One of the defining elements in 1890s style were the sleeves and in particular, the leg-of-mutton sleeve. At the beginning of the decade, sleeves were cut relatively close to the arm with the exception of small pouffs, or kick-outs, at the top of the sleeve but by the mid-1890s, sleeves had taken on the shape of the now-iconic leg-of-mutton sleeve.
In our previous post, we gave an overview of daywear by the 1895 and showed some representative examples and noted that the by 1895, the basic silhouette had become dominated by the hour-glass figure, created through a combination of corsetry and judicious tailoring. Skirts were flared with multiple gores and took on an A-line silhouette while the bodice silhouette was characterized by a narrow waist flaring out to a more fuller bust line. In terms of design, bodices were often designed more like jackets, or at least gave the illusion of being jackets, worn over some form of under-bodice, either a vest or shirt-waist. At the same time, bodices could also one-piece but in either case, they could be decorated with a variety of trims and contrasting fabrics (or kept plain)- this was truly a “something for everyone” style.
As for the sleeves themselves, keeping their large size was often aided by supporters worn underneath or fixed into the dress itself:
With large sleeves becoming a dominant design feature, it was bound to be taken to extremes and especially when it came to more formal dresses such as this reception dress:
The above dress is made from a combination of gold/champagne silk combined with silk brocade. The skirt has simple lines and it is cut so as to create a small train. There is no trim anywhere and it relies on the richness of the brocade fabric to create its visual impact.
The extreme leg-of-mutton sleeves were not limited to dresses- they were also used for outerwear such as with this jacket made by the House of Worth in 1895:
The above jacket is constructed from a silk velvet and decorated with silver bead work. The impact of the sleeve size can be seen in the pictures where the jacket is being modeled as part of an outfit and it is here that we really see the sleeve poufs in their full glory, no doubt puffed up by the sleeves of the bodice worn underneath.
Finally, as with all fashions, various design elements go in and out of fashion and during the 1980s there was a revival of the leg-of-mutton sleeve:
And finally, we leave you with this:
In the end, one either loves or despises Mid-1890s style but for us, it is all good when done with style and grace. 🙂