Obsolete Fashion: Take It or Sleeve It – The Leg o’ Mutton Sleeve

Leg O

Image: Costumes.org

Imagine this: It’s 1832. A highly fashionable woman is calling upon her dear friend. She glides through the wallpaper-clad hallway en route to the sitting room. When she arrives at the doorway, she pauses, turns 90 degrees to the left, and shuffles into the room sideways; her sleeves are so unbelievably wide, she can’t enter normally! Believe it or not, this isn’t a scene from a slapstick comedy; it’s exactly what ladies had to do in this era if they were sporting the incredibly popular leg o’ mutton sleeve!

The leg o’ mutton sleeve (also known as the gigot sleeve) acquired its name because of its unusual shape; incredibly voluminous at top and tapering just below the elbow, this facet of fashion resembled a lamb shank. First seen in 1824, this sleeve style grew in both popularity and size until 1833. In fact, by the end of its billowing fame, the leg o’ mutton sleeve was so big, the stiff horsehair fabric once used to maintain its shape was no longer sufficient. Instead, whalebone supports, large feather-stuffed pads, or steel springs were used to keep the leg o’ mutton sleeve looking perfectly pillowy.

In the 1890s, this sleeve saw a brief renaissance as women again relied upon its shape to balance out their fashionably full skirts. Even today, this sleeve occasionally pops up in runway shows, but it has yet to make the general public go gaga again.

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16 Responses to Obsolete Fashion: Take It or Sleeve It – The Leg o’ Mutton Sleeve

  1. Victoria / Justice Pirate 08/31/2010 at 4:51 pm #

    It is very pretty, but looks heavy and I sweat enough even in the wintertime and wear sleeveless dresses even then!! ahhh. would be great to wear every so often though!

  2. Victoria 08/31/2010 at 4:59 pm #

    I love the look of this…on dresses and such it could be so pretty! Maybe not making it quite so dramatic so we have to turn to go through doorways, though…

  3. Sarita 08/31/2010 at 8:47 pm #

    Love 19th century fashion. I actually have two replica dresses and one of them has a hoop skirt!

  4. Bec 08/31/2010 at 11:56 pm #

    I never did understand why fancy ladies would want to look like they have huge bulging upper arms. Just what is the appeal?

  5. Amanda 09/01/2010 at 10:45 am #

    If everyone wore them, sure, why not? Fashion trends are getting so boring any way.

  6. joyce cee 09/01/2010 at 1:58 pm #

    Part of me loves the femininity I associate with fancy Victorian fashions but in the end who wants to be so disabled. You might as well have laced me in a corset that was so tight all I could do was faint. – Oh gee that is just what happen back then.

  7. Katie 09/01/2010 at 3:44 pm #

    I love most Victorian fashions, but I think this is one of the few things they got wrong. It just makes the poor woman look incredibly wide on top.

  8. Carol 09/03/2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Love this blog! Very interesting, but i like going through doorways frontways!

  9. Nyerni A Ruletten 09/13/2010 at 1:51 am #

    Really Crazy I cannot imaging that you can have ever success with this idea

  10. Liane 09/24/2010 at 3:27 pm #

    I’m in love with this look, and have been for a long time. I think it could be perfectly modernized by simply toning it down. Slightly puffed sleeves are always coming in and out of fashion. If we did that with long sleeves, and tapered them slightly at the bottom (with cute buttons on the sides, for effect), it would look totally adorable!

  11. Josefina 11/16/2010 at 1:58 am #

    I’m a huge fan of the Victorian era, especially the 1890s. I just think the fashions are so elegant. A little out there, yes, but still beautiful.

  12. Ms. Belladonna 01/19/2011 at 1:42 pm #

    This is so beautiful! I read historical romance novels, and I find myself wondering how cool it’ll be if we went back to dressing the way they did back then :-)

  13. kylie 04/15/2011 at 5:12 pm #

    Oh my gosh, I love Victorian fashion, seriously, I’m obsessed, but this is one thing I would never want! I don’t see the appeal at all.

  14. Alejandra 05/17/2011 at 9:51 am #

    I have a favorite velvet bolero jacket with gigot sleeves. I love wearing it.

  15. larundia@gmail.com 09/25/2013 at 4:00 pm #

    where can i find some dresses or blouse tops like this

    • Elisangela 01/05/2014 at 12:33 pm #

      Hi! Larundia,

      I love Victorian fashion too! and I normally go to Portobello Market. I bought the most beautiful jacket with

      Mutton sleeves the other day and the prices are affordable. Friday is the best day for antique and vintage clothing. Good luck!

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