Bouf­fant back­sides are not pe­cu­liar to our time. Kya de­longchamp sex­plores the rise and fall of the bus­tle in fash­ions of the 19th cen­tury

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - Interiors -

Big bot­tom/small waist, this is the not the first time the di­vine equa­tion has been de­ployed. Kim Kar­dashian did not have lay­ers of pet­ti­coats to hide he run-air brushed im­per­fec­tion sin re­cent, can­did beach shots.

We all know, from pe­riod films and TV dra­mas what a bus­tle was. How­ever, the bus­tle was not only used to im­prove the per­ceived di­men­sions of a woman’s body. This was a lux­u­ri­ant fab­ric galleon with the woman at the prow, lift­ing yards of ex­pen­sive, hefty ma­te­rial (gauges we would put in curtains today), nicely into view but safely sus­pended out of the horse muck. Bus­tles were also an im­por­tant, well up­hol­stered step to­wards more lib­er­ated fash­ions. In 1869 the 30-year rule of the bus­tled back­side be­gan. By its end (oddly as today with but­tock en­hance­ment surgery on the rise), it soon in­flated a women’s sug­gested as­sets to un­likely pro­por­tions in a ra­tio with the stran­gled waist.

The fash­ion for the smaller skirt and marked bus­tle, res­cued so­ci­ety women in the 1860s from the cen­tre of an iso­lat­ing cir­cu­lar skirt, drown­ing in up to six yards of ma­te­rial. In­tro­duced to Eng­land in the 1500s by Cather­ine of Aragon on her mar­riage to Henry VIII, this form in­cluded a lay­er­ing of stuff­ing at the hips to set the skirts out like a fleshy shelf (it ar­rived at what was termed a far­thin­gale). This daunt­ing perime­ter, by the early Vic­to­rian era, not only held men at arm’s length, but could eas­ily be poked into the fire­place, send­ing the wear er up like a Ro­man can­dle. On June 2, 1864, this news­pa­per re­ported that Ann Rollinson died af­ter sus­tain­ing in­juries when her crino­line was caught by a re­volv­ing ma­chin­ery shaft in a man­gling room at Fir­wood bleach works near Bolton. She died a cou­ple of rev­o­lu­tions be­fore be­ing freed by her co-work­ers. “A wit­ness stated that her dress would not have been caught but for the crino­line press­ing it out.” ( The Cork Ex­am­iner). More usual per­ils in­cluded vis­it­ing friends. Sit­ting de­manded a par­tic­u­lar de­sign of back­less chair to pre­vent the front of the flex­i­ble spring steel bell tilt­ing for­ward to re­veal an an­kle — sex­ual dy­na­mite. Still, the hooped skirt, now only en­joyed as kitsch loo roll cov­ers, was seen as progress by women’s ad­vo­cates of the day in­clud­ing (wait for it) a pioneer of the suf­fragette move­ment, Amer­i­can dar­ling — Amelia Bloomer. If you watch Gone with the Wind (MGM 1939) no­tice that Mammy, played by Hat­tie Mcdaniel, has pet­ti­coats al­most as vo­lu­mi­nous as Scar­let O’hara her­self, his­tor­i­cally cor­rect in a coun­try where crino­lines crossed the classes. Queen Vic­to­ria, sur­rounded by fash­ion­ably hob­bled courtiers dis­ap­pear­ing like div­ing gan­nets into their skirt­ing at every curtsy, was not keen on the fash­ion. Where an event was short on space Her Majesty would re­quest women not to bring their cages. In the late 1860s a new form of crino­line ap­peared, asym­met­ri­cal, with a flat­ter front and half hoops set to the back. The ma­te­rial in what was termed a ‘trained skirt’ could be beau­ti­fully folded and rip­pled in this way. The drap­ery grad­u­ally moved from the front of the body to the back, leav­ing a sleek ab­domen.

This still bur­den­some fash­ion was fetch­ing, grace­ful and more prac­ti­cal than a fuller skirts, al­low­ing a longer front sil­hou­ette and a bird of par­adise like sweep of skirts be­hind, fluffed with tas­sels and bows. Stiff cot­ton or horse­hair un­der-skirts, and tor­tu­ous cages could be pret­tily con­cealed, the show-piece of the dress drift­ing in a wake be­hind the woman. It re­tained the tiny waist with ex­cru­ci­at­ing corset­ing, but do­ing away with the em­bar­rass­ing pitch of a cir­cu­lar de­vice, a lady could move through a crowd with ease.

Start­ing with the de­mure and very pretty crino­lette cloud on the back­side, sweep­ing out and down to the train, the bus­tle, in typ­i­cal High Vic­to­rian flavour soon bloomed up, out, and even over the height of the but­tocks in a ‘bum-p ad’ of muslin, mo­hair and/or sprung wire. Var­i­ous patents wres­tled with the prob­lem area in league with jupons and other ar­chaic for­got­ten at­tire like side-gores, some built into a foun­da­tion skirt. Up­tight, upright and re­spectable, to­gether with the train, the bus­tle or tour­nure, pro­vided al­lur­ing curves and an un­du­lat­ing move­ment as a woman crossed a ball­room floor. You could park a tray of cham­pagne on it. Hoops grad­u­ally dis­ap­peared, and the train re­tracted to a fan, as the bus­tle sus­pended the fab­ric di­rectly from the back, which must have been heavy in any­thing but cot­ton. With tighter ma­te­rial across the hips an hour-glass was now on show with an aero­dy­namic shorter fish-tail. A big­ger bust was an as­set to bal­ance the bal­last be­hind. Car­toon­ists and so­cial com­men­ta­tors were quick to make fun of the bus­tle’s mal­for­ma­tion of the nat­u­ral shape of woman. One sketch in 1881, clamped the pos­te­rior of the Venus de Milo in a bus­tle cage. Fun mag­a­zine in 1872, showed evo­lu­tion­ist fa­ther Charles Dar­win, as a mon­key savour­ing the sight of a gi­gan­tic, shrub like bus­tle. Os­car Wilde showed a flair for dress de­sign and for a time edited the mag­a­zine A Woman’s World. He wrote in 1888 — “it is from the shoul­ders, and from the shoul­ders only, that all gar­ments should be hung”. (The Phi­los­o­phy of Dress) — and that’s ex­actly what hap­pened.

Fuller sleeves took over by the 1890s and the age of the bus­tle was be­hind us.

Bus­tles were an im­por­tant, well up­hol­stered step to­wards more lib­er­ated fash­ions.

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