1880s Bustle Skirt and Bodice – A View into the Costume Shop

1885 Street, Fort Edmonton Park Fashion

Welcome back to our costume blog posts!

You may remember some of our earlier posts about Fort Edmonton Fashion.

Generally on the whole, the fabric is what inspires the design in the Fort Edmonton Park costume shop – I don’t draw a sketch and then find the fabric, I find the fabric then draw the sketch to go with it. I’ve been eyeing this 100% silk striped combination of black satin and slightly shirred dusty turquoise shantung for some time, and matched it with a brighter green turquoise silk dupioni. I didn’t include the stripes in the sketch below – I’d rather spend the time matching the stripes in the bodice than drawing them in my wee pencil sketch.

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We’re very aware of the underpinnings that go under our costumes – they protect the costumes from the body and help give shape. We already have petticoats (cotton slips) built, and the corset will wait until we have someone this size to wear it, but the bustle cage was the first thing built so that I could drape the silk skirt over its frame. This particular bustle cage is made of cotton and sprung steel.


A lot of 1880s dresses, including those of my hero Charles Frederick Worth, are made with imperfectly matched dye-lots in their fabrics, so I wasn’t too heartbroken that I couldn’t find a dupioni to match the shantung perfectly. The manipulated box pleats on the collar and the front of the skirt are made of silk charmeuse. Behind the base ruffle is a white cotton “dust ruffle” which will hopefully take the brunt of the dirt. 1880s bustles tend to feature a simple pleated train, but I did not make the train longer than the skirt; that style would not be very practical on our boardwalk-bordered dirt street. Since silk is so easily broken down by the sun, hopefully this outfit will be saved for overcast – but not rainy – Sundays.

Side note, looking at the triptych, I’m pretty impressed with how I got the stripes to match between the bodice and the skirt at side back. I may have called myself a golden god¦

Come down for our Opening Weekend on the Victoria Day long weekend to see if any of the interpreters got assigned this costume!

Want more information? Here’s a little bit about the shop and the textiles we use:

The costume shop operates year-round, repairing and cleaning the costumes from the previous summer season, costuming educational staff, prepping for and cleaning up from Christmas Reflections, and building new items. In the Winter Season we can’t really build costumes with specific people in mind because we do not know how many of the staff and volunteers of the previous season will be returning, or even if they will be returning to the same era. So our best plan of attack is to replace garments that expired over the previous season so that our collection maintains its viability. Our costumes are typically given a 5 season lifespan and this number is variable; there are some costumes that have been in the collection more than 15 years and others that only last a single season.

In the summer, the build list is determined by what garments are needed to complete our interpreters’ costumes if our collection does not have the pieces to meet the current needs. My staff often ask the animator what their least and most favourite colours are and try to build a costume that suits their personality, era, and in some cases historic character.

Our costumes are constructed of materials that would have been around during the eras we portray. In the 1846 Fort the garments are predominantly made of cotton, and that collection is filled out with animal hide, wool, and linen items. The 1880s era uses the same fabrics as the 1840s with the addition of silk and sometimes fur. Silk is not the most practical fabric for our purposes – silks are very susceptible to sun damage and tend to
break down, causing a shattered effect. Our interpreters spend a great deal of time outdoors so silk costumes are not as prevalent here as they might have been historically. The 1900s see the hide garments moving to parades rather than day-to-day wear so those aren’t as featured, but the other fabrics remain popular. The 1920s costumes include same fabrics as the 1900s, with the addition of rayon. Rayon is a man-made fibre, not a synthetic. It is made of wood pulp which goes through a rather water- and chemical-intensive process.


The fibre-, dyeing-, and weaving processes have evolved over the past century and a half, so our locally purchased fabrics are not entirely authentic. We compensate for this by looking for fabrics with interesting texture and follow similar colour palettes and patterns to the times.

Want to learn more about fabric? Here’s a link to some information on bamboo rayon and why it’s not as environmentally friendly as we thought.