1888 patent  “Gem”  braided wire bustle.
Wendy Tomlinson - Visitor Services

All About the Bustle

Wendy Tomlinson - Visitor Services

Spoke & Bustle is one of the oldest special events formerly held at the Grey County Museum site and is happening once again at Grey Roots in Moreston Heritage Village, on August 9, 2014. This popular event celebrates our settlers and the days of steam power, chores and the crafts of yesteryear. The word “Spoke” represents the wheels on machinery and denotes the work traditionally done by men and “Bustle” represents the work that was historically done by women.

In the mid-1800’s women’s fashion demanded a tiny waistline emphasized by floor length bell shaped skirts, held out with under-slips called petticoats, often with wooden hoops, and stiffened horsehair crinolines. Some of the wealthiest women wore a dozen or more petticoats and had skirts in excess of six feet in diameter!

By the 1870’s the desirable female silhouette began to change with the skirt fullness moving to the backside, rather than in the round. In order to achieve this look, young girls and women wore coiled wire birdcage-like structures tied to their waist under the skirt, called a bustle. This framework supported the weight of the fabric and kept it from flattening and dragging on the ground and allowed for lots of draping and abundant decoration with flounces, ruffles, beadwork and trim. Some bustles were hinged and articulated to make sitting and moving easier, as the bustle was considered a streamlined innovation by comparison to the full skirts of previous decades. Even women of the lowest economic classes would mimic the bustle effect by wearing sacks stuffed with straw under their skirts.

Over the next forty years the bustle remained an integral part of woman’s dress, with the bustle elongating from a birdcage to more of a ‘lobster tail’ shape by 1890. But by 1905 the ideal silhouette had become long and lean and bustle-wearing fell out of fashion, disappearing completely with the popularity of the slim-line ‘hobble skirt’ styles of the pre-war ear.


1888 patent  “Gem”  braided wire bustle. This is a small bustle compared to some that were produced.  It has cloth tape to form a belt to hold it on.  One tape has a two-tine buckle fitting to it.  The other tape is printed with “The “Gem” Braided Wire Bustle   Patented Apr. 18, May 18, 1888  Brush & Co. Toronto”. Grey Roots Museum & Archives Collection.

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