Red Bustle Ballgown


I’ve already mentioned my propensity towards urging my friends to attend historical costume events with me, so it should be no surprise that for an upcoming Victorian ball I managed to convince a friend to let me outfit her in something appropriate– in this case, an altered modern ballgown (of course).

The original gown had a pretty decent silhouette for a turn of the century ballgown — the wide neckline with tip-of-the-shoulder straps, sweeping skirt, and even a short train. Sorry for the poor picture quality– I forgot to take a larger photo of the original until it was too late and I’d already started alterations.


Anyway, the dress fit my friend just fine– except for the fact that it was almost 10″ too long for her. I’d originally planned on just hemming the thing to preserve the sweeping lines of the skirt, but in messing around with the fabric we realized that it would be easier to re-drape it to form swags in the back, almost like a bustle.

Since the dress needed some support to really get the bustle look, I tied a small pillow around the waist of my dress form for a placeholder (I made a bustle pad later) and then got to work.


The original dress had an asymmetrical swag across the front, so I tried to even out that asymmetry as best I could– the first thing I did was to mirror the pleats at the right side of the top skirt, making more pleats  on the left to form the drape in the front. It wasn’t possible to bring it all the way up because the underskirt (in a very period technique, actually) was only made of fashion fabric in the visible areas, with plain netting in the unseen sections.

Then I did some more stitching at various spots on the underside of the skirt back to form the bustled section. Once the overskirt was properly shaped, I just ran a large tuck in the underskirt layers to bring them up to floor length. The whole skirt alteration has been done in such a way that it can easily be undone to bring it back to its original state. No cutting!

Next it was time to cover up the modern-looking beading at the neckline and waist. The neckline was easy– I just stitched on a length of black lace I had in my stash– the beads peeked out a bit, but it was actually a nicely subtle sparkly effect.


For the waistline, however, I didn’t have any coordinating black trim, so I had to use my seam ripper to remove all of the beads. Unfortunately they left behind some slightly frayed areas, so I made some bias tape out of extra red satin from my stash (isn’t it great how all formal gown manufacturers seem to use the same color red?) and hand-stitched it over the waistline to cover it. It was a little wrinkled due to the curve of the waistline, but not horribly out of place.

Anyway, it turned out great, and was an easy way to get a Victorian-looking bustle gown without doing all the work of construction!




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