Fashionable dress in the Regency years (1795-1820) is full of uncomplicated styles. Although the bodices and skirts are relatively simple to begin with, dressmakers give their own take on basic forms like with a cross-over bodice or perhaps an overskirt.
But what’s truly an area of design here is in the sleeves. I mean, how else do you put your own personality into a garment if the skirt is plain straight and the top simply covers what it needs to?
If one is even only slightly acquainted with the Regency, you might think it’s bursting at the seams (no pun intended) with short puffed sleeves. But what I’ve found is a vast array of design options that can be applied to a current costume project.
Take a foundation shape, add your unique figure attributes and you’ll happily discover how to avoid the “mutton dressed as lamb” or “stuffed sausage” look.
Let’s take a brief look at the variety of simple sleeve options available for your early 1800s gown.
Demystifying The Regency Sleeve – Foundational Shapes
- Short Puff Sleeve – “Bishop” Style
The short puffed sleeve (called a bishop in period publications) is a general Regency style. It can be set smooth into the armhole or have a bit of fullness – especially as you move into the 18-Teens. Generally, the fuller the sleeve head (top of sleeve) the later the style. Make sure to review the Regency years you are creating so as to not make your puffed sleeve too big.
To make it a bishop style, the hem edge is gathered up to fit a narrow band. It might also be taken up to match a fitted undersleeve (lining) sometimes called a stay. However, most short puffed sleeves were set onto a band. Regency puffed sleeves could be both lined and unlined.
For a simple decorative touch on a basic puff sleeve, pull up the center of the sleeve, tack and sew on a button or trim to cover the gathering stitches.
For later years you can sew vertical bands from the armhole down to the hem band with the sleeve puff “trapped” beneath. Use only three vertical bands for a proper look.
This decoration can be used on an oversleeve on top of a false or regular long sleeve and on fashionable evening gowns. The later in the Regency era, the more design that was constructed into the sleeves.
- Short Straight Sleeve
Basic straight, short sleeves are seen in the early Regency from the early 1790s through about 1810 or so. The short, straight sleeve style is cut with a straight underarm seam and no fullness at the hem. The hem is usually a rolled and/or baby hem tacked by hand. The hem can hit at the full bicep or fall down to the elbow (think 1780s jackets).
This is the perfect style sleeve (along with the long straight sleeve below) for those lovely narrow-back bodices of the early Regency. The sleeve head is extended towards the back and gently eased or gathered into the narrow bodice.
The best way to fit a straight sleeve into your bodice is to sew up the underarm section, leaving the top loose. Try on the dress then smooth the sleeve over the arm & shoulder. Pin then stitch in. Perfect!
- Long Straight Sleeve
As with the short, straight sleeve, the long, straight sleeve is simply a longer version. It can be cut with or without fullness in the head (again, depending on the time period) and falls at least to the wrist.
Many Regency long sleeves, especially early on, cover the hand up to the knuckles as seen in this fashion plate from 1802.
This can be done with a cuff, a bias cut sleeve or, when cut on the straight of grain, the long sleeve can be tightened at the wrist with a band closed with button or hook & eye/thread loop.
For a bias sleeve, look to the tight, straight sleeves of the late 18th Century. In fact, you can even use the same pattern shape as that’s what Regency women would have done.
This general style is seen throughout the period on day dresses, spencers, pelisses and coats. When in doubt, or lack creativity or time, sew in a straight sleeve either long or short and you’ll fit right in.
- Detachable or False Sleeve
A detachable sleeve was one that could be easily taken off the dress. Generally it was a complete long sleeve that was basted to the armhole under the permanent puffed dress sleeve, whereas a false sleeve is a separate undersleeve that is finished apart from the dress and tacked in and removed as desired.
For colder weather or more modest look, a detachable or false sleeve was added to the lower edge of a short, puffed or even straight sleeve. Most times the false sleeve was cut from the lower part of a long sleeve, finished with a narrow rolled hem at the top and tacked to the short sleeve binding. These sleeve styles could be cut on the straight of grain or on the bias for a closer fit.
The fabric of both the puff and lower false sleeve was generally the same. Although, in later Regency (c.1810 and beyond), a secondary fabric could also be used on the puff to separate it even further from the false sleeve part.
For a fabricated, false sleeve look, add a casing at bicep level to the inside of a long sleeve for a drawstring or elastic. Draw up the sleeve to make it appear like a puff and lower straight sleeve. Leave the casing area plain or cover with trim to further divide the two sections.
- Long Bound Sleeve, à la Renaissance
An unusual sleeve style that appeared quite often throughout the early 19th c. decades was a long sleeve bound by several horizontal bands from wrist to bicep. The style was reminiscent of the Renaissance (as was the tiny pleated collars on chemisettes and slashed sleeve heads).
Sections of the sleeve were gathered up and sewn to a stay tape on the inside. The tapes were covered with ribbon or trim on the outside.
Shoulder seam placement in the Regency was angled to the back or a separate shoulder strap was set onto the bodice front and back. The armhole was generally at the shoulder point or slightly inward. No sleeve was off-the-shoulder. If your sleeve slips down, add in a casing and drawstring to tighten it to the body.
Regency gowns were not sleeveless either. If you find a sleeveless Regency garment being touted as a gown, make sure to ask for the evidence and backup research. It could very well be an underdress to wear with sheer muslin gowns or a bodiced petticoat.
Use your imagination to transform these 5 basic shapes into wonderful sleeve designs with gathers & trim. You can stay simple or go for full-blown handwork. Have fun with the process!