Scrolling through the hundreds of photos of Bustle Era dresses and patterns makes you wonder – so just what goes under that dress to make that silhouette? How does that skirt get into that shape?
This period is all about the skirt! It is what defines this era and further divides it into three distinct phases.
To ease the confusion, let’s break down the Bustle Era years for tips and patterns to get the shape you want. Remember, it’s about producing an accurate silhouette.
I highly recommend two petticoats for this time period. And it doesn’t matter what year you are representing. Although, sometimes I’ll admit to only wearing one as my fashion skirts give me the support and lift I’m going for in bustle size.
My go-to petticoat is the Truly Victorian TV170. The pattern is flexible enough to take you from 1870 to 1881 to 1886, and clear into the 1890s. Make up several so you’ll be ready to add suitable foundations when you need them.
Another good option for bustle petticoats is to use your skirt pattern. Make it up with a few slightly larger seam allowances so the entire petticoat is not larger than your skirt. Using the skirt pattern for a petticoat gives a nice top petticoat in the same shape as your skirt so the cut is fully supported.
More petticoat options are discussed below for specific years.
Early Bustle – 1869 to 1873
The first few years of the Bustle period are full of fluffiness – wide hems, ruffles & puffs. We’re coming out of the elliptical hoop skirt shape and are now starting to see the overskirts being pulled to the back.
The hoop became smaller but the hem line was still in that gored shaped, shifted to the back. The front silhouette was a wide A-line emphasizing a visually small waist. A lot of the look was created by puffy overskirts, but you’ll still need some wire support at the hips.
Patterns to Build the 1869-1873 Silhouette
Truly Victorian TV108 Grand Bustle – a good choice if you need hoop wire to support a larger hem. Add a couple gored petticoats and you’ve got a great transitional form from Hoop Era to Bustle Era.
Truly Victorian TV101 Petticoat with Wire Bustle – you’ll need at least one more petticoat over this to support the skirt hem. You can wear it alone, with the ruffled overlay, but if you have a wider skirt hem for this period the skirt might hang flat below the wires, especially if you have lightweight fashion fabric. Decorate the fashion fabric skirt hem with ruffles for a full look for this period.
Truly Victorian TV163 1887 Imperial Tournure – use the regular size shape or your bustle will stick out too much at the top. Save that for the late 1880s.
Laughing Moon #112 – View B – you’ll want to make a pad, too, along with a ruffled petticoat as this hoop only supports at the hem and won’t lift the back of the skirts properly for the full skirt shape of the early years.
Ageless Patterns #1291 – 1873 Crinoline Tournure or #1292 – 1873 Dimity Tournure – drafted from patterns of the era, they give support to the “average” silhouette.
Early Bustle – 1874 to 1876
As we move through the mid-Seventies, the hem width is reduced and the hem wires of any hoop support are removed. The skirt is still full and A-line but more narrow than before. The back remains in full pouf mode with trains becoming popular for both day and evening wear.
Make sure the area behind the knees is supported as the trained skirts are quite heavy in that area while still being supported at the full hip. Lobster style bustles that are not too big or tall are perfect for these mid-decade years.
Patterns to Build the 1874-1876 Silhouette
Truly Victorian TV101 Petticoat with Wire Bustle –you can get away with merely the ruffled overlay and still have good mid-70s silhouette shaping. But a top petticoat is always good.
Truly Victorian TV163 1887 Imperial Tournure – use the regular size.
Laughing Moon #112 – View C – gives you the bustle as well as the train support popular in these years. If the bustle part is too flat for you add a hip pad either under or over it.
Mantua Maker #1870-2 – a small, non-wire bustle to give you just that little bit of lift to your skirts. Excellent for working dresses or lower class impressions that still require a bustle.
Wingeo #320 Petticoat and Tournure (Bustle) – basic shape but the wires down the back will support the full skirt width at the knees. (Edit: Wingeo site is gone so google for vendors.)
Natural Form – 1877 to 1879
By 1877 or so, the fashion leaders kept reducing the skirt width, but the trim emphasizing the skirt was even more fanciful. In this transition period from the Early Bustle to the Natural Form Era a bustle support was still worn but with perhaps fewer petticoats or the wires were replaced with soft stuffing.
Trains were very popular in the late Seventies. A petticoat over your bustle or pad will help support the lower hem.
Patterns to Build the 1877-1879 Silhouette
Mantua Maker #1870-2 – a small, non-wire bustle to give you just that little bit of lift to your skirts. Reduce the layers to a single or double form for the last years of the decade.
Mantua Maker #1880-10: 1887-1882 Princess Petticoat – a great one-piece corset cover petticoat combined. Add ruffles down the back for the fuller look of the late 1870s. Make up the detachable train to support this popular skirt form.
Truly Victorian TV125 1879 Petticoat with Detachable Train – this pattern gives an excellent padding to the back side that will properly hold out your skirts. Make two of these to layer for 1877 & 1878 shaping.
Make up a small oval or moon-shaped hip pad and stuff with modern fiber-fill to help fill out your back side silhouette. Or stack layers of cotton batting into a hip shape and cover with muslin or calico.
Natural Form – 1880 to 1882
Moving through this era, the full wire or horsehair support was no longer needed and was done away with completely. Skirt widths narrowed even more and became tight across the front. The trend for trains was full blown in these years. Both day and evening wear displayed them proudly.
Emphasis was shifted from the back to the sides with draping to highlight the hips and their womanliness.
The back side, although still a full panel of fabric gathered into the waist, it was controlled by tapes and ties to keep the fullness completely to the back. If any sort of support was worn it was only a small pad. For us, a mere petticoat or two shaped the same as the skirt with fullness in the back panel is sufficient.
Patterns to Build the 1880-1882 Silhouette
Truly Victorian TV125 1879 Petticoat with Detachable Train – keep the stuffing in the back to a minimum.
Laughing Moon #102 – make up the support pad (but not stuffed bustle) for light, Natural Form support.
Late Bustle – 1883 to 1887
For some reason, a well-to-do fashion celebrity or other decided a slim line was SO five years ago and brought back the wire support from the back of the closet. By 1883 skirts were jutting straight out from the waist again.
Although, as fashion does, it kept the good parts of the previous mode and kept the slim skirt appearance in front. The Eighties were all about tailored forms and elegance. It was also about the largest protruding back side bustle you could maintain! Look for bustles that keep the skirt front flat and the back close to a 90 degree angle from the waistline.
Patterns to Build the 1883-1887 Silhouette
Truly Victorian TV163 1887 Imperial Tournure – use the regular or the larger imperial size for these bustle years. Both will produce good silhouettes.
Mantua Maker #1880-4 1880s Bustles – very good multi-shape pattern for all the Eighties profiles. Use the longer lobster tails for mid-80s.
Laughing Moon #112 – View D –nice lobster tail shape to support the skirt back.
Laughing Moon #102 – stuffed bustle that will produce a large protruding look. However, be aware that by wearing a stuffed form (even if you cheat and use a pillow) it may be hard to sit down. The back won’t be the issue but rather the bustle and skirts pushing up above the waist when sitting.
Late Bustle – 1888 & 1889
Near the very end of the Bustle years the immense bustle support became simply a few wires or stuffed pads to keep the silhouette… but things were changing again.
By summer or early fall 1889 the bustle disappeared. Gone. It was now onto a simple hip pad to round out the edges while the skirt hem width increased again. Do away with wire bustle frames here and concentrate on padding around the hips.
Patterns to Build the 1888-1889 Silhouette
Laughing Moon #112 – View E – smaller bustle to round out the hips of the later years.
Laughing Moon #102 – Make up the support pad without the stuffed bustle for the perfect light bustle support.
Mantua Maker #1880-4 1880s Bustles – stick with the short wire forms to help round out the back of the hips for the end of this era.
At any time you can add a hip pad to increase the back hip silhouette support. Wear one under your lobster tail or on top of a regular wired bustle. Remember to slip a petticoat on top of any wired form to smooth out the wire lines. You can see more of these recommended bustles made up in my Tail of 3 Bustles post.
Have you used any of these patterns successfully? Do you have a particular way to build the bustle silhouette you want? Share your successes in the comments below. Or sign up for the online Lobster Tail Bustle class to start building your own bustle silhouette.