The lovely lady in this photograph from 1887 is wearing a cuirass bodice suit, a shelf bustle and a flower pot hat. Bustles were all the rage back in the Victorian era. They were worn under the skirt in the back, just below the waist.Ostensibly, the purpose of a bustle was to support the drapery of a woman’s dress. I always thought the purpose was to enhance a lady’s backside as a sexual attraction, rather like high heels do today. This quote from Wikipedia seems to confirm that impression: “Although most bustle gowns covered nearly all of a woman, the shape created by the combination of a bustle and corset (accentuating the rump, waist, and bosom) resulted in highly idealized representations of female sexual identity, at once exaggerated and concealed by the structures of adornment (reference under Extras)”
Bustles were popular in the mid to late nineteenth century. They evolved over time. At first, the bustle covered the sides and back and ended at the bottom of the hips. They were composed of a variety of materials including pads, springs, ruffles, wires and curved boning. Later, the fishtail bustle gained popularity. This model was narrow, knee length and adjustable. One description of a fishtail bustle noted twelve steel springs encased in muslin and kept in place by elastic bands. The Bloomingdale’s Catalog from 1886 showed a wide variety of bustles for sale ranging in price from 39 cents to $1.10 for a long fishtail made with steel.The lengths that women will go to be fashionable never fail to amaze me. Imagine trying to sit comfortably when you’re wearing a steel cage down to your knees!