The Second Empire was to be the setting for both the glory days and the decline for the crinoline fashion. By the end of Napoleon III's reign, the voluminous crinoline styles of the 1850s, made famous by the work of celebrated British designer, Charles Worth, had begun to fall out of fashion.
It was in 1867 that the designer began to turn away from crinoline, creating instead a dress known as the “bustle”. Initially used as an underskirt, it was worn behind the hips and came in different forms, ranging from a small cushion to a series of small metal hoops. Tied in place, the bustle was worn over a starched petticoat and accentuated the small of the back. The full, humped volume at the back of the outfit was in stark contrast to the flattened front, and was less restrictive to wear for a woman going about her daily life.
The bustle was often worn with a second, shorter dress, which came up at the back to combine with the bustle tails. These were often extremely imaginative, lovingly designed and could be used to give more volume by adding ruffles or overlaying more fabric. To offset this abundance of material, designers would often add tassels, braids and other such adornments.
For balls, the bustle would take on a more sophisticated form. With a train attached – thus lengthening the outfit – when on the dance floor, the ladies would hold the dress off the floor with the help of a cord. The corset would be extremely low-cut, and the outfit would be completed with long gloves. The hairstyle was intended to extend the shape of the bustle, elongating the figure, with cascades of ringlets hanging down, mirroring the extravagant layers of fabric.
And just like the crinoline fashion, the bustle underwent numerous modifications and adjustments as the style developed, ranging from voluminous at the time of its inception to exaggerated and extravagant during the 1880s. The bustle began to disappear around 1895.
Ludovic Cazettes (December 2010, tr. H.D.W.)