Tag Archives: 1890s

Fashion Moments – Bifurcated Skirt

Fashion Moments by Deborah SweeneyWelcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a female garment, fashion trend or influencer from the age of photography (1840s through the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family’s history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived. Period clothing is an important part of that environment from how it affects a person’s movement to their overall lifestyle. This week I introduce you to the bifurcated skirt, a cousin to the bloomer.

Bifurcated Skirt

Bifurcated skirts were different from bloomers although they served the same purpose, allowing women more freedom of movement during athletic endeavors such as bicycling or horseback riding. While bloomers looked like baggy pants which ended typically below the knee, bifurcated skirts were pants constructed to maintain the illusion that they were still a skirt. The terms bifurcated skirt and bloomer were often used interchangeably, especially during the 1890s, when both became popular.

Gallery

A rare cycling suit owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The front panel can be buttoned across the front to cover the leg split so the garment looks like a skirt, or it can be folded over and buttoned to allow the legs to be separated during cycling. The fullness in the back obscures the split between the legs.

Various patents were filed in the 1890s for bifurcated skirts. The illustrations below are a few among dozens. The patent holders were all women.

A cowgirl in Montana wears a bifurcated skirt while riding her horse.

Montana Girl

 

Further Reading

In an April 1892 article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. H. Augustus Wilson recommended for his patients with lateral curvature of the spine to continue horseback riding as a form of exercise. Because his female patients were no longer able to ride side saddle, he instructed them to continue riding astride while wearing bifurcated skirts. The article can be found in volume 18, no. 14, p. 409-412.

In the article “She Rides Like A Man” from the Indianapolis News, dated 29 March 1890, Mabel Jenness fought for the abolishment of the side saddle. She proposed that women should ride astride while wearing bifurcated skirts. If you have access to Pinterest and Newspaper.com, I have clipped the article.

A women’s tailoring book from 1897, Superlative Systems of Cutting Ladies’ Garments by Charles J. Stone, included several patterns for riding and cycling skirts. The book can be found at Internet Archive and is available for download.

Images

Cycling Suit, 1896-1898. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accession no.: 2009.300.532a–d

Various bifurcated skirt patent illustrations from the 1890s. These images came specifically from Ancestry.com’s database “U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Patents, 1790-1909.

Montana Girl, c1909. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. Reproduction no.: LC-USZ62-72483

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/10/18/fashion-moments-bifurcated-skirt/

Fashion Moments – Leg o’ Mutton Sleeves

Fashion Moments by Deborah SweeneyWelcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a female garment, fashion trend or influencer from the age of photography (1840s through the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family’s history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived. Period clothing is an important part of that environment from how it affects a person’s movement to their overall lifestyle. This week I introduce you to the Leg o’ Mutton sleeve.

Sleeves from the 1820s-1830s

The Leg o’ Mutton sleeve made its first appearance in the late 1820s; the style continued into the 1830s. The French originally named this style the gigot sleeve due to the sleeve’s unique shape. In French, gigot literally means the hind quarters of an animal. In the English speaking world, the name translated into Leg of Mutton, or Leg o’ Mutton. This sleeve was characterized by voluminous amounts of fabric at the sleeve cap which eventually tapered down narrowly at the wrist. Horsehair and other means of support were required to maintain the “puff.” To balance the ensemble, skirts became wider at the bottom and the waist became deceptively narrower.

American, Cotton dress, c.1832-5 (Courtesy of the Brooklyn Costume Museum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

“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.”

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy M. Montgomery

Fashion Reboot – 1890s

As the bustle made its final decline at the end of the 1880s, a void was created. What would the next fashion trend be? As is typical with fashion, old became new again. The 1890s saw a resurgence (or recycling!) of the Leg o’ Mutton sleeve. As the bustle began to decrease, fashion shifted from an exaggerated posterior to an extreme expansion of shoulder girth.

A cursory glance through fashion journals shows the absence of the Leg O’ Mutton sleeve in 1891. By 1893, sleeves had begun to inflate.  The peak of the sleeve appears to have been the years 1895 and 1896, and by 1897, the style was on the wane. (Please note that throughout the same decade, fashion journals consistently showcased sleeves of moderate girth as well. Do not assume that because a woman’s sleeves are narrower in a photograph that it was not during the years 1893-1897 if other clues indicate this time frame). The following plates are courtesy of the Thomas J. Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York).

Further Reading

The Fashion Historian blogged about the original French Gigot sleeve from the 1830s.

A definition and history of Gigot sleeve from the Fashion Encyclopedia.

Collection of Fashion plates from the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most of the plates are in the public domain.

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/07/12/fashion-moments-leg-o-mutton-sleeves/