Fashion doesn’t change overnight.
There’s a subtle movement when a new thought is presented. The idea is taken to the full extreme over a period of a few years. Then it seems to be discarded quickly; put on the shelf and forgotten. Another new idea is presented and we start the cycle again.
This path is quite defined by what we see sleeves doing from about 1890 to 1899. This 10-year period took a tightly fitted sleeve and ballooned it to puffs that would be big enough for that afternoon snooze head rest. Then they deflated and promptly become manageable again.
Let’s take a gander at how the sleeve changed from the Late Bustle Era through the defining element of the final Victorian decade.
Please note: picture heavy post with lots of fashion plates.
“Oh, I AM grateful,” protested Anne. “But I’d be ever so much gratefuller if—if you’d made just one of them with puffed sleeves. Puffed sleeves are so fashionable now. It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.”
“Well, you’ll have to do without your thrill. I hadn’t any material to waste on puffed sleeves. I think they are ridiculous-looking things anyhow. I prefer the plain, sensible ones.”
“But I’d rather look ridiculous when everybody else does than plain and sensible all by myself,” persisted Anne mournfully.”
If anything defines the 1890s it’s Anne and Marilla’s conversation. Ridiculous over sensible. Excess over budget. Dreams over reality.
The 1890s decade had heavy influence from the early 1830s but more tailored and chic and less frou-frou Romantic. Women were infiltrating men’s work and becoming into their own.
“The movement, in which she figured so prominently, produced during most of the decade a style of dress at once aggressive and guarded – pugnacious in a prudish fashion. This spirit was grafted on to modes alleged to be ‘Early Victorian.’ The huge sleeves of 1830, deprived of their romantic effusion, became in the ‘90s side-arms defending the female who marched between them.” Chapter X, English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by C. Willett Cunnington
As we get into the yummy fashion plates of the era let’s cover a few basics in sleeves.
In general, gigot and leg o’ mutton sleeve were the common cut of sleeves. They were set high onto the shoulder (one reason to help support the shape staying up) and most often mounted to a fitted lining. Fabric could be cut on the grain or cross, gathered or pleated into the armhole, be tight along the forearm, and could be accented in a long or short cuff.
1889 & 1890 Years
In the early years, sleeves were often cut in two fabrics – one for the puff and one for lower part on the forearm. The “Italian Sleeve” presented a full puff above the shoulder then tight down the length of the arm. A double sleeve of a loose cut upper portion (think bishop sleeve) that tightened at the elbow and over a long tight sleeve to the wrist. Cuffs were very wide.
As we move forward, the larger leg o’ mutton shape was cut with one seam along the inner arm and the fullness pleated (knife or box) or gathered into the armhole to create width at the shoulders but not height. The purpose was to make the waist look small. (See? All an illusion.)
1892 saw a widening of the shoulder line with sleeves getting larger and pelerine collars added such as seen in the late 1820s. Armhole seams sat on the shoulder – not dropped at all. And we see lots of V-shaped inserts on the outer part of the sleeve.
The mid-90s years saw the explosion of the sleeve shape. (Are we at ridiculous yet??).
The influence from the early 1830s was noticeable. The large puff was allowed to fall more loosely and more fullness was seen at the elbow. Fashion dictated that the sleeves were to be “pulled out and not up.” Variations of the Garibaldi and bishop sleeve styles were adapted.
“Everyone may wear garments of any period or none provided they have big sleeves and revers of frills on their bodices.” Section on 1893, English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.
In 1894 the fashion changed but it did not progress. The styles looked about the same as what 1893 produced. The gigot sleeves were still hugely puffed, and the silhouette defined to indicate a tiny waist.
Double puffs and immense bishop sleeves were seen too. The sleeves oftentimes were cut from the skirt fabric. And not just cut huge, the sleeves were often trimmed with ribbons, laces, could include pleating and tucks or gathered into design seams within the sleeve puff, and worn with or without cuffs.
Sleeves still seen in double puffs, or brought in at the elbow, or a wide bishop shape down to the wrist. Oversleeves, tucks and bands all present on the large puffs. Epaulettes of lace and frills frequently topped our enormous gigot sleeve.
In 1896 the size of the upper puff was shrinking (thank goodness!); the bottom of the pouf above the elbow was starting to be pulled into the arm and retreating toward the shoulder.
The sleeve was collapsing and fast!
Almost like the elbow was tired of being hidden and overpowered so it forced down the puff above it which reduced the cut width as well. They became close fitting with smaller shoulder puffs which could be cut in contrast fabric on the straight or cross. The appearance was to produce length rather than width now.
Fluffy and frilly and a new change of style appeared in 1897. Girly-ness and femininity was back! The shrunken sleeves reduced the top-heavy look. It was a much smaller puff, single or double over a close fitting sleeve. The puff itself was trimmed or tucked or ruched. Epaulettes were still popular.
By the time 1898 rolled around it was a period of refining the new sleeve styles introduced in the previous year. They are still tight fitting with small single or double puffs at the shoulders. But even then, the puffs were diminishing still.
As we finish out our research of shifting sleeve shapes, we can take note of the well-reduced shoulder puff – quite small but still defined in some bodices – to merely a straight, tight-fitting sleeve from shoulder to wrist. In many instances the sleeves fall over the hand.
The focus has moved off the sleeves and to the hips now. Gone are Anne’s puffiest of puffed sleeves.
Although the sleeve was a defining garment feature in the 1890s it is surprising to see how quickly it ballooned from 1889 to 1893 (that’s only four years) then deflated just as fast down to a small puff by 1897.
The more I study this fabulous costume decade the more I find nuances that intrigue and delight. My favorite year is 1898 – I ADORE the fashions then as the Victorian Era was changing and making way for the new Edwardian Era. For more research and studying antique garments too visit my Pinterest board for the 1890s decade.
Do you research 1890s fashion? Have you made and worn these puffed sleeve styles Anne would be delighted over?