Monday, August 22, 2016

Bustles and Bustle Benches ... Oh, My!

Don't we love these gorgeous old dresses with their yards and yards of fabric and ruffles and flounces and yes, bustles? One of my favorite pictures when I was a little girl was found in my set of Little House on the Prairie books and showed Mary getting ready to go to college, and she wore a dress that looked somewhat similar to the one on the left. Hers wasn't quite as full, though, since Pa was a farmer and couldn't afford all that fancy stuff.

I've often imagined what it would feel like to wear a dress like this (aside from hot and stuffy). Would I feel taller, more elegant, more refined? I think I'd enjoy for about an hour, and then I'd be ready to be done. In addition to the heat and the stuffiness I just mentioned, a dress like this would just be too inconvenient. Can you imagine trying to get in and out of carriages, or for that matter, in and out of chairs?

Last summer, I toured a house that was built in the 1800s, and in the ballroom of that house was a chair they said was specifically designed to be used by a lady wearing one of these huge dresses. My own pictures seem to have disappeared, but this chair is somewhat similar. It's made with just one arm so her voluminous skirts can drape off the other side.
It's a little amusing to me that they'd need to build special furniture to accommodate the fashions of the day, but hey, I can't really judge. 


Amelia C. Adams is the author of the Kansas Crossroads series, the Nurses of New York series, the Hearts of Nashville series, and others. She is an eater of chocolate chip cookies, especially those that are warm, and sees no reason to apologize for that. You can learn more about her at


  1. When I was in the play "Gaslight" the original design for the lead actress was just such a dress. It was modified to less of a bustle. The original was just too much for the audience to handle. They watched the dress, not the performance (grin). (By the way, being the servant, I had no bustle at all...sigh) Angela/Doris

  2. Fun post, Amelia! At the RWA2016 I went to the workshop on fashions in the 1800s and a woman demonstrated how a person of means back then would get dressed. Stockings and shoes first because after putting on the corset they would not be able to bend over! The bustle contraption and how it worked was an interesting thing to see. I am surprised about the furniture being made to accomodate bustles! I hand't heard about that before!