art by Daryl Banks
During the 1850s, fashion turned its attention to the skirt.
“They grew ever wider and wider, and the flounces and light materials they were made of meant that they needed more and more support. Layers of petticoats were no longer sufficient and were very heavy and uncomfortable. Something more structured was required.
A patent was taken out in May 1856 for a garment inflated by means of bellows and deflated to enable the wearer to sit down. The satirical magazine Punch reported:
Some idea may be formed of the labour which the present mode has rendered necessary, when we state that to fill the air-tubes of a single dress it takes the most expert lady’s maid upwards of three hours and a quarter, even with the help of a good-sized pair of bellows.
The artificial cage crinoline appeared in 1857 as a welcome and more practical alternative. It was made of spring steel hoops, increasing in diameter towards the bottom, suspended on cotton tapes. The number of hoops ranged from nine to eighteen according to the formality of the dress.
There were also many tales of accidents that could befall hapless wearers of crinolines, such as being caught in her hoops as she descended from a carriage. The most frequent accidents were caused by sparks from open fires, a situation not helped by the wearing of highly flammable fabrics such as muslin and silks. Punch advised husbands to insure their wives at Fire Insurance offices.
However, the spring steel structures were also very light so rather than imprisoning women in cages (as some of the reports and images suggest) they had a liberating effect. A lady could ascend a steep stair, lean against a table, throw herself into an armchair, pass to her stall at the opera, and occupy a further seat in a carriage, without inconveniencing others.
From 1866 the crinoline craze subsided and the bustle became a separate undergarment in its own right. The new form of bustle was known as a ‘dress-improver’ or by its French name ‘tournure’ as the word bustle was considered vulgar in polite society.
La Myra tournure found here
The New Phantom’ bustle, dating from about 1884, had a special feature. The steel wires are attached to a pivot so that they folded in on themselves on sitting down and sprang back when the wearer rose. A novelty bustle made to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations contained a less useful device. It was fitted with a musical box that played ‘God Save the Queen’ each time the wearer sat down.
Various methods were tried and tested to achieve a full and swelling bosom such as the ingenious ‘lemon cup’ bust improver of the 1890s. Each cup was packed with bleached horsehair supported by a whalebone lining. The light coiled spring helped to give the desired shapely effect.
Women’s journals of the time were replete with advertisements for pills and potions to correct flaws in the female appearance. If pills and potions failed there was always the ‘Princess Bust Developer’ which exercised the muscles of the bust by suction, restoring the capillary action and getting rid of flabby tissue.
I don’t have a Princess Bust Developer but queenwilly and the king gave nursemyra the Fabulous Mark Eden version last year. Can you tell that I’ve been diligently using it twice a day?