Monday, January 31, 2011

Fashion Tapas: What Was Up Her Romantic Sleeve?

In the last Fashion Tapas feature we saw some lovely dresses worn during the romantic fashion period which was at its peak during the 1830s. The iconic hourglass figure was seen to an extreme in this silhouettte in which the measurement from shoulder to shoulder on the dresses often would be as much as 27-29 inches across. This extreme width was meant to balance the width of the bell-shaped shirt.

1835 Weiner-Zeitschrift Fashion Plate from Wikipedia Commons

Notice the relative position of these sleeves at the middle of the arm in the middle of the decade. Remember, the poof started high and then worked its way down the arm.

You might well asked how these voluminous sleeves stayed so puffy instead of just collapsing under the pull of gravity. That trick was accomplished by the sleeve undergarment.

One method of supporting the sleeves was a gathered piece of fabric with whalebone at its edge or a hooped undersleeve like the one in the next photo which also shows a corset and a petticoat shaped with pin tucks.

Corset & Petticoat 1830, The Metropolitan Museum

Another favorite method for supporting the sleeves was to wear sleeve plumpers underneath. They were inner sleeves that would be filled with down or feathers. Imagine wearing little pillows on your shoulders. Here's an example:

Sleeve plumpers and corset, Fashioning Fashion Exhibit, LACMA

Also note that the corset has a separate padded compartment for each breast and ties in the front so that the wearer could lace it without an assistant dresser. The corsets of this period created a tiny, higher than natural waist. A fine discussion of corsets from this period, along with illustrations, can be found at the website for Lara's Corsets and Gowns.

If you would like to see a zoomable image of another set of sleeve plumpers, to get a closer look at these charming sleeve pillows, visit this page at the digital archives of the Kyoto Costume Institute.

There were several distinctive sleeve types in this period:

My favorite is the beret sleeve which was cut from a large piece of circular fabric. A hole cut in the middle of the fabric was attached to the arm band and the circumference of the fabric was attached at the shoulder in sharp pleats  that were supported inside by horsehair or buckram. Also inside could be found some ties used to adjust the volume of the sleeve.

Beret Sleeves, Fashioning Fashion Exhibit, LACMA

The puffed sleeve, when really large, became a balloon sleeve. When it billowed from shoulder to wrist, it was sometimes referred to as a imbecile sleeve. You can see an example in the first illustration of this post.

The gigot or leg of mutton sleeve was full at the top and narrow at the lower arm. A daintier, slimmer version appeared later during the Victorian era.

Sleeves were a key feature of this romantic period, but what interests me are the fashion accessories. in the next Fashion Tapas feature we will take a look at some.


Julie Kwiatkowski Schuler said...

That was a great, informative post.

Rebecca said...

I enjoyed your description of sleeves from the Romantic era. Those beret sleeves are amazing...I don't think I've ever seen that style before!