Project Title

Fashion as Freedom: The Bustle and Women of the Late Victorian Era

Academic department under which the project should be listed

COTA - Theatre and Performance Studies

Faculty Sponsor Name

Dr. Thomas Fish

My work does not contain live subjects.

Abstract (300 words maximum)

The paper examines the relationship between late nineteenth century women, their freedom, and their undergarments, specifically during the bustle period between 1867 and 1889. There is a general bias in the U.S. public against Victorian fashion. The bustle, a wire, cage-like undergarment constructed to create a dramatic bump extending the rear, is often considered ridiculous, impractical, and dangerous due to the exaggerated proportions and seemingly endless layers. However, we develop these thoughts by looking at the past through the lens of modern ideals. My research investigates the Victorian woman’s relationship to this seemingly restrictive fashion trend and details the surprising levels of freedom uncovered because of the bustle. These undergarments, I will argue, increased mobility, allowed women to participate in athletics, and even had an economic benefit through a vital industry that developed around bustle-smuggling. Methodologically, I consider late 19th century primary sources, including articles from The New York Times, Godey’s Lady’s Book, and Harper’s Bazaar. These fashion trends are then contextualized with contemporary scholarship on Victorian fashion, such as “Smuggled in the Bustle” (Hind Abdul-Jabbar) and “Changing Ideals of Womanhood During the Nineteenth-Century Woman Movement” (Susan M. Cruea). The project will interest fashion historians and theatre practitioners alike; it provides costume designers ideas on how to marry actor comfort and historical accuracy, and for theatre practitioners, a way to analyze the inner life of female characters like Hedda Gabler in Social Realist plays from the period.

Project Type

Event

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Fashion as Freedom: The Bustle and Women of the Late Victorian Era

The paper examines the relationship between late nineteenth century women, their freedom, and their undergarments, specifically during the bustle period between 1867 and 1889. There is a general bias in the U.S. public against Victorian fashion. The bustle, a wire, cage-like undergarment constructed to create a dramatic bump extending the rear, is often considered ridiculous, impractical, and dangerous due to the exaggerated proportions and seemingly endless layers. However, we develop these thoughts by looking at the past through the lens of modern ideals. My research investigates the Victorian woman’s relationship to this seemingly restrictive fashion trend and details the surprising levels of freedom uncovered because of the bustle. These undergarments, I will argue, increased mobility, allowed women to participate in athletics, and even had an economic benefit through a vital industry that developed around bustle-smuggling. Methodologically, I consider late 19th century primary sources, including articles from The New York Times, Godey’s Lady’s Book, and Harper’s Bazaar. These fashion trends are then contextualized with contemporary scholarship on Victorian fashion, such as “Smuggled in the Bustle” (Hind Abdul-Jabbar) and “Changing Ideals of Womanhood During the Nineteenth-Century Woman Movement” (Susan M. Cruea). The project will interest fashion historians and theatre practitioners alike; it provides costume designers ideas on how to marry actor comfort and historical accuracy, and for theatre practitioners, a way to analyze the inner life of female characters like Hedda Gabler in Social Realist plays from the period.