By the mid 1890s, the gigot sleeve trend was in full bloom and while perhaps not as extreme as the sleeves found on day dresses, it did exert an influence on evening dresses.
Morin-Blossier, Evening Gown, c. 1894; Vintage Textile sales website
Close-Up Of Bodice
Maison Felix, Evening Dress, 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.16.1a–d)
Evening Gown, c. 1895; The Museum at FIT (2007.27.1)
The above are just some examples of the gigot sleeve trend going on during the mid 1890s. Although not as extreme as the sleeves found on day dresses, we still see greater attention paid to this area than before.
Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1896 – 1897; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeanafashion
However, as with all fashion trends throughout the ages, a particular style will be developed to an extreme and a subsequent reaction will arise in opposition. This was the situation with gigot sleeves and by the late 1890s, sleeves had once again acquired become slender proportions. Fixing a precise date as to when this shift began is not easy but even as early as late 1896, there were rumblings in the fashion world as detailed in this passage from the September 13, 1896 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
The world may stop wondering now, for at last Mrs. Fashion has consented to speak about autumn and winter modes. The gist of her talk, however concerns skirts and sleeves (after all the two vital points of dress) both of which are to grow beautifully smaller and narrower until the reaction against width has been satisfied.
Already indeed, the circumference of the smallest skirt is reduced by more than half of what it was in the spring while a skirt with godets all around is to midish opinion, almost as old fashioned as overskirt and paniers [sic].
In reaction, evening dress sleeves began to become somewhat simplified with an emphasis on decorated straps or sleeves constructed with loose layers of gauze/tulle. Of course, there was a wide degree of variation in the sleeve style but nevertheless, one can see a movement away from the over gigot style.
Doucet, Ballgown, 1898 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3275a–c)
Three-Quarter Front View
Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1898 – 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3274a, b)
House of Worth, Ballgown,, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)
Evening Dress, Worth, 1896; Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (GAL1978.20.1)
Worth, Ball Gown, 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (26.381a-b_front 0004)
Aside from the sleeves, there was little else to distinguish evening dresses during the 1890s- all were designed in a distinct hourglass style with narrow waists and large multi-gored skirts with trains of varying length. Finally, although the pronounced bustles of the late 1880s had disappeared, padding was still used as a means of maintaining a smooth silhouette and providing support to the train.
Transitions in fashion styles is not always clear-cut and direct, rather it’s often more of a blur as an older style gives way a newer one. Fashion change came at a much slower pace than what we see today and changes that were measured in years are now measured in months, if not weeks and days. By no means to we profess to have the last word when it comes to evening fashions of the 1890s but rather, we try to point out some of the salient featured. We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of 1890s evening wear and we look forward to posting more about this in the future.