Women wore bustles underneath the backs of their skirts for several centuries beginning in the sixteenth. Bustles consisted of various objects, including cushions, pads, and frames made of wire and wood, that were tied around the waist or directly attached to a woman's skirts. The purpose of the bustle was to add fullness or shape to the skirt, and it was often used in combination with farthingales, which were stiff hoops, or petticoats, that were worn as full underskirts.

The design and filling of bustles, and the manner in which they were worn, changed from century to century, and even from decade to decade. Bustle types related directly to the kinds of dresses currently in style. They were much needed with the full skirts of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and were used along with farthingales. But when slimmer dress profiles of the mid-seventeenth century were in fashion, bustles were not needed. This cycle occurred again in the nineteenth century. In the 1870s bustles were out of

The purpose of the bustle, worn underneath the back of the skirt, was to add fullness or shape, and it was often used in combination with farthingales, stiff hooped underskirts. Reproduced by permission of © .
fashion because women were wearing dresses made of smaller amounts of cloth. Fuller dress styles were introduced in Paris in 1880 and London three years later. The bustle that accompanied them was made of a cushion filled with straw, which was sewn directly into the dress. This bustle also included a number of steel half-hoops placed in the dress lining, which thrust out the dress behind the waist.

From the late nineteenth century on, bustles were occasionally worn only with ball gowns. For the most part, however, they have been out of style throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century.


Cunnington, C. Willett, and Phillis Cunnington. Handbook of English Costume in the Seventeenth Century. Boston, MA: Plays, Inc., 1972.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

[ See also Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Farthingales ; Volume 3, Seventeenth Century: Petticoats ]

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