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Bustle Eras

There were three distinct fashion trends during the Victorian era, and all are considered “bustle Dresses”. These were the Early Bustle period (1869-1876), the Natural Form period (1877-1882), and the Late Bustle period (1883-1889). The combination of a tight bodice and a very full skirt with bustle and drapery was thought to enhance the look of a tiny waist. A 15-inch waist was considered ideal, and fashion plates of the day always illustrated women with impossibly small “wasp waists”.

The Early Bustle period (1869-1876) is characterized by tight-fitting bodices, which were worn with separate skirts. The bodice usually had a very high neck, and long closely-fitted sleeves. The sleeve was “dropped” from the shoulder a bit more than we are used to seeing today, and there was very little fullness at the sleeve head. A bustle was worn under the skirt, as well as two or more petticoats. There was usually an overskirt as well, either in the form of an apron-like drape across the front of the skirt, and/or an elaborately draped and pleated overskirt which covered the back of the skirt. The skirt itself was usually embellished with layers of ruffles, rouching or other trims.

The Natural Form period (1877-1882) dispensed with the bustle entirely. However, elaborate draping and pleating at the rear of the skirts still kept some of the bustle silhouette intact. Skirts during the natural form period were flatter in the front, and fullness was carried toward the back of the skirt. The “cuirass bodice” which was based on a military style, dipped below the waistline at the front and back of the bodice, and was cut higher over the hips. Overskirts were still popular, but the fullness of the skirt was often drawn toward the back of the skirt using hidden tapes, which were attached to the side seams and drawn tight across the backs of the legs to keep the front of the skirt flat and narrow.

After several years without them, bustles made a fierce comeback during the Late Bustle period (1883-1889). Bustles were larger and higher than before, and it was said that you could place a dinner plate on one. Drapery over these larger bustles became very fanciful, with elaborate layers, pleats, bows and other embellishments, often arranged in an asymmetrical manner. Skirts were still flat at the front, and had less pleated embellishment, which left room for embroidery or other flat designs on the front panels. Necklines were lower for evening events, and sleeve heads had a bit more fullness than before.

All of the lovely gowns presented here reflect one of the periods defined above, and all are equally feminine and romantic. You will feel like you have stepped back in time to a gentler era every time you don one of these beautiful gowns!

Bustle Eras Categories

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Recollections © 2014


Size Chart

English / Metric
  24 68 1012 1416 1820 2224 2628 3032
BUST 3334 3536 3738 4042 4446 4850 5254 5658
WAIST 2425 2627 2830 3133 3537 3942 4447 5053

What size should I order?

Most people find that our sizing runs generously. If you are undecided with which size to order, it is best to order the smaller size, or give us a call to assist you (1-800-452-5925). You may also email us at with your measurements (bust and waist) and we can help you choose the nearest size.

An exception to the generous sizing is the type of ball gown that requires boning in the bodice and that supports a heavy skirt. Many times this style is also "off-the-shoulder" and requires a firm fit to stay up. These styles tend to not run as generously as most of our other garments because of this. But please, give us a call if you are uncertain.

In most cases you should take your bust and waist measurement to determine your size. Please wear the undergarments that you intend to wear when you do your measuring. For example, take your measurement over the type of brassiere or corset that you may be wearing.

Measure the fullest part of your bust around and the smallest part of your waist.


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