Thanks to her current series of books, Loretta is the queen of the over-the-top fashions from the 1820s-1830s (see examples in her posts here, here, and here), but she's won me over to extreme hair, huge sleeves, and bell-shaped skirts.
So when I spotted these ghostly oversleeves recently in the costume & textile study drawers at the RISDMuseum, I recognized them for what they were: delicate and rare survivors from the Romantic Era of fashion. (Although another gallery-goer standing beside me had the more normal 21stc reaction: "What the heck are those things?")
While the rest of the original dress is no longer with these oversleeves and may not even still exist, it is possible to guess what it may have looked like. Sheer oversleeves were a major fashion trend in the late 1820s-early 1830s. Always made from a sheer fabric like silk gauze or voile, they added a delicate, feminine transparency to dresses that were almost architecturally structured with pleats, wide collars, and stiff belts. Some oversleeves were embroidered with overall patterns, some were not. You can see how elegant the style could be in the portrait, right.
The oversleeves from the RISDMuseum are labeled as having been worn as part of a wedding dress. Loretta shared this fashion plate of a wedding dress, lower left, from 1828 which is probably a bit early for the RISDMuseum's sleeves (they have more volume at the top, which would make them later), but you can still get an idea of the general effect. The fortunate American bride who wore such an ensemble in the 1830s must have been on the cutting edge of bridal fashion.
What I found particularly intriguing about the RISDMuseum's oversleeves is that the label says they were created of silk that was possibly made in China for export. Then as now, China was known for its exceptionally fine silk, and for its embroidery, too. Of course there's no way now of knowing for certain, but I found myself wondering if this beautiful silk was brought to New England in a China-trade ship, chosen by a mariner for his bride-to-be waiting back home. Could that be why they were set aside and carefully saved - a very special wedding memento?
Upper left: Oversleeves from a Wedding Dress, American, c1830, RISDMuseum. Photo via RISDMuseum. Right: Detail, "Théodore Joseph Jonet and His Two Daughters" by François-Joseph Navez, 1832, photo via Christie's. Lower left: Bridal Costume from La Belle Assemblee, June, 1828.
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.