1. there was no ‘bustle period’
historical clothing likes it’s booty, this is something we know and accept as a given, but it was not something the victorians came up with exclusively. in england, the only country for which i can speak with any kind of authority, women start padding that part of their body in the tudor period with the introduction of the spanish farthingale late in henry viii’s reign or early in edward vi’s, depending on whose research you believe. ass-padding on the same basic lines (a thingy that you tie around your waist to make your butt bigger) with minor differences in shape and size and materials continued unfettered for pretty much the next four hundred years.
we will leave out, for now, the french farthingale or cartwheel hoop which is a whole mess of fantastic weirdness, but also pretty good evidence that enhancing your ass with a flexible lightweight boned structure instead of a padded one was around three hundred and fifty years before the invention of the cage bustle.
there’s only really minor exceptions to the rule of ‘400 years of asses everywhere’ - between the 1720’s and the 1760’s (again, i’m specifically talking about england) volante/saque gowns meant that you couldn’t find your arse with both hands, so nobody could see it even if you did pad it, but the moment fitted backs dropped back in so did the ‘bums’ (i like the georgians. they don’t fuck around with naming things. they just fuck around). the regency period royally screws everything up - as they did with, well, pretty much everything, ever - because women were still wearing padded bustles! they were just wearing them at the dress’s waistline, halfway up their back
specifically in the victorian period, some kind of bustle was worn with every-day dress pretty much systematically through victoria’s entire reign, and through edward’s, only finally slinking away somewhere around 1906/7
2. the ‘grand bustle’ period was incredibly short lived and unpopular
so, the victorian period. i know that’s what you’re all interested in (yes you, steampunks at the back)
here’s how the victorian period looked from a fashion perspective;
1837, victoria ascends the throne. quilted petticoats and bustles abound. skirts kept getting bigger but people were just adding more petticoats and this shit was getting ridiculous. in 1839 someone invents the horse hair crinoline, which does away with the bustle for a brief period.
here’s a picture from the film ‘young victoria’ which i haven’t seen (although i am inclined to say that that dress is more 1833-34-ish than 37) but you get the idea. i’m usually skeptical of using film images because accuracy is not a given but the only really inaccurate thing here to my eyes is the time of day she’s wearing this (depending on how old she’s meant to be, these things are messy) and possibly the colour, so we’ll roll with it.
1856 - the cage crinoline is invented! this is pretty much the biggest and most fabulous invention in the history of the world ever. i shit you not - people spend the next twenty years predicting it’ll go out of fashion next year, and the twenty years after that lamenting the fact that it’s gone and talking hopefully about the possibility it’ll soon be coming back into fashion. women loved the crinoline
this is a bell crinoline, as was popular from around 1856-63. it’s worth noting that they normally weren’t this large and were actually worn with - dun dun dun - a padded crescent-shaped roll on top for at least the latter half of this period!
(i did have a picture of a late-crinoline period cage here but it was impossibly huge, i’ll find another one in a bit) this is an elliptical cage crinoline which i know i’ve seen before but i don’t remember the museum date (you shouldn’t trust museum dating anyway, but that’s a story for another time). i’d put it at somewhere around 1870-72. note the butt-bulge.
so the crinoline, as we’ve established, changed dimensions but pretty much hung around for twenty years
1877 - the crinoline suddenly, violently and without explanation goes out of fashion
just - woomph
it had been gradually shifting ass-ward for the last ten years, and went a bit weird towards the end - for a year or two you got shit like the crinolette, which was sort of knee length and mainly intended to give you booty but they hadn’t really figured out how to do the cage bustle justice yet so it was still technically an all-round thing and didn’t work terribly well, and the puff-bustle, which gave ass inflation through ‘poofing’ stiff fabrics on the top later of the dress itself rather than as part of the under structure - but the natural progression of fashion wasn’t straight into the cage bustle but instead the complete obliteration of any under structure whatsoever
women dressed like this;
this is called the natural form or princess gown, and if you were wearing a bustle you didn’t admit to it because it meant your own backside was naturally deficient.
obviously because nobody in the world ever has lived up to a fashion ideal most women were still padding their backsides, just… subtly
this was an uncomfortable fashion, although a terribly flattering one, and dresses start going back up again after just a couple of years.
1883 or roughly thereabouts - a wild cage bustle has appeared!
the natural form more or less hung around for about six years, gradually increasing in butt-enhancement of the mainly padded and horse hair supported kind, but around about now someone invents a real proper honest to god cage bustle.
this is actually a somewhat unusual one but it’s what i could find at short notice, museum says circa 1880, i… doubt that as an exact date, that’s a little early, but this is an early one and museums tend to go for ‘circa xx decade’ when they’re not really sure so let’s call it somewhere between 1882-83
these promptly balloon out of all proportion (in the magazines, everyone quietly mumbles about this stuff getting ridiculous and is there any chance the crinoline could be coming back into fashion now we’re using sprung steel under our skirts again) and hit critical mass somewhere around 1885-86
this is it, right? this is the gigantic shelf-like cage bustle look that everyone loves.
this was in fashion for two years
and once it was over everyone quietly patted each other on the back and said ‘lets not do that again, that was silly’
after 1886 the bustle drops away again and by, ooh, ‘89 if i’m being generous, the cage is completely gone. ass padding remains in vogue and roughly the same size, gradually decreasing towards normal buttock-size, for another twenty years
the ‘bustle’ as most people like to know it was a frail and short lived thing of monumental unpopularity
3. it wasn’t actually even called a bustle
and here’s the real kick in the teeth
as i’ve mentioned, the georgians called their rump inflaters ‘bums’. the word ‘bustle’ comes along in the 1830’s, and then disappears with the invention of the first horsehair crinoline in 1839
when ass accessories come back in in the 1850’s, they’re called by their french name of ‘tournure’, and ‘bustle’ becomes a rude word
when the british are being especially stuck up towards the late victorian period, when they stop using french words for fashion, they call them ‘dress improvers’
contemporary sources did not use the word ‘bustle’. it’s an anachronism.
so why do people call it a bustle, anyway? i blame norah waugh. she heads up her relevant chapter in corsets and crinolines with the word ‘bustle’, although she mentions in the second paragraph down that it was properly called a ‘tournure’ and uses that somewhat inconsistently going forward. all of her contemporary sources post 1840 use the word ‘tournure’. ‘bustle’ is a fun word, don’t get me wrong, but even though janet arnold uses ‘tournure’ exclusively about ten years later, i think waugh is somehow better known these days (i can’t speak for hudson, i don’t have her books)
it must have just snowballed
obviously nowadays you look like a pretentious twit calling it a tournure (that hasn’t stopped me yet) and everyone understands what a bustle is and what that word means (the same cannot be said of ‘tournure’ or even ‘dress improver’) but if you’re going to start spreading some knowledge around or, i don’t know, writing a historical novel with any claim to accuracy it’s a handy thing to know.
1. big asses have been in fashion for four hundred years and largely this was achieved with padding
2. the highly accentuated shelf-like cage bustle was only in fashion for about two years
3. ‘bustle’ may not in fact be the word you want
so now you know. and knowing is half the battle.