If you’ve ever looked at one of those outrageous bustled skirts from the late 1880s and wondered how in the hell any of these women managed to sit down, it’s your lucky day.
This historical insight comes via Collector’s Weekly. Writer Ben Marks’s wife Pat Tyler recently crafted one of these beautiful-but-intimidating gowns for the City Lights Theater Company’s ongoing production of “The Elephant Man.” And so Marks got a front-row seat to some impressive costume engineering:
Under all those layers—from the overdrape to the underskirt to the petticoat—is a marvelous device known as a lobster bustle, which gets its name from its resemblance to the tail of the tasty crustacean. “If you laid the bustle down on a flat surface,” says Tyler, “it would resemble a tunnel, with the road bed being a flat piece of fabric sewn to the sides. The stays inside the bustle are made out of powder-coated steel. Since the flat piece—the road bed—is narrow, the wider tunnel piece arches when the boning is inserted.”
Most importantly of all, he shot some video of his wife maneuvering herself into a chair wearing the bustle. It’s amazing—because it’s so much easier than it looks. Well, that’s one single aspect of life in the 1880s that wasn’t as difficult as expected!