Tag Archives: Metropolitan Museum of Art

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/

Identifying Everyday Clues in Photographs, Part II

Dating PhotographsIn my first post in this series, I set out to date a photograph of my 2X great grandmother, Elizabeth (Schwartz) Yegerlehner and one of her granddaughters, an unidentified Wolfe. I went through the process of identifying clues in the photograph that would provide me with usable information. Each woman was broken down by age and by the various parts of her clothing.

Before we proceed further, I want to add a few fashion warnings. Dating photographs is never a precise process, and oftentimes, without other documentary evidence, may never be completely accurate. My goal is to help the average genealogist or vintage photography enthusiast to understand and recognize fashion trends as well as to give advice for finding resources.

  • Older people may not change their clothing fashions as quickly as younger persons do or be inclined to adopt new trends, however this is not always the case. A great example would be in the costumes of Downton Abbey. The Dowager Duchess was wealthy enough to buy new clothing every season but her clothing style evolved more slowly than some of the younger characters like those of her granddaughters: Mary, Edith and Sybil.
  • People from metropolitan areas are more fashionable than rural areas (sometimes!). With the advent of ladies and fashion periodicals, like Godey’s Lady’s Book, country women were able to see the latest fashions more quickly. Mail order catalogues, like Sears, Roebuck & Co. and the National Cloak & Suit Co., allowed women away from the big cities to purchase the latest fashions. Even if they made their own clothing, they could be inspired by the fashion plates. Pattern companies, like McCall’s and Butterick, also sold high fashion to rural customers.
  • Working class people dressed differently than wealthier people. One must always consider class when dating a photograph. The “best” dress for a poorer woman might last for many years while the “best” dress for a wealthy woman might last one season. People tended to hold onto clothing, and remade dresses year after year, as well as handing them down to young folk.

The second step is to Identify the Period Silhouette:

What is a period silhouette, you might ask? A handout from the The Secret Life of Costumes by Canada’s National Art Centre describes it thus….

“A silhouette provides an uncluttered outline of the basic shape of a person from a particular period in history as dictated by the clothing worn. Each shape is different from any in the century either before or after. The outline of your body wearing today’s styles would be very different from your great grandmother’s or grandfather’s shape at the same age.”

The pdf article contains wonderful advice as well as a fun activity for identifying some different silhouettes. Make sure you download it for future reference!

Fashion silhouettes can change very rapidly. They can also overlap as evidenced by my first point above. A woman from 1880 will have a different silhouette from a woman in 1860 or 1900. In both of my costume history courses, I was required to keep a sketchbook of period silhouettes for every century from the 1st through the 20th, for men and women. Within a hundred year period, fashion silhouettes can change a dozen times or more. Just for fun, I’m including two costume renderings from two different time periods, about 100 years apart. Try guessing the decades of the two pictures, and leave your answer in the comments!

Learning the intricacies of fashion trends takes time, and requires paying attention to little details.

There are many great resources for learning about historical fashion trends, in contemporary documents. Here are a few:

A couple sources for Godey’s Lady’s Book

Ancestry has many Sears catalogs available for searching from 1896-1993. To find them, go to Ancestry’s main catalogue and search under Sears. You can browse by year. Many years had more than one to chose from (spring/fall).

Ancestry screen shot

Internet Archive has many old catalogs and magazines in their collection. Here is a National Cloak & Suit Co. catalogue  from 1907: https://archive.org/details/newyorkfashions00nati

Dover books sells reprints of old fashion catalogues. Be careful of some of their “costume” books as they are secondary sources.

Dated photographs are great resources since fashion plates are not always realistically drawn.

The Library of Congress has a Civil War Collection: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cwp/

The website PhotoTree has thousands of dated photographs:

Several museums have clothing collections.

One of my favorite is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Here is an example of a shirtwaist, dated 1899-1902:

©2015 copyright by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/05/09/identifying-everyday-clues-in-photographs-part-ii/