Trending For 1890…Leg of Mutton Sleeves!

Sleeves are a major style element on every garment and was given special emphasis during the 1890s with its signature leg of mutton sleeves which grew to fantastical proportions by mid-decade. But as with all fashion trends that go to extremes, their origins are more modest and that was the case when it came to sleeve style. Here’s an illustration that from the January 1890 edition of Peterson’s Magazine:

This illustration was part of a sleeve pattern that was included in the January issue but unfortunately it’s not available as part of the electronic file (perhaps one day we’ll be able to locate an original issue of the magazine itself and scan an electronic version). What’s interesting here is that it’s got a gathered sleeve cap but definitely nothing extreme as seen later by 1894-1895. Just to provide some context, here’s a few fashion plates:

Godey’s Fashions, September 1890

Peterson’s Magazine, February 1890

While not directly related to the matter of sleeve styles, it’s interesting to note the  Neo-Directoire style for the two dresses on the right. Also, with the dress second from the left, we see the pseudo-robe/classical Greece-inspired  style.

Fashion Plate, Winter 1890

Now fashion plates can be a bit deceptive in that they portray the ideal concept but they’re a good starting point. Now let’s take a look at some examples taken from the June 1890 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine, a magazine that directly marketed patterns intended primarily for the home sewer. The first is a pattern for the “Lameda Basque:”

The sleeve caps in this pattern are fairly pronounced and if we didn’t know that this was from a publication put out in June 1890, it would be easy to mistake this for something more in the 1894-ish time frame. Also found in the June 1890 issue of Demorest’s is this specific sleeve pattern, the “Berenthia:”

There are further examples throughout the fashion literature of the era and even the term “Leg of Mutton” and “Leg o’ Mutton” are freely used as terms for sleeves. Perhaps we’re splitting hairs here but we just want to demonstrate that in fashion, there’s almost no absolutes when it comes to fashion change. 🙂 Now, let’s now look at some extant dresses…

Day Dress, c. 1888 – 1890; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (60.897a-b)

The sleeves in the above day dress are towards the fuller side and there’s a gradual tapering towards the wrists. Here’s another example:

Reception Dress, c. 1890; Goldstein Museum of Design (2013.004.012)

The small sampling shown above only gives a hint of the shift in styles that was happening during these years and it only goes to show that fashion change and evolution are not always as absolute as we’d want them to be- certainly people didn’t just discard their clothes because it was a new decade. 🙂 In future posts, we’ll be looking for more subtle fashion nuances as fashions transitioned from the 1880s to 90s. 🙂

 



1890s Style- It’s All About The Sleeves…

Gigot (aka leg-of-mutton) sleeves were a defining feature of mid-1890s style and as with all fashion trends, they could get somewhat excessive. Here is some commentary on this trend from the October 7, 1894 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

Today the big sleeve is declared possible in any material, its chief uses being to broaden the shoulders and give the waist that effect of a wasp-like slimness so much desired. Diaphanous textiles, too, have taken the place of tho stately gilt and sliver spun brocades, and the girl whose wardrobe docs not Include at least two bodices of transparent stuffs can safely be said to be outside the pale of fashion.

The foundations of a sleeve in any of the gauzy webs now fashionable, does not begin, as one would naturally think, with a simple silk lining. It Is a complicated and awe-Inspiring affair, and often calls for considerable thinking, no matter how accomplished the builder. First, there is a smallish lining in some soft, dainty silk: this covered by a huge one, puffed, folded and pleated in heavier silk or satin, which in turn, is interlined with stiff tarleton or crinoline, and perhaps padded at shoulders or bunched with
concealing looseness at the lower arm…

On this ballooned or mutton-legged structure, the chiffon or mousseline de sole ties in bows or knots or fall in graceful, drifting folds, or is, perhaps, cunningly captioned with hidden tackings to look for all tho world like a furniture covering!

It’s interesting that the trend is said to have started with using heavy silk brocade, often in metallic, but then expanded to using lighter fabrics, that utilized a complex construction process. Ultimately, sleeve styles were part of a greater whole, serving to help define an overall look which, in this case, was the wasp-waist:

In the course of creating our designs, we have drawn on a wide variety of period sources and especially ones that speak to us across the years such as in the case of commentary from those who were living in the era. As we come across more interesting items of this nature, we’ll be sharing them with you all here. 🙂