The years 1870-1900 include what is known as the Bustle period and the 90s. During this time, the silhouette shifted from that of full, bell-shaped skirts to a more fitted look characterized by back fullness.
Throughout the Bustle period of the 1870s and 1880s, a variety of padded devices were used to create back fullness and the bustle took on different forms. The bustle of the first stage (1870-1878) was achieved through manipulation of drapery and the use of decorative details such as flounces and bows at the back. From (1878-1883) fullness dropped to below the hips and decorative effects of the skirt became focused low as a result. Long trains and heavy fabrics also helped to emphasize the focus on the rear. The latter part of the decade (1884-1890) saw the bustle at its largest. Often referred to as the shelf bustle, it was rigid and took on the appearance of an almost horizontal projection. At this time, skirts shortened to several inches above the floor and rarely had trains, with the exception of some evening dresses.
The corset continued to be worn, and helped women achieve the fashionable silhouette of a full bust, narrow waist, and rounded hips. Petticoats also continued to be worn in order to aid in fullness and create interesting layers. Dress ensembles usually consisted of two pieces -- a bodice and matching skirt. The one-piece princess dress, worn by some during the latter part of the period, was an exception. Bodices of the period were fitted, often jacket style. The cuirass bodice, a long jacket that fit smoothly over the hips, was another style that emerged and was worn from around 1878-1883. Necklines for day were usually high, boned, and fitted. Sleeves were close-fitting and ended at either three quarters or at the wrist. Evening dresses were usually differentiated by their lavish trimmings, level of ornamentation, trained skirts, and short sleeves. Weighted silk, the result of a chemical process which offered greater body, was a popular choice for dresses beginning in the 1870s.
The 1890s have been often referred to as The Gay Nineties and La Belle Époque. Times were good, Paris was the center of high fashion, and for those who could afford it, dress was lavish and highly decorative. The S-shaped silhouette emerged, characterized by an hourglass silhouette with a protruding bust and the illusion of a large rear. The corset continued to be worn and was essential to achieving the fashionable silhouette of a tiny waist.
Long, sweeping trumpet skirts fitted smoothly over the hips and were often gored or treated with decorative effects towards the bottom. Full leg-of-mutton sleeves were at their largest in 1895, before they gradually decreased in size towards the turn of the century. By the late 1890s, sleeves with fullness seen only in small puffs at the shoulders were being worn.
The tailor-made was a wool or serge skirt suit worn with a shirtwaist blouse. Tailor-made costumes were described as ideal for traveling. Shirtwaist blouses worn with skirts were also widely worn, and accessorized with ruffled and tied cravats and jabots.
The variety of outerwear for women increased during the late nineteenth century and was dominated by coats, jackets, and wraps which could easily accommodate the bustle. Accessories of the period included small hats, gloves, muffs, decorative fans, and parasols.