To Get Your Butt On The Dance Floor You’ve Got To Get Your Dress Off It: Bustles

Woo, I finally have time to talk about bustles!  YAY!

A bustle is a way to pick up the excess material of your dress from your train off the floor so you can move around easily after the ceremony.  This is achieved by using a series of ribbons, hooks, buttons, or snaps (or a combination of them) to pull up the dress and form layers.  Most brides do this right before the reception so they can still feature the train in their pictures but don’t have to try to figure out how to have their first dance with their dress hanging out behind them.  If you have a train you need a bustle.  Some brides will try to say that they don’t like the look of bustles, and that it will “ruin” the dress, so they’d rather not have one.  I know some dresses may not have an easy/flattering way to bustle them, but I’m telling you that it will be far more ruined if it is being trampled on all night.

There are several different styles of bustles.  Dresses don’t usually come with bustles since they look best when designed around the body of the person wearing the dress, although some dresses will require certain bustle styles or will be otherwise limited because of the way in which they are constructed.  Most dresses, however, can be done in a variety of styles, so which one you use is really up to personal preference.  There are two main (and obvious) categories for bustles.

Over Bustle

There are a number of styles of over bustles, with the common thread being that the train of the dress is pulled up on top of the skirt.  This is a great option if you have a pretty train you want to show off and display.  The downside of over bustles is that, as a whole, they are not very secure.  The bustle is achieved by placing a small hook on the skirt (hidden both by color and location; it’s not like you’ll look at the dress and go “oh look there’s a hook!) with a corresponding anchor point (usually a loop of clear or color matched thread) further down on the skirt.  When it’s time to bustle the dress, the anchor points are lifted up and placed on the hooks, which are then pinched closed to help keep them in place (pliers help with this; your fingers will thank you later).  Some of the over bustle styles are:

  • The One Point Bustle: There is one hook/anchor set along the middle of the gown.  This works best with very light fabrics where the train is short.  This does not provide a lot of support, so this bustle is notorious for breaking during the reception (the anchor usually gives way).
  • The Three Point Bustle: As the name suggests, this bustle has three hook/anchor sets on the gown.  This is much more secure than the one point option, so it stands up better to heavier fabrics (or just more fabric in general).  This one also can be implemented in such a way that the train can be spread open to showcase more of the detailing.
  • The Multi Point Bustle: If you have a decent sized train or a very heavy fabric, you may need more than 3 points.  The more points there are, the more complicated the dress is to bustle, but it will be more secure.  Keep in mind that over bustles will always be in odd numbers since it needs a hook/anchor set in the middle (not putting one in the middle makes the dress gap out).  When Geoff’s sister got married she had a nine-point over bustle.  It took FOREVER to put up because we kept managing to skip hooks and would hang her dress crooked.  Those suckers were well hidden.
  • The Ballroom Bustle: This is a “cleaner” version of the three-point bustle (for larger trains a five point bustle can be used, but it doesn’t get the same look).   This works best on dresses that don’t have a lot of detail on the skirt and train.  In this version, the train is hung in such a way that it essentially disappears and you are left with what appears to be a regular ballroom style gown.  It spreads the train out and uses minimal folds, aligning the end of the train with the bottom of the skirt.

When bustling your dress for the reception, have your helpers start at the middle point and work their way out.  Completely hook the dress before pinching closed any hooks, since it will be nearly impossible to un-pinch them to fix mistakes (trust me, I know…).  Only once you are sure all of the anchors have found their appropriate hooks should the pliers come out.  Keep in mind that even the most secure over bustles can give way if there is a good deal of tugging on your dress (little kids trying to get your attention or you picking them up can wreak havoc on an over bustle).  I have personally never seen an over bustle that survives the night (the right half of Geoff’s sister’s dress was on the floor halfway through the reception), but I have also never seen an over bustle at a wedding that didn’t have a ton of kids under the age of 10 (and the kids seem to be the main culprit of the bustle failing).

Under Bustle

You guessed it, it’s the obvious opposite to the over bustle.  The under bustle is achieved by using  sets of ribbons (some use snaps and buttons, but ribbons hold up better).  The ribbons are sewn onto the inside layers of the dress, so there is nothing exposed (unlike the over bustle).  When it’s time to bustle, the corresponding ribbons are tied together with no fabric gather in between them.   Since the ribbons aren’t visible, you don’t need to worry about the ribbon ties looking pretty, just making sure they’re solid.  When you’re done, you may have to fluff parts of the skirt to get it to lay properly, but the ribbons will have created folds on the outer part of the fabric.  The hardest thing about this bustle is making sure the right ribbons get tied together.  Be sure your seamstress either numbers or color codes your ribbons if you have more than one set.  When Sarah (my friend from last January) got married, she had numbered ribbons.  3 of us were laying on the ground under her dress going “I have a 3 and a 5!  Who has the other 3 and the other 5?”  It was kind of hilarious.

  • One Point Under Bustle: This is a single ribbon set in the middle of the back of the gown.  This works best with thinner materials, otherwise you risk creating too much concentrated bulk as well as running a stability risk.  Depending on the train length you can either pull it up to create a fold (like the French Bustle) or completely flip it up underneath to make it look like it was never there (only really an option for sweep trains).  This is the least secure of the under bustles, however it is much more stable than the one point over bustle.
  • French Bustle:  This is essentially a 3 (or more) point version of the previous bustle, but is much more secure and can handle much more fabric and bulk.  The fold that is created is wide and goes across most of the back of the dress.  Be careful though: with stiffer fabrics you can end up with what I lovingly refer to as triangle hips.  This is the bustle style we tried with my dress first, and because I had fabrics that were less flowy I had pointed hips.  Because I also had a drop waist, the bulk of the fabric hit at the back of my knee, which made sitting very uncomfortable.
  • Austrian Bustle:  This is probably the hardest to sew into a dress, but the easiest to implement.  It works just like raising blinds.  Heavy duty eyes are sewn into the skirt at even intervals, with a heavy-duty thread/cord that is anchored at the bottom of the skirt threaded through them.  When it’s time to bustle, the cord is pulled from the top and the skirt raises like a curtain, the height of which is determined by how tightly the cords are pulled before they are knotted.  The seamstress should mark on the cords where the knots should be, but you can always shorten the skirt further by redoing the knots later in the evening.  The end result is a sort of “bunched up” bustle without all the folds.
  • The Train Flip: This is what we did with my dress. If most of your detail is higher up on the train, but you don’t like the folds created by the other under bustles, this is a great option.  The train is flipped up underneath the dress so that you have a straight skirt hem (like with the ballroom bustle).  It turns the back of the dress into a bubble hem, but the train is tied up so it lays pretty flush against the inside of the dress so you don’t have excess fabric and volume.  It just disappears!

Just like with an over bustle, have your helpers start at the middle then work their way out.  The ribbons should be tied at their bases (each anchor point should be touching), and they should be tied in double-knotted bows.  This makes them secure, but also easy to undo later.  Some dresses will necessitate some clear snaps to get the right effect for the under bustle.  These shouldn’t be attached until the ribbons are all tied and the dress has been adjusted so that the folds all lay correctly.  Snaps are easy to do and undo, but the less pulling and tugging on the dress the better.

How much your seamstress will charge to put a bustle in depends on how much work is going to be involved.  The more complicated the bustle the more they will charge.  The more layers there are to the dress, the more complicated it will be.  When deciding how short to bustle it, try to keep in mind both what shoes you think you’ll end up with at the end of the night (for instance if you plan on dancing barefoot, don’t bustle it to the length you need for your heels!) and your dance style.  If you tend to “get low” bustle your dress a little shorter.  You do NOT want to be putting your dress in a position to be stepped on a lot.  It will happen anyways, I promise, but you can minimize the risk!

When choosing a bustle, have your seamstress pin the dress up in the style of that bustle to give you an idea of what it will look like.  It’s going to be a little different when it’s actually sewn in rather than being held in by pins, but it’ll give you a good estimate of what to expect.  Keep in mind that if your dress has multiple layers, you can actually bustle the layers differently.  For example, my dress had a solid satin under layer and then an organza over layer.  We talked about bustling the solid part under the dress, but doing the organza layers as an over bustle to show off the pretty beading.

What kind of bustle did you choose?  Any particular reason you chose that one?

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Posted on August 24, 2012, in Attire, Reception, To-Do, Wedding Planning Isn't For Sissies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. not sure exactly when this was posted but I was curious what you ended up doing because I also have a solid satin dress with organza overlay and I am sewing my bustle myself as I am on a really tight budget and never thought of doing them differently

    • I think I mentioned it in the middle of the post, but I ended up doing what I call a “train flip” bustle. I’m sure there’s a more technical term for it, but I have no idea what it is. My particular train didn’t have much detail at the bottom, so I didn’t have any reservations about hiding it. I simply flipped all of the layers up under the dress (so they were inside the skirt), which made the back of the dress essentially a bubble hem. All the layers were attached with ribbons and snaps (ribbons on the heavier layers, snaps on the light organza) in such a way that it laid flat against the inside of the skirt, meaning there was no gathering and it didn’t create much extra bulk.

      If you have a lot of detail on your train and don’t want to hide it, but don’t want a bunch of bulk from doing an over bustle with the satin, you can actually bustle the layers separately. We originally talked about doing that with my dress. The idea was to take the heavy layers (in your case the satin) and do an under bustle of some kind to tuck it away, then do an over bustle with the organza layers so you could still see all the detail.

      If you want to discuss a few other options, go on and send me a message through the “contact me” tab, and we can email about it!

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