While my first fashion-love will always be 18th c gowns, I've recently developed a guilty-pleasure-relationship with the extravagant clothes of the 1820s. This is, of course, entirely due to Loretta, and to the lovely images like the ones yesterday.
Also thanks to Loretta, I know what inflated those extravagant sleeves: sleeve puffs, or plumpers. These were pillow-like constructions of linen stuffed with eiderdown or feathers that slipped over the upper arm. Ribbons or linen ties then connected to the wearer's corset to keep the puffs in place. The goal was to continue the exaggerated line of the sloping shoulders, and also visually to narrow the waist by comparison to the voluminous sleeve. There are many surviving variations, and doubtless each seamstress created her own version to fit specific gowns. (See right for another pair of the puffs, tied in place to a corset and worn with a petticoat of the era.)
I'd seen pictures of sleeve puffs, but I hadn't seen an actual example in all its puffy glory until my recent visit to Winterthur. There it sat, above, looking more like a drab linen pudding than a stylish fashion necessity, but how important they must have been to modish ladies of the time!
It's easy to look at this humble sleeve puff and think only of its foolishness. But I've two words to offer in (admittedly dubious) defense: shoulder pads. Those of you who can remember back to the 1980s will recall the fashion for linebacker-esque broad shoulders. While 'power suits' had their own sewn-in shoulder pads, many women also owned removable ones to wear beneath any blouse or sweater. These were saddle-shaped constructions of natural-colored fabric and padding that fastened onto lingerie straps with Velcro strips, with the aim of visually narrowing the waist and hips by comparison. Hmm....
Above: Sleeve puffs, American, 1820s-30s, linen and goose feathers. Winterthur, Gift of Margaret Wilcox. Below: Sleeve plumpers, linen with down fill; Corset, quilted cotton sateen; Chemise, linen; Petticoat, cotton; Shoes, silk satin & leather: all English, 1830-1835. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Suzanne A. Saperstein & Michel and Ellen Michelson, with addition funding from the Costume Council the Edgerton Foundation, Gail & Gerald Oppenheimer, Maureen H. Shapiro, Grace Tsao, and Lenore & Richard Wayne.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.