40 years and then abruptly ended as a new century just got started, but we're lucky to have this fun and flirty foundation garment working its way back into the boudoir and onto the burlesque stage.