1880s Bustle Dress Costume

1880s Bustle Dress

This might be my most elaborate costume make to date. And I finished it justintime for my event at an art museum where these photos were taken (so ignore the buses and cars in the background).

To summarize, I’m wearing a cotton chemise under this Victorian corset, a steel lobster-tail bustle with ruffled petticoat, an underskirt, overskirt, bodice, bonnet, along with silk stockings and costume lace-up boots.

1880s Bustle Dress

Also, my mother-in-law was kind enough to let me borrow this vintage crochet handbag to house all my anachronistic necessities. Thanks MIL!

That’s quite a lot to talk about so to make this post easier on my I’m going to use the Historical Sew Monthly format for this outfit.

1880s Bustle Dress

The Challenge: After my last outing with the DFW Costumers Guild in November, my friend Susanna thought it would be a good idea to come back again for a Victorian themed event in February. “Sure,” I said, “that would be fun.” Next thing I knew she was ordering patterns and I had a new deadline to sew half a dozen pieces for a brand new costume in a little less than 2 months.

1880s Bustle Dress
(my friend Susanna and I)

Material: For the underlayers: cotton muslin. For the dress: gray with orange pinstripe wool – I thought it was wool but it’s actually a rayon poly blend and it’s too late now to fix it, silk velvet for the trim, cotton muslin for lining. For the bonnet: buckram and wire, leftover blue silk from my Regency bonnet, silk velvet, poly satin ribbon.

1880s Bustle Dress

Pattern:  Truly Victorian everything: bustle, petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, bodice. And a Lynn McMaster’s pattern for the bonnet.

However, I heavily altered my bodice to resemble this extant dress by shortening the hem, narrowing the sleeves, and creating a buttoned vest effect in front and changing the lapels. The skirts are mostly just like the patterns except I added big velvet chunks on one side of the underskirt mimicking the extant gown.

1880s Bustle Dress

Year: about 1888.

Notions: metal buttons, feathers for the bonnet, steel boning for the dress and the bustle.

My inspiration dress had gigantic buttons on it. These bronze buttons were the closest thing I could find that would match the style although they aren’t as large.

1880s Bustle Dress

How historically accurate is it? Well, the materials aren’t entirely accurate but I did so much hand sewing on this thing: buttonholes! Hooks and eyes! All that velvet!

I give it 3 out of 5 Typhoid Fevers…

Hours to complete: All of them. All the hours. Ok, really, I worked on this whole get-up for around a couple hours every day for three weeks. Nearing the end, I was feeling burnt out and my interiors look quite sloppy. I wanted to be finished with this monster.

First worn: Last week at the Caillebotte exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX with the DFW Costumers Guild.

Total cost: Ugh, the not-actually-wool alone cost about $100. Velvet was $32… all together this thing was at least $250. Le sigh. I can’t complain. I did decide on my own to pursue this hobby…

The only thing I don’t like about this dress is that the white lining peeks out from behind the vest panel and inside the sleeves. I didn’t think about that possibility as I was sewing, I should have used the self-fabric instead. Oh, and I should really redraft the collar because it didn’t quite work out the way I had envisioned and on the day of the event I had to sew it closed. While wearing it. Can you imagine a needle that close to your neck!?

1880s Bustle Dress

Even though I am incredibly proud of myself for completing this costume I am quite happy to be done with it. I’m ready for a few months of normal, modern garment sewing. I miss finishing a project in a day!

  • Tanit-Isis Sews

    This looks so great! I love what you did to the bodice pattern. I almost wish I had a deadline for my 1880s project—maybe then I would actually get it done rather than working one afternoon a month on it… 😉

    • Thank you! Sometimes you just need a deadline to get your bum in gear, especially for me as I am such a procrastinator.

  • missceliespants

    Holy cow. These are incredible. In Baltimore we have many Regency specific sites. You’re making me want to be a re-enactor!

    • Thanks! In Texas it’s mostly Civil War reenacting with a little bit of Texas Revolution. I wish there was more Regency era stuff going on here.

  • That is a beautiful dress!!

  • Mind blown! Beautifully done.

  • Wow! So pretty!

  • This is incredible, so much work!

    • Thanks! It was a lot of work but worth it in the end 😉

  • Frabjous! I love the detailing on the bodice, and oh! that draped overskirt is wonderful! I’m currently working on an 11-piece steampunk wardrobe for Artisan Square’s SWAP, and keep extending it with extra undies and accessories…I’ve also been putting some of the bits into this year’s HSM challenges. It’s making me stay on schedule anyway!

    • Thank you! Wow, 11 pieces! That’s impressive. Good luck with all of that!

  • Sharon Collins

    I love this outfit. It’s something my great grandmother might have worn. You did an excellent job for the short period of time. I can imagine the cost would have been more if you used wool. The hat & purse are my favorites.

    • Thank you! I wanted to keep the cost down by using wool instead of silk. I even got a discount on this fabric but turns out it wasn’t really wool. But it would have been twice as much if I had used real taffeta. I really like how the bonnet turned out, too, especially because I thought I wouldn’t have enough time to make one.

  • Donna

    Looks amazing – the hard work paid off!

    • Thank you, Donna!

  • SeamsOddLouise.Blogspot.com

    You look stunning in it, bet it was fun to wear and that’s why we sew. Worth all that effort it looks top-notch. Hope you find another event to wear it at too.

    • thanks so much! who knows, maybe I’ll find another event in the future for 1880s.

  • Super inpressed! Did you travel dressed like this? What was the event? Were the layers warm? Too warm?
    So many questions?

    • Thanks! I drove from the hotel to the museum. You can’t lean far back in a car seat in a bustle. The event was just an outing with the DFW Costumer’s Guild. Texas winters are mild and this dress was perfect for the weather. Not too hot or too cold.

  • Shannon Phillips

    Oh man, this dress takes the cake! I love the bodice! It is just amazing!

    • Thank you, Shannon!

  • English Girl at Home

    Wow Dixie this is superb! I’ve never had any desire to sew historical clothing before but this even tempts me. Enjoy your quick modern projects;)

    • Thanks, I intend to 😉

  • sallieforrer

    This is super inspiring!! I’ve been thinking a TON about historical costume sewing lately because my husband got a job this past year working for the historical foundation and one of their big events is this Victorian themed Christmas street carnival. He HAS to dress up, and this past year they asked me to be one of the judges for the costume contest (?!) and I was thoroughly embarrassed that I’ve never sewn a historical garment. So I swore this year I would but…. UGH. So. Much. Work!! Haha! This post is reminding me of that goal, however, and got me thinking again. So thank you! And I love the changes you made to the bodice and your color choices. The 1880’s is such a lovely time for fashions – those draped skirts!!

    • Dickens on the Strand, right? Sewing a historical costume from scratch is pretty daunting. I’d be glad to share what I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been costuming if you need advice. 😉

      Thanks, Sallie!

  • lisa g

    I am blown away by this outfit! It’s absolutely stunning! I love your fabric choices, and all the details are so, so perfect. Gorgeous!

  • sunndoesntknow

    I still maintain that you looked absolutely incredible and I looked like a wrinkled, crazed insomniac, but all my pieces were sewn together, damnit! 😉 And I am so jealous of your hat. I need to order my own sheet of buckram/wire and just start playing around.

    • you looked great! ya know what I did? I bought floral wire in the floral section. It’s the perfect width for hat wire. I gotta give you back your pattern anyway, i should give you some. I bought even more buckram, too.

      • sunndoesntknow

        Ohhhh, you tricky girl! I bet the floral wire works just as well. I don’t think I can make it to any of the sewing group meetups coming up because of work, but we could meet for lunch or something?

  • Dude, I’m speechless. This looks amazing, and the fit is great. I love the velvet!

    • thanks so much nicole!

  • Sandra

    Wow, what a tremendous amount of work! SO totally impressed!

  • Kimberly Hughes

    I can’t even express how much I love love love love love this.

  • Wow if there was a Like button for this outfit and one can sit there and click hundred times, I would! So gorgeous and impressive! If you didn’t tell us about the white lining peeking out no one would notice, no worries!

  • OMG this is incredible!!!! …just wow. Gorgeous! Really excellent colors, too! Love love love love love!

  • Totally amazing! You’re so talented.

  • Lauren S

    This must have been so much work but it looks amazing! Love the fabric and color choices.

  • Beautiful work! You look amazing!

  • Wow, that’s incredibly elaborate! And you’re looking very beautiful in your costume!

  • Gina Turrini

    Hello! this is amazing~ I adore the cut and the look of the bodice….which Truly Victorian Patterns is it? The link on the blog post is unfortunately de-funked and I don’t see a similar one on the site (it could be something discontinued?) It you’d be willing to share the pattern # I would be most grateful~ Just finished my own dress…and looking forward to the next

    • Hi Gina, it’s a heavily modified version of the Alexandria bodice: http://www.trulyvictorian.net/1887-alexandra-bodice.html

      My back looks the same as the original but the front is very different.

      • KB

        would love if you could mention the other pattern names as well? i’m guessing 261 and 382, but would love to know for sure!

        • You’re correct. The underskirt is 261 and the overskirt is 382! Sorry the links no longer work. I’ll try to get that fixed.

          • KB

            thank you so much for the quick reply, i just love this dress so! this may be my inspiration for my very first victorian dress 😀