a bride about to wear the same style of dress as i wore in my wedding asked how i bustled my dress. i'm just getting a chance to document that for her.
this is called, i'm told, a sweep train. there's not much to it--it's not very long, and very easy and comfortable to walk around in. the only real need for bustling is to keep it from getting stepped on on a crowded dance floor and make it safer when dancing with one's new husband, especially when he turns you :)
i wouldn't recommend this bustle for every dress. i've seen more elegant bustles without external hardware. but those bustles sometimes break :( this bustle held up beautifully all night and worked well with this dress, so...adapt as you see fit!
so the first step is to determine where the top of the bustle should be. there's no magic here. it's going to depend on where this looks best on you, depending on your height, the volume of the dress, the fabric, the hemline, the height of the shoes you'll be wearing for the ceremony and reception, and the placement of the loops in the next step. you'll adjust these, probably, as you go through this process, so let yourself play with these a bit. with this dress, it was easy--we just used the peak where the pleat in back joined. you can see that point plainly in both photos--it's the top of the triangle in the left photo or the little bump (not the big bump of my butt, but the smaller one below it) in the right one.
the second step is to decide where you want the points to join the bustle peak will be. on this bustle, we had three points (hence, a three-point bustle) that we wanted to come up to join the peak. basically, you'll figure out how much you need to shorten the hemline in back, make your center point drop down about twice that much beneath that peak, and try fiddling with raising and lowering the peak and drop until the flow looks right on you.
when you've decided where you want everything, you're ready to start attaching things. first, the hooks at the peak (we used three). you could use buttons instead--fabric-covered or something funkier--and if i'd known then what i know now, i might have asked for that. but we just used basic bra-style hooks in white plastic (the dress is white poly satin). second, the loops at the points to be joined.
that's it for the sewing. then, at the reception, all that's needed is for some helpful person to fasten the loops to each of the hooks as appropriate--center to center, and then inward out--and then sort of straighten out the folds and pleats. one of the things that was really important to me was to have a simple bustle, because our ceremony and reception were in adjoining rooms and i wasn't going to a separate place between the two events--everyone would be mingling and i would be in the midst of it. my dear friend annie bustled me while i sipped a ginger ale and smartboy talked to me off in a corner of our reception room while our guests made their way in. nobody seemed to notice.
once bustled, the dress hemline was completely flat. i wish the whole hemline, even the front, had been a bit longer, but it really was an incredibly comfortable, easy-to-wear dress all night long. i didn't feel the need to tug at it or adjust it at all, from the time i put it on at 4pm until the time i removed it more than eight hours later. i hear a lot of brides complain about their dresses sagging, twisting, being heavy, all sorts of things. the best part is that, because this was a bridesmaid dress, it cost me $300, including alterations. i love that part.
the other thing i loved about this dress, and this bustle, was its staying power. i was moving all night--aside from a brief seating at dinner and a brief seat with friends, i was either walking or dancing the whole evening. i've seen bustles break before, and it's not pretty. i boogied, i swayed, and the bustle outlasted me. i never worried a bit. and, of course, all of that beautiful ribbon detail remained effortlessly on display for everyone to see :)
hope that helps, dress girl!