A bustle is a type of framework used to expand the fullness or support the drapery of the back of a woman's dress, occurring predominantly between the mid- to late 1800s. Bustles were worn under the skirt in the back, just below the waist, to keep the skirt from dragging. Heavy fabric tended to pull the back of a skirt down and flatten it. Thus, a woman's petticoated or crinolined skirt would lose its shape during everyday wear (from merely sitting down or moving about). The word "bustle" has become synonymous with the fashion to which the bustle was integral.
As the fashion for crinolines wore on, their shape changed. Instead of the large bell-like silhouette previously in vogue, they began to flatten out at the front and sides, creating more fullness at the back of the skirts. One type of crinoline, the crinolette, created a shape very similar to the one produced by a bustle. The excess skirt fabric created by this alteration in shape was looped around to the back, again creating increased fullness.
In the early stages of the fashion for the bustle, the fullness to the back of the skirts was carried quite low and often fanned out to create a train. The transition from the voluminous crinoline enhanced skirts of the 1850s and 1860s can be seen in the loops and gathers of fabric and trimmings worn during this period. The bustle later evolved into a much more pronounced humped shape on the back of the skirt immediately below the waist, with the fabric of the skirts falling quite sharply to the floor.
Bustles and bustle gowns are rarely worn in contemporary society. Notable exceptions occur in the realm of haute couture and bridal fashion. A dress in the bustle style may be worn as a costume. For example, in 1993 Eiko Ishioka won an Academy Award for her costume designs from Bram Stoker's Dracula. The film features several extravagant bustle gowns created for female leads Winona Ryder and Sadie Frost..