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Bustles Were a Pain in the Behind

Women's fashions in the 19th century went through many changes, as different designers tried out the ways they could make a woman look the way she should. The crinolines of the Civil War era didn't really work in cities that were becoming more and more crowded, but heaven forbid that a lady could dispense with overly-engineered undergarments that sculpted her into the latest fashionable silhouette. The bustle was patented in 1857 and became all the rage until about 1888.

An 1888 anonymous writer to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal voiced concerns about the fashion of the time in a letter headed simply “Bustles.”

The writer reels off the numerous health problems they see with everyday women’s fashion: corsets squeezing organs, shoes too small and pointed at the toe deforming the foot and particularly the bustle. “The woman with a bustle can never sit down in a natural position,” the letter records. “It is absolutely impossible for her to rest her back against the back of any seat of ordinary construction. I have no doubt some of the severe backaches in women whose duties keep them seated all day are due to, or at least aggravated by, this disability.”

Read about the rise and fall of the bustle and other 19th-century undergarments at Smithsonian.


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