A bustle is a type of framework used to expand the fullness or support the drapery of the back of a woman’s dress, occurring predominantly in the mid-to-late 19th century. Bustles were worn under the skirt in the back, just below the waist, to keep the skirt from dragging. Heavy fabric tended to pull the back of a skirt down and flatten it. Thus, a woman’s petticoated or crinolined skirt would lose its shape during everyday wear (from merely sitting down or moving about). The word “bustle” has become synonymous with the fashion to which the bustle was integral.
The bustle was a typically Victorian fashion. Although most bustle gowns covered nearly all of a woman, the shape created by the combination of a bustle and corset (accentuating the rump, waist, and bosom) resulted in highly idealized representations of female sexual identity, at once exaggerated and concealed by the structures of adornment. A notable comparison is with the exaggerated images of the South African woman known as “Hottentot Venus” exhibited throughout Europe in the first part of the 19th century.
Bustles and bustle gowns are rarely worn in contemporary society. Notable exceptions occur in the realm of haute couture, bridal fashion and Lolita Fashion. A dress in the bustle style may be worn as a costume. For example, in 1993 Eiko Ishioka won an Academy Award for her costume designs from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The film features several extravagant bustle gowns created for female leads Winona Ryder and Sadie Frost.