So what exactly is a bustle? Back in the day (mid-to-late 19th century days) a bustle was the framework used to expand the fullness or support the extra fabric at the back of a womans dress. In the 21st century it refers to what a bride does with the train on her wedding dress to keep it off the ground during the wedding reception.
There are many types of bustle styles, but they can pretty much all be sorted into two classifications – the overbustle, and the underbustle.
The overbustle (also known as the American Bustle) is achieved when the train is picked up and attached to the outside of the dress by way of snaps, hook-and-eyes or buttons. The style of the overbustle is really only limited by the skills and creativity of the dressmaker, but the most common styles are as follows…
The One-Point Overbustle is the simplest of bustles (and cheapest) and is achieved by drawing the train up and attaching it to a point at the bottom of the bodice. As there is only one point to take all the weight of the excess fabric, this type of bustle is notorious for breaking and is therefore really only a safe option for gowns made from light-weight fabrics or with shorter trains.
The Three-Point Overbustle is a more secure style of overbustle, as there are three points of attachment to carry the weight of the excess fabric and thus is a great option for gowns made from heavier fabrics or with longer trains. The three points also allow the train to be held open on the back of the gown, so the style is a wonderful way to show off an embroidered or beaded train.
The Ballroom Bustle is great for the bride who doesn’t like the look of a more traditional bustle. The finished product makes the gown look like a full-length ballgown, as if there never was a train to start with. This look is achieved by a series of hooks or buttons around the bottom of the bodice which lift the skirt to create a smooth, full-length silhouette. This style of bustle is usually very secure and is good for heavy fabrics.
The Tufted Bustle is not as common as the other styles of overbustles but is particularly good for dresses with lots of pick-ups or beaded/appliqué detail in the skirt. A Tufted Bustle utilises lots of hook-and-eyes to lift the excess fabric and create a tufted or layered look without hiding the detail in the skirt. This style of bustle usually involves a lot of attachment points, so bridesmaids may need a practice run to make sure they can get it right on the day without any hassle.
The Side-Sling Bustle is a great option for asymmetric styles gowns. The train fabric is swept towards the side seam where it is anchored with hook-and-eyes creating a modern, sophisticated look that is that little bit different to the usual bustle. This style of bustle can be a little tricky to get right and is better suited to shorter trains and lighter fabrics.
The English Bustle
The English Bustle is generally used on gowns that are snug fitting through the hips but spread out into a wide train. This style uses hook-and-eyes at a lower-than-usual point on the skirt to lift the excess train fabric without effecting the smooth, form-fitting silhouette of the rest of the gown.
The underbustle is achieved by a combination of ribbons on the inside of the skirt. The tied ribbons draw the skirt up and under itself producing soft folds down the back of the skirt. Once again, the style of underbustle is limited only by the skill and creativity of the dressmaker but most common styles are below.
Not surprisingly, the One-Point Underbustle is essentially the opposite of the One-Point Overbustle. A pair of ribbons are sewn into the underside of the skirt, which when tied together lift the excess fabric up and into the fullness of the gown, creating a single, soft fold on the outside of the skirt. The One-Point Underbustle takes a little more effort to do on the day (nothing that a competent Maid of Honour or Mother of the Bride couldn’t handle though) but is a more secure option than the overbustle.
French Bustle/Victorian Bustle
The French Bustle is basically a more complicated One-Point Underbustle. A series of ribbon pairs (a good dressmaker will colour-code them so bridesmaids know which pairs belong together) are used to create a larger fold across the back of the gown. By using multiple lift points, the dressmaker has more control over the final shape of the bustle, and more lifts points equals a great spread of weight, making this style a great option for gowns made from heavy or delicate fabrics.
Double or Triple French Bustle/Whipped Cream Bustle
The Double or Tripe French Bustle is the same basic principle as the French Bustle, but the ribbon pairs are used to create two or three folds in the skirt. This is particularly good for long trains or full skirt styles, and creates a full silhouette that resembles the soft folds of whipped cream.
Double French Bustle, Triple French Bustle
The Austrian Bustle is achieved by a ribbon that runs down the centre back of the skirt. When the time comes to form the bustle, the skirt is drawn up along the ribbon to the desired length creating a gathered or ruched look down the back of the gown. This style of bustle is very secure and is gaining popularity, but it may take some time arranging the gathers on the day to get the look right.
The Train Flip
The Train Flip is basically the opposite of the Ballroom Bustle. The excess fabric of the train is flipped up and under the skirt and secured on the underside of the gown, creating the look of a full-length ballgown. This style can be hard to get right and can produce a slightly puffy hemline, so a good dressmaker is essential to make this style look the way it should.
These are by no means the ONLY bustle options – every dress is different and therefore will need a slightly different bustle treatment. Hopefully this will at least give all the brides out there an idea of what is possible and what might work for them.