Sometimes a style element can exert such a dominance that it defines fashion for a particular era. For the mid-1890s, gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeves was one such element. While styles were mostly set in Paris, and to a lesser extent London and New York, they were commented on just everywhere in the Western world to include sunny Southern California as with this commentary written by a one Judic Chollet (apparently she was a contract writer, her columns on fashion appear in a number of newspapers) that appeared in the April 28, 1895 issue of the Los Angeles Herald:
It takes as much material now to make a modish pair of sleeves as it took a few years ago to make a fashionable skirt, when the latter was tight, and scant so as to cling closely to the figure. The newest sleeve, if properly cut, drapes itself in full, rich folds to within an inch or two of the wrist, thus making the forearm appear larger than do the tights deep cuffs that are usually worn. The increasing of the girth of the forearm of course reduces the apparent size of the hand.
The most fashionable sleeve requires four yards of material, if it is narrow, as much is wasted in tho cutting. Figured stuffs also entail waste, as the pattern must run in the same direction and be properly matched. Sleeves of different fabric from the dress are still in great vogue, but there is a disposition among the best modistes to return the old regime and to make me gown all of one stuff, with the exception
of the revers and trimming.
But it wasn’t just above the sleeve- there was also the skirt to consider in this technical commentary:
The secret of the cut of the new skirts lies in the proper proportioning of the gores and in the skillful little darts that make the upper part fit smoothly round the hips and at the waist line. Tweed 42 inches wide is good economy, or single width stuff at 22 Inches. The wide material is the more economical, as if the material be plain, or with a pattern that can be turned tip or down, a great saving is secured. All the skirt pieces must be cut into gores, each width making two of these shaped pieces. The front breadth is an exception, as the fold goes in front, making the center, the sides being sloped away to join to the next gores. The selvages of all the gores are turned toward the back, and the back seam is sloped on both sides. Three and a half widths of 42 inch material will make a skirt, which consists of seven distinct pieces. side and four gores for the back. If silk be used or any 22 inch material, it is a little wasteful, as each breadth would make a gore by sloping off one side. The lining fits better if it were cut exactly the size of each gore, tacked together and then seamed together, but many people can manage to make the lining separate from the skirt and tack them top and bottom. In this case the skirt breadths are arranged before the back seam is joined, and then the seam of four ply keeps the skirt from dropping in the center. Crepon and all materials likely to stretch should be lined breadth by breadth.
So, given the above description, the writer goes on to provide an example:
And the accompanying description:
The gown shown in the sketch has a godet skirt of brocaded silk:, black and white on a straw ground. The bodice is entirely covered with jet and is trimmed with straw ribbon arranged in yoke shape, with a bertha of loops. The belt is also of straw ribbon, fastening on the left side with a bow, one end of which drops upon the skirt and is fastened near the foot with a large knot. The sleeves are of brocade and the draped collar of straw satin.
In many ways, the above commentary pretty much captures the essence of mid-1890s style, at least when it comes to daywear. Of course, must of this comes as no surprise to anyone with a passing familiarity of the period yet it’s interesting to read commentary from the period detailing how they saw it. It’s just one of a multitude of small details that only serve to enhance our understanding of historical garments.