The Bustle period in history tends to blend into fashion eras directly preceding and following it, and is therefore sometimes called a part of the Crinoline era or the early Victorian period. The dates for this time in fashion tends to run from 1865-1890, although most experts agree that there are two very distinct Bustle periods. The first runs around 1873 and the other around 1887. Both of these will be discussed later in the article.
While some previous fashion eras have been brought on simply because everyone was copying a royal (such as Marie Antoinette), this is one of the first eras of fashion change that is brought about solely by economic and social change. The period begins (in American history) right at the end of the Civil War in 1865. Times were harder in both parts of the country and clothing became much more practical and less fanciful than the fashions of less than a decade earlier.
Another very important factor in the change in fashion was the Industrial Revolution. This allowed a change for so many different aspects of fashion, especially its creation. Sewing machines were invented, which caused a drastic change (especially in women's clothing); and there were new modes of transportation which allowed for materials and fabrics to be moved from one end of the country to another at a much faster rate than in years past. Tailoring and ready-made clothes were also part of this movement in society. It was much easier in general to find clothes as it became an actual profitable industry.
All of these facets were creating a new American society and new attitudes, and the fashion during this time reflected that change.
Silhouette & Style
- Men's clothing in this era is particularly interesting just for the reason that it is so incredibly uninteresting. Men, whose styles in the past have been flashy and sometimes even more flamboyant than women's, now dull down immensely. There are some theories as to why this happened. Many have cited the drastic changing of the times, especially in commerce. Capitalism was coming into play a great deal and men lost interest in frivolity and focused on earning money much more than before.
- Men's fashions during this time (unlike the women's, which will be discussed later) were not particularly loud or colorful. Usually they were the exact opposite. Dark colors were favored but eventually it was poor taste to wear something other than black and white. Most men were almost always carbon copies of each other as well. There were strict guidelines for men's fashion, and they all pretty much tended to look the same.
- To make distinctions, however, it became necessary to put little details into their garments to show their wealth. A pocket watch and chain was always a good bet. Different fabrics and patterns were also able to show off a man's personality a bit. However, fashion changed drastically at this time because men, instead of using their fashion to show their wealth, placed more emphasis on bigger things, such as material goods and land ownership. An amusing quote said that many people held the standard that men who were "fraudulently respectable betrayed their ulterior motives through a doubtful haircut, inappropriate trousers or a too perfect demeanor."
- Neckwear was also very important and there were many different ways to tie a tie around one's neck. Although many men wore their jacket collars so high that neckwear wouldn't even be visible, men still took great care in tying their neckerchiefs.
- The overall silhouette of the man at this time was fairly natural. Trousers still fell from the natural waist, though some men preferred a slight flare at the bottom of their pants. The cinched waist look was discarded and more natural shirts and jackets took its place, though attention was still drawn to the waist by a little line around almost all men's jackets.
Men's general fashion
Man in "walking costume" (1868)
Guide to men's fashion and acceptable materials
Hair, Hats & Accessories
- Hair was nearly as uninteresting as men's clothes. They tended to keep their hair from growing past the nape of the neck and would often simply keep it combed back. They wanted it as neat and out of the way as possible.
- Facial hair was rejected by most men, though some still favored large sideburns and others went with a simple mustache. Again, neat and simple.
- As for hats, top hats were still the order of the day and were considered to be the classic look and did not fade from fashion in the bit at this time. Some men, though, did begin to favor the bowler-style hat, which was just beginning to come into fashion.
- Men kept their accessories to a minimum, preferring a pocket watch of some kind to be their only obvious adornment. Jewelry for men in general was frowned upon.
Materials & Patterns
-Some men cheated the system by incorporating different patterns into their wardrobes, such as checks and plaid. These outfits were usually only worn casually, and the checked man's suit eventually became simply a lounge suit.
- Popular materials at the time were cotton, tweed and worsted, which is like a heavy yarn. Men preferred heavier materials over light ones, because it was so much easier to move in their clothing than women, who preferred lighter fabrics. This kept them warm in colder months but still able to move freely.
- Buttoned and laced shoes were more popular than boots, in general
- Some men's work boots were made of sturdier stuff and came in colors such as brown instead of black, but for most men it would have been tacky to wear anything besides a black shoe
Typical men's button-up shoe
Silhouette & Style
- The namesake of this era is named for the style of dress in which the earlier hoopskirt was essentially pulled from the front and gathered in back, creating a literal bustle of fabric, enhancing the woman's backside. It is for this reason that so many people say that the bustle period in fashion is actually quite a bit more sensual than the overbearing crinolines preceding it because the woman can be seen in her "natural form" from the front. From the side and back, on the other hand, is a whole different story. The fact that the backside alone was the one being showed off (instead of the usual decollet, which is normally covered up in this period) was quite scandalous before it became the normal fashion
- There are many theories as to why the hoopskirts and crinolines disappeared and the bustle appeared in their stead. Here, let me tell you them. - America started to really develop its own fashions in the 1870s as opposed to France - who was undoubtedly the fashion capitol of the western world - because of the war between France and Germany. The French were more interested in wartime activities and thus America's fashions were no longer dictated by them.
- Like men's fashions, much attention was paid to detail for women's dresses (and other accessories including hats), but were much more noticeable than men's. Extravagance was the MO of the day, and lots of different colors as well as different patterns (e.g. plaids, stripes, checks). Hair dying started to become popular.
- Fashionable "aprons" and trains on dresses began to become increasingly popular. The train was meant to elongate the female silhouette even further. Extra fabric was often sewn into the train specifically so it wouldn't get dirty as it trailed on the ground. Because they could become cumbersome, most trains were left to fancy dress and evening wear.
Bustles: First and Second Eras, and the Princess cut
First Bustle Era (late 60s - early 70s)
This part of the era shows the traditional bustle how we usually think of them. This was a period when the bustle idea was so popular that it caught on like wildfire. Because of this, and especially because material was much easier to come by, women's dresses were extravagant. They had lots of adornments, buttons, ruffles and fringe; the more the better. The woman's silhouette for first-era bustles was, funnily enough, the easiest on women as most dresses still carried a slight bell shape that echoed the recently outdated hoopskirts.
Colder-weather clothing, including the very popular shawl (1973)
Trains became increasingly popular
Hairstyles in 1870s
Princess aka "Fishtail" cut (late 70s - early 80s)
The bustle, because it gained popularity so quickly, was also quick to fall out of fashion. The mode that came into acceptance around 1877 was the "princess line" or "fishtail" cut. The woman's silhouette is called "natural form" by some people, because it is a very form-fitting look. The dresses were pulled tight around the legs and the bustle itself was reduced greatly and tended to sit lower on the dress, on the back of the thighs or even knees instead of the backside. The bodices also changed - they used a cuirasse, which fitted over the hips. The whole silhouette for women at this time was very slender.
Women in princess-cut dresses, showing the "apron" (1879)
Notice "fishtail" look on woman on right; others showing the "apron" look
Second Bustle Era (late 80s)
Then, for whatever reason (I believe women realized that they didn't want to wear princess line dresses when they found they couldn't walk in them), the princess line fell out of fashion and the bustle returned. This time, however, the bustle itself was very stiff and tended to stick out from the lower back horizontally. Perhaps because they had grown tired of the excesses in the fashion in the first bustle era, most dresses in the second were much more conservative and had fewer adornments.
Early second-era bustle look, showing boots and "casual" wear
Women with parasol and fan; apron look
Fancy women showing tightly corseted waists and distinct second-era bustle look
Woman wearing popular silhouette and pattern of the time; also children's looks
Popular women's hairstyles and headwear of second-era bustle look
You might recognize this one...
Buttons, buckles and belts were abundant and used gratuitously. Women also often carried a fan or parasol. Jewelry "consisted of sets of pin, earrings, and bracelets. Many lockets were worn, usually containing a picture of some loved one or a curl of baby's hair." For the most part, however, actual jewelry worn on the body was kept to a minimum. Almost all of a woman's ornamentation was kept on her dress.
Popular hairstyles for women during the early bustle era still carried the ringlet style of earlier fashion eras, but tended to wear the majority of their hair up, usually twisted. Most women wore some kind of hair adornment (usually a hat) that would sit on top of the head, usually tilted slightly forward. This tended to show off the rest of the hairstyle and was mostly just for show. Many hats had a string of fabric (often silk or whatever material the hat was made out of) that would hang down the back of head. Either that or the hairpiece itself would extend all the way to the nape of the neck.
Women in popular clothing and hairstyles (1974)
- Shoes for women, which used to be square, now became pointed and more simple but elegant overall.
- Boots came into fashion as well, but were usually only worn during the day and outside as casual wear. Many children, who were too young to wear heels, wore boots.
Black button-up heeled boot
- Silk was a very popular material for all parts of a woman's dress. Even lower-class women would repair their only silk dress just so they would still have one.
- Flannel was a common material used for petticoats in the winter months, cotton for summer. The same fabrics were also used for shawls and sometimes some undergarments.
- A new material, foulard silk was introduced.
Foulard silk (still very popular today, especially in men's neck ties)
Carrick lace (used in women's mantles)
Corset-waist (or hourglass corset), worn by girls starting around age 12
- Women's waists, to be in fashion, were said to have been between seventeen and twenty-two inches. - In Boston, the National Dress Association was formed and gave lectures about current fashion and warned women about health risks
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Breward, Christopher. The Hidden Consumer: Masculinities, Fashion and City Life 1860-1914. New York: Manchester UP, 1999.
Fashion Design, 1850-1895. New York: By Design P, 1997.
Hall, Carrie A. From Hoopskirts to Nudity. Caldwell, ID: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1938.
Olian, JoAnne, ed. Full-Color Victorian Fashions, 1870-1893. Minneapolis: Dover Publications, Incorporated, 1999.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men's Clothes 1600-1900. New York, NY: Theatre Arts Books, 1964.
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