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:
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.
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…
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:
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. 🙂