Monday, December 14, 2009

Baby Got Back: a reader question response

Reader Lisa (who also happens to be my mom) recently asked regarding my Victorian ball costume: "what did you stuff the 'bum' with?"

Most Victorian fashions of the post-crinoline period (c. 1867-1890) used a bustle to add volume to the back of the skirts, thus the name "The Bustle Period", which is broken down further into a few sub-periods. Although there is something absurd about the exaggerated silhouette of the era, I have always been aesthetically drawn to this look.

There were several styles of bustles in this period that would create different amounts of volume and shapes with varying degrees of comfort and mobility. These are a few examples:

Another acceptable, simpler alternative is the bum (or bustle) pad. It is, essentially, a shaped pillow tied just below the waist to sit right on top of the bum. We used them on a few shows at the Los Angeles Opera while I worked there. They are a little bulkier than a wire bustle, but they are easy to make and it's pretty easy to move and sit in one. That is what I chose to do for my Victorian ballgown look.

My bum pad isn't looking so great... it is actually still attached to the waist tie by safety pins, even though I made it about four years ago! So, I am borrowing this picture from Past & Present Creations because it is essentially the same thing:

Denise Nadine Designs is just one site that offers a wide selection of foundation and under garments for those who don't want or feel unable to create their own.

I really enjoy taking reader questions, so be sure to drop a line!


  1. Thanks for the wonderfully illustrated fashion history lesson! It would definitely be the pillow for me. Could you imagine taking a little tumble and landing on that wire?

  2. What was the rationalle behind the Bustle? I wonder if there was a similar mentality to "bum cushions" today. Also who invented this delightfull contraption?

  3. Thanks for your comment! Bustles were an evolution of the crinoline (hoop skirts). Like farthingales, panniers, hoops, corsets, bullet bras, or going braless; bustles were part of the aesthetic of the time period. I don't believe any fashion historian could point to one distinct reason for the creation of the bustle. There is certainly a sensual aspect of the enlarged posterior which also in turn diminished the already nipped in waist of the period. Bustles also were often worn with dramatic sweeping trains and much embellishment of the skirt, which definitely have an aesthetic appeal and showed off wealth and status. The bustle was slightly more practical than the crinoline because it could fit more easily through doors, hallways, carriages and crowded rooms. However, like the crinoline, it made sitting down quite inconvenient. As to the inventor, there were so many different styles of bustle on the market throughout the two bustle periods, I doubt that any one person or design house could take credit for creating it.


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