Arsenic Bustle Dress Research

Come June, I will be heading up to Willimantic Connecticut to visit my Aunt and enjoy their annual ‘Victorian Days’ event.  That means I finally have a reason to make the bustle dress I’ve been dreaming of for four years. If the event were closer, I would probably make several gowns. Unfortunately, we’re heading up on the train and my mother keeps stressing me to ‘pack light’.

     What is this Light Packing she speaks of?

     Despite the fact that one cannot pack light when attending a Victorian event, I will do my best. I’m considering a dress based on the natural form era, cutting out the need to pack a bustle and petticoats. I will make a day jacket/bodice and possibly an evening bodice and I will build the corset into these so I don’t have to bring another piece.

Below are my inspiration pictures.


I believe this is an extant gown from 1885, (the second bustle era)

(Side note: the second bustle era is known for its love of asymmetrical designs, featured in the dress above. Part of me thinks its adorable, but the other part of me wants to rip the dress apart and FIX IT.)June fashions, 1876 England, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine

The Lady in green is almost wearing what I want, sort of a combination of this and the blue extant dress above. Even the fabric is similar to the green stripped fabric I have.

And this is where the Arsenic comes in.

Victorians were notorious for poisoning themselves with arsenic, it was used in a green dye that was then used in wallpaper, household items, and dresses. If you had a green dress, chances were you were wearing arsenic. And not just wearing it but killing yourself and everyone around you. 


“Examining the ballgown worn by one London society hostess, a doctor found 60 grains of Scheele’s Green per square yard – enough to kill 12 people. More alarmingly still, it was so loosely bound into the fabric that even the gentlest waltz could send it billowing out in a cloud of poisonous dust.

‘Well may the fascinating wearer of such a gown be called drop-dead gorgeous,’ he said. ‘She carries in her skirts poison enough to slay the whole of the admirers she may meet within half-a-dozen ballrooms.'”

For more information on this please read this article, it’s long but definitely worth the read!
Read more:


3 thoughts on “Arsenic Bustle Dress Research

  1. kaikooki says:

    I do love a good bustle. I can’t wait to see!

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