The 1870s Lobster Bustle


evening dress, about 1873, from McCord Museum

In the 1870s, dresses shifted in shape dramatically. Instead of a full circle encompassing the wearer as was worn throughout most of the 19th century to this point, the skirt took the shape of an ellipse. The skirt was narrow over the hips; instead the fullness moved to the back. By 1873, this new shape was pronounced, and by 1875, it was often referred to as a mermaid’s tail.

Have you ever wondered how this shape was accomplished? How did they support all the volume at the back of the skirt?

To fill out this shape, a new bustle combined the crinolines of earlier decades with structural support in the rear. Sometimes called a lobster bustle, the structure is accomplished with exaggerated horizontal wire ribs or horsehair padding in a crinoline skirt that is slim at the front and sides.

Take a look at these great examples!

bustle, 1870s, from American Textile History Museum

bustle, 1873, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

bustle, 1870s, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

bustle, 1870s, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

I really love the lobster bustles from 1870s. Such a cool shape. Like architecture underneath a dress. And they do remind me of lobster tails!

A Victorian Woman’s Layers

If you’ve ever wondered what women in the 19th century wore underneath their dresses, this video should illuminate you. Watch the layers get removed in the video from 1897.

Assisted by a maid, first comes off the dress and then a petticoat. She takes off a pair of drawers, followed by her corset to reveal a chemise. Her stockings come off. And then lastly the chemise.