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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