A supporting role: 1870s bustle and petticoat

As a follow up to my c. 1872 ballgown post, here is a little more detail about the foundation undergarments, since they play such an important role in creating the right silhouette. A few years ago, I made a bustle based on the measurements of one in the Historic Newton collection. The original was undated, but the small size is more indicative of the 1880s (second bustle era). This is my highly artistic sketch of it, and a very similar one from the MET.

This has got all the measurements if anyone else feels like making one.
Bustle, c. 1880s, MET. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/109260

I wanted to work with what I had, while ensuring that it would support the wider floof of the previous decade (technical term). I added a large gathered panel to the bottom edge, with a couple additional ruffles, to mimic the shape of these examples:

Crinolette, c. 1870s, V&A. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O58891/crinolette-unknown/.
Bustle, c. 1880s, MET. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/108527.

I ended up hand sewing the whole thing, mostly because I couldn't be bothered to get the machine out. The original consisted of wires held in place by tapes, with the laced panel in back forming the curved shape. In the absence of correctly sized hoop wires, I made the whole thing out of medium weight cotton twill, and used overlapped pieces of corset steel for the hoops, hidden inside casings.

I don't have a picture of its earlier incarnation, but it's just the bottom half that is new. Here it is with additional ruffles:

Bustle! Picture by Peryn.
Inside view showing the lacing:
Flattens for easy stuffing into backpacks.
In addition to the bustle, the skirt is also supported by an organdy petticoat. I used the petticoat as a way to test out my skirt pattern, leaving off the train. I added three ruffles to the back panel, basically just using up all the organdy I had left, similar to the example below. It's mostly machine sewn, because that's totally correct for the 1870s and a sanity saver when hemming miles of ruffles.

Petticoat, c. 1870s, MET. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86289.
Here are a few pictures, with the bustle underneath. The corset I'm wearing is an old one I made from the Laughing Moon Mercantile pattern (this is the version with gores). I'm not sure it warrants a post of its own, but I've made a number of corsets from this pattern and it always works well and is easy to adjust for different sizes.
Flooficoat front.
Flooficoat side.
It stands up by itself! I love organdy.
As you may recall from the post about the dress itself, the bustle and petticoat didn't provide quite enough shape on their own, and I had to also add more organdy ruffles to the inside of the skirt. It might have worked to make the petticoat trained, as many originals are, but I'm happy with my balayeuse. I deliberately chose not to add the train, so that it would be more versatile.

While I think it's absolutely important to have the correct foundation garments for any given period, I really like to have items that work for multiple eras. I have limited sewing time and storage space, and petticoats take up a lot of space! This bustle and petticoat could also be used for an 1880s outfit (hypothetically, I may make one at some point!), or an untrained day/walking dress. The petticoat could go with anything else that might need a little extra floof, which is useful in many decades. (The rallying cry of the costumer: Needs More Petticoats!)

What do other people think about versatility vs period specificity? Do you re-use garments in your own historical wardrobes?


  1. Looks luscious, Emma! Personally, I am usually drawn towards having just the right undergarments for every period. I will make do if I have to (it's certainly been done as I continue to build up my collection of clothing), but it feels so much more right to me to have just the perfect thing. Of course, having all that underwear does take up a lot of space! But it hasn't stopped me yet!


    1. Thanks, Quinn! That makes sense, and I think your ensembles show your attention to detail and look really good as a result!


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