Before we dig in to the truth and (frankly, frightening) history of gigantic sleeves, let’s poke a wee bit of fun at the idea of making our female shoulders appear twice as wide as our male escort’s. After all, doesn’t EVERY woman want her dainty shoulders to appear broad enough, and sturdy enough, to carry the weight of the world? Didn’t our great-great-grandmothers want to appear twice as brawny as their beaus?
Worse, can you even imagine ironing those sleeves?
REALLY? THOSE SLEEVES WERE IN FASHION?
If The House of Worth designed expensive gowns for New York’s elite, many of which have survived to be on display at The Met, we can absolutely agree the fashion was legitimate.
Middle- and upper-class women enjoyed fine fashion in the late 1890s (much earlier, too; see more House of Worth details, below). The poorest classes may not have been able to meet the barest of essentials (the nineteenth century was a very different time as far as social services and assistance), so the only groups missing the “Big Sleeve” era would’ve been “The Other Half“.
But… Working Women–or at least middle-class women’s “work dresses” were stylish, too.
DID REAL PEOPLE WEAR THIS STUFF?
1893 to 1900, more or less… and well beyond
The leg of mutton sleeve (also known in French as the gigot sleeve) was initially named due to its unusual shape: formed from a voluminous gathering of fabric at the upper arm that tapers to a tight fit from the elbow to the wrist. First seen in fashionable dress in the 1820s, the sleeve became popular between approximately 1825 and 1833 – but by the time Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, the overblown sleeves had completely disappeared in favour of a more subdued style. The trend returned in the 1890s, sleeves growing in size – much to the ridicule of the media – until 1906 when the mode once again changed. This distinct upper body silhouette has inspired designers at numerous points throughout the twentieth century – and the Spring/Summer 2016 collections have seen a determined reappearance of the sleeve shape, with designers such as J.W. Anderson using the historical pattern to craft a contemporary silhouette. (emphasis added)
An Example of “Ridicule of the Media” ~
SUMMER AND WINTER, SPRING AND FALL
“Big Sleeves”? “Balloon Sleeves”? “Puffy Sleeves”? “Marquise Sleeves”? Leg O’ Mutton? “Leg Of Mutton” Sleeves? “Gigot Sleeves”?
Official name– Leg Of Mutton Sleeves… Because that image is so attractive.
Why does anyone follow fashion trends… even if they’re likely to regret doing so, as soon as five or ten years later?
Come on! You’ve done it too–worn the height of fashion, though you might cringe now.
“You know, my father used to say to me,” ‘Nando, don’t be a schnook. It’s not how you feel, it’s how. You. Look!” He was mahvelous! But you, dahling, hmmmm, you look mahvelous! Absolutely mahvelous! And this is from my tongue which is deep inside my body. It’s better to look good than to feel good.”
The history of fashion design refers to the development of the fashion industry which designs clothing and accessories. The modern industry, based around firms or fashion houses run by individual designers, started in the 19th century with Charles Frederick Worth who was the first designer to have his label sewn into the garments that he created.
ULTIMATELY, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WAIST
To Victorians, on either side of the pond, ladies’ fashions were all about emphasizing the itty-bitty waistline. The snugger the corset, the bigger the sleeves, the tinier the waistline appears.
Sometimes, sleeve “enhancers” (sticky-outy-things) were sewn into the dress’s sleeves. Consider how boning can be sewn into a bodice’s seams, or how horsehair (it’s made of plastic now) can be sewn into the hem of certain fabrics to give the hem of the finished garment the body and shape desired.
Notice the lightweight, cooler design of this last pair… wire loops held in place as affixed to ribbon (on top), and the coils connected at the bottom (maybe simply bound with twine). Inventive Victorians!
HOW MUCH FABRIC DO THOSE SLEEVES REQUIRE?
Note: “Costume” was the standard name for a woman’s ‘suit’ (skirt and jacket) until the late 1890s, when the term ‘suit’, as used with men’s “suit of clothes” began to be substituted for the women’s costume.
YOU can wear them, too!
Note: See my “Where is She Now?” update post on Romancing the Genres, where I share many 19th century costumes I’ve sewn for myself:
Writing about the many sleeves option (lower right-hand corner) Truly Victorian- (TV495-1890’s Sleeves):
This pattern contains instructions for seven complete sleeves for the 1890’s era, four for day wear and three for evening. These sleeves will fit on any bodice or jacket with a high shoulder (not dropped).
View 1 is a moderate sized Leg-O’-Mutton sleeve. It is in two pieces with a full sleeve lining. It is suitable for use on a 1890-1897, daytime bodice or jacket.
View 2 is a two-piece Gigot sleeve. This is a very large sleeve, tight from elbow to wrist. It is suitable for 1894-1896, daytime bodice or jacket. This sleeve is a copy of an original pattern from Harper’s Bazar, 1895.
View 3 is a large pouf sleeve over fitted sleeve, suitable for a 1892-1897, daytime bodice. Can be made with or without the flair at the elbow.
View 4 is a large pouf evening sleeve. It has a fitted lining, and is suitable for 1892-1897 evening and ball gowns. Can be made with or without the flair at elbow. This sleeve is also appropriate for a young lady’s day bodice. This sleeve is a copy of an original pattern from Harper’s Bazar, 1895.
View 5 is a high pouf sleeve with wide flair over the elbow. Suitable for 1895-1897 evening bodices. Made out of a sheer fabric, it is especially elegant. This sleeve is as seen on the cover of an 1895 Harper’s Bazar issuem [sic]
Our Price (inc VAT): £18.50
The designer of Simplicity pattern No. 4156 (shown in lime green and silver/white, immediately above), blogged about the design process, sewing this costume for her own use then selling the design to Simplicity… and her shock at discovering the pattern had been “borrowed” (a.k.a. “ripped off!”)… Stop by and read it! As a home seamstress who’s never done a drop of design in my life, I found the images and the designer’s story fascinating (and stoked my ire as one who believes strongly in respecting intellectual property).
STYLES CHANGE (FINALLY!); SLEEVES NORMALIZE
Copyright © 2018 Kristin Holt LC