Hustle and Bustles–and a giveaway!

When I look at women’s fashions from history there are few styles that make less sense to me than the bustle.

Hoops have them beat. 

And corsets.

And honestly, elephant bells and hot rollers and make up, and pierced ears and miniskirts are all pretty darned strange. I’m lucky I never got sucked into an escalator with those crazy wide bell bottoms. And forget bowling in a miniskirt, it’s just wrong…the kind of thing that scars a woman. The kind of thing that, well, I couldn’t bowl anyway so it’s not like it harmed my score all that much, but now, years later, I think of that ridiculously short dress and that whole freaking bowling alley behind me and I almost…ahem…excuse me. I mean this all happened to a FRIEND OF MINE.

Back to Bustles and Spurs Week!

So maybe bustles are just par for the course in the woman’s fashion sense.

But when I look at clothes, what I always wonder is HOW.

How did they climb in a carriage wearing a hoop?

How do you bend over and pick something up in a miniskirt?

How do you breathe in a tightly laced corset?

And how in the world to you sit down in a bustle?

Sometimes fashions have, at their very most basic root, some modicum of sense. I’ve heard hoopskirts helped keep a woman cool when she was wearing up the thirty pounds of clothing in the southern United States in the summer.

Sort of like internal air conditioning maybe? And the swaying hoop is a ‘ceiling fan’ of sorts? That’s the kidn of think that starts out maybe having some sense behind it and then the fashion takes hold, the skirts get wider, the hoops get bigger and bigger and before you know it, you’re wearing a wedding cake on the bottom half of your body as if you just popped out of it at a drunken bachelor party.

And a corset. Well, I think they used to believe corsets had some health value. Like to … (I’m struggling here) to keep your back supported? Maybe? But then they put in the boning. And they went all Scarlett O’Hara and laced tighter her tighter and bragged about a man spanning their waist with his hands and garbage like that.

But bustles? What? Was sitting down forbidden? 

Did they like…invent chairs just so women COULD sit down? And what would that chair look like?

Getting a hoop into a carriage was tricky but a bustle? No, you would have to walk everywhere, unless maybe they modified the insides of carriage so you could have plenty of room on a deep seat…or maybe lay face down. Or…………….

Oh forget it.

I suppose the same geniuses came up with all those styles.

And stiletto heels, too.

And perms.

And skinny jeans.

Just stop it.

My tribute to bustles today is actually a tribute to woman everywhere for surviving.

I will end with this thought. 

Ginger Rogers did every dance that Fred Astaire did. Only she had to do it backing up, in high heels, wearing a dress.

Women are tough and it’s a pleasure to write about tough women. And none tougher than my current heroine, Penny McCall. And she wasn’t one to mess around with a skirt when she had outlaws to hunt down.

Leave a comment about the worst possible woman’s fashion in history. Or tell me about a ‘bowling in a mini-skirt’ disaster you’ve heard of…from a friend. Get your name in the drawing for a signed copy of Mary Connealy’s Series Guide.

And come follow me on Facebook for my Spring Parade of Baby Calves

Gratuitous picture of utter (udder?) cuteness.


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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

37 thoughts on “Hustle and Bustles–and a giveaway!”

  1. You have to give the woman back through the years Credit or pity 🙂 I can’t imagine how the lasted in corsets pulled so tight they couldn’t breathe. I look back at my pictures from the 70’s and laugh. The bell bottoms were so wide they were almost as bad as the hoop skirts they wore back in history. But the mini skirt and mini dresses could cause problems :)I myself never wore mini skirts when bowling but when I was in my early 20’s and worked as a waitress our black uniforms were mini. During a very big rush hour we would rush around cleaning tables off as the line waiting to sit watched. I was bending over the table cleaning and my back to the huge windows allowed everyone passing quite the view if they looked in. Talk about embarrassement, especially when my boss ran over and told me the guys in line were talking about it. I started wearing the slacks after that.

    • I am a person who throws things away. It’s almost a problem. And I have ZERO regrets for the things I toss. Almost zero…one regret I have is throwing away this pair of striped, low-rise elephant bells.They had a blue leather lace up fly instead of a zipper. And the stripes where up and down and PRIMARY colors. Those were so cool.

      I think the kids would’ve gotten a kick out of seeing them. Plus I could prove I was once a TINY size.

  2. What a great post. We women are amazingly resilient. I often wondered how hoops worked with day to day life.

    • Debra did mostly only fancy, rich woman wear them? The average mom-at-home cooking and cleaning and chasing kids…I’ll bet she stowed the hoops for special occasions.

  3. You just gave me a lot to think about. It reminded me of the days when I was in high school and the girls all wore jeans so tight we had to use pliers just to zip them up. How the heck did we breath, much less get dressed again if we had to use the bathroom? I honestly can’t remember the second part. But I do remember using the pliers to get dressed. Today I like comfort. I have to question some of today’s fashion too where girls wear such skimpy clothing. I look at them and think one day they will regret the way they dressed.

  4. I think all women wonder when they were younger how the heck did we fit in those and then years later laugh about it.

  5. Bustles had to be the worse I would say and the corsets would have to be next. Although I can remember laying down on the bed just to get my jean zipped up because they were so tight. These days just give me a good pare of sweat pants and I am good to go.

  6. LOL You have me laughing here. This is such a great post. Thank you. Today I really needed this laugh. I have often wondered if men were the ones that came up with a lot of these women torture fashions. LOL. My son and daughter in law reenact civil war, world war 1 and world war 2. They make their own clothes and some of the fashions were just funny. Their wedding was civil war themed. My son made his outfit, the men standing up for him, his fathers and his soon to be father in law. Kristen made her dress and the ladies standing up with her and her moms. I made my own, she had enough to do. Kristen also made all the ladies corsets and hoop skirts. The hoop skirt was actually easy enough to spend the whole day in. Even going to the bathroom and sitting was no problem. The corset was extremely comfortable and I did stand up taller throughout the day. I personally still love bell bottoms that are not huge. But I have gone through my share of a lot of these fashions. LOL we are funny as women. Now that I am 60 I really have no interest in fashion other than do I like it and can I walk in these shoes. LOL Thank you for sharing today. Oh, I have this book on my list to get. It sounds so interesting. I love that they trade rolls as who has the most expertise when needed.

  7. What we do!!!! I think corsets would be a hinderance to me. How would I even breath or eat? Which I enjoy doing.

  8. Oh the bustle, just WHY??? You are right, there is no way they could sit! I thank my stars everyday that I grew up on a farm. Give me jeans and sweatshirts!!! No fuss. I tried one of those modern corsets for a wedding and almost passed out. Nope, not for me! My generation had the denim mini skirts. I never owned one because all I could think about was some poor soul who would see….well, what shouldn’t be seen!

    • Susan P I think the reason woman started wearing PANTS was because of mini-skirts. Yeah they claimed to like the skirts but you just couldn’t LIVE in them.
      My freshman year in highschool was 1970 (just stop that! I CAN SEE YOU ADDING AND SUBTRACTING FOR MY AGE, STOP IT!!!!!!!!!) Anyway, my freshman year was the first year PANTS were allowed in High School. My…either Junior or Senior year was the first year those pants could be blue jeans.
      I was all the way sold on changing that dress code. Quite the rebel.

      • LOL, no math here! I went to a school that girls could not wear pants at all. So, I was used to skirts, but I hated it. I can only imagine the celebrating with allowing pants!

  9. Mary, you had me giggling. All those images of women trying to maneuver in a somewhat elegant manner in those fashions are too funny and I doubt I’ll get them out of my head. What I’m wondering is how on earth they went to the bathroom?? How did they even get through the outhouse door? Or sit on a chamber pot? Oh my crackling, aching knees! There was not one thing practical about a hoop skirt or a bustle. But maybe men were drawn to those oversized rear ends. Those women were the Kardashians of the 1800s. 🙂 As far as our fashion….how about trying to do anything in those mini, mini skirts that show everything you have every time you move or sit? Or shapeless tent dresses and bell bottom pants?

    Thanks for the laughs! You made my day.

  10. I have often thought that men design women’s clothing to incumber us and/or display us for their pleasure. Thus, all the above you discussed was thrust upon us. My idea of the best invention is elastic. Comfort is my goal.

  11. I will never forget in high school we were having I believe it fifties day or some kind of day anyhow this friend of mine had roll her straight leg Levi’s up and then pull them up on her calves well bless her heart she was like me we had more than our fair share of a thing called fat. Anyhow she got got those pants leg pulled up to where she wanted and after a while they started cutting and wanted them down and she couldn’t get them down I was trying to help I finally ended up going down to vice principal office and got a pair of pliers and would grab hold of the Jean leg on side and managed to pull and work the pants leg down it was one of those had to be there kind of things .
    Your book sounds amazing Have a Blessed day

  12. I like reading about the fashions in the past, but I too have wondered how they were able to work in them, especially when they did not have modern conveniences like we do.

    • Linda, so much of what we read about the past is the WEALTHY. Did those woman work much? I mean…Scarlett? She didn’t have to bake bread, at least not at first. But Mammy wore hoops, too, didn’t she? That’s just mean.

  13. I’m glad also that I’ve never been one to follow fashion trends! I wear what I want and what I want is comfort! I’ve never understood the Uncomfortable things women wear like all the things you mention! I just don’t get it! When I see TV shows with women running fast in stiletto heels, I just laugh! No way! And corsets? Don’t get me started! I wouldn’t have lasted a day!!! Loved your post!

  14. You are just hilarious, MARY CONNEALY! Hip hugger pants with the wide legs were enough to make me weep since it was a problem finding the hips then trying to keep them from embarrassing me! Yikes!

  15. Corsets! I remember this documentary, Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home, where they talked about corsets among other things. I particularly remember this liver in a jar. There were really deep grooves in it, all thanks to really tight corsets. No need to guess what had killed the woman whose liver had ended up in a jar: vanity and corsets.

  16. Very interesting and yes, a lot of crazy fashions! I also agree with the corsets, they must have been very uncomfortable way more uncomfortable then girdles! What us women do for fashion! Doesnt make sense, the older I get, the less sense it all makes! 🙂

  17. There’s another thing in this world–women not wearing their leggings properly. First, make sure they are not too thin fabric-wise. Do the bend over test. If you can see skin through them, don’t wear them, honey. Especially if you have junk in the trunk like me. I’ve seen to many people bending over at Target. Oh, my.

    If you are curvy like me, make sure you wear a top which covers your derriere when bending over. There are two women insisting on wearing leggings at church. And when they fill the baptismal fount with water and bend over on Sunday, goodness gracious–someone should take them aside and let them know what the world is seeing. And, they should learn how to bend like a lady.

    Yes, I’m judgmental on this thing. But, there are things which shouldn’t be seen. In church! or Target.

  18. I think corsets must have been the worst. Today I don’t wear anything tight. I have to move. I just cannot imagine me getting into a corset nowadays. How would I get into it? What do you do with all your fat rolls ? Do you put them in the corset and then tighten it up? Nope not going there .

  19. I’ve never thought much about bustles before. How would they sit in a carriage or any place with those silly things? I do remember having to learn to sit down carefully in a square dance skirt. All those petticoats underneath could fly up in your face —–very embarrassing.

  20. I think the current trend of clothing leaves much to be desired. The fabric is so sheer that you have to wear a camisole or another blouse underneath it so that you can’t see your torso and bra. And the ripped up jeans, don’t get me started. What happened to quality clothing? And what is wrong with cotton? Everything seems to be made of synthetics these days. I think clothing needs to breathe especially since it can get up to 110-115 degrees in the summer.

  21. Mom and calf have really close facial marking in this picture. What to say about women’s fashions. There have been so many really bad ideas over the years. Panniers or side hoops would be relatively easy to sit in, but you would have a difficult time getting on to a stage or through a door. Luckily they went out of fashion before they could make an appearance in the Old West.

  22. Hi Mary, thanks for a fun post. I think bustles would have been very uncomfortable but I know that mini-skirts were! Constantly pulling the hem, almost afraid to sit down! I grew up in a small town so I didn’t wear them much but I was never a fan!

  23. Your post had me laughing out loud – and cringing at some of the things that happened to . . . my friend. Like always toppling off her platform shoes. And platform flip-flops. Now there’s and idea.

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