Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Delicate Pair of Wedding Oversleeves, c1830

Sunday, September 18, 2016
Isabella reporting,

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.


Rosalie Hanson said...

Please, how were they attached? Rosalie Hanson

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Rosalie ~ They were probably once sewn onto the shoulders of the dress. I'm guessing they were removed when the dress was later updated to stay in fashion - oversleeves like these were a passing fashion, and would have looked dated within a few years. Fortunately, the oversleeves were preserved to survive, even if the dress they once ornamented didn't. :)

Judith said...

I enjoy reading your blog, but just had to share my poor reading skills or possibly too little caffeine moment...I read that title as "A Delicate Pair of Welding Oversleeves". Because you know it's very important to keep sparks off your arms when welding! OK, going away to drink more tea now.

marylee stephenson, ph.d. said...

Just discovered you and am SO happy! been a history buff since about 12-- American pioneers, Little House on the Prairie, Gone with the Wind -- discovered Samuel Johnson when 14 -- an excerpt from The Life in my older sisters lit survey book. Have loved him ever since and have become fairly informed of his period. Have collected many books on the vie quotidienne of the time - the hygiene, the food, the plumbing (personal and architectural). Am so glad that you focus on everyday life as well. Looking forward to (or will look back to find) bits and pieces relevant to Sam and his day. He was, as you know, very enamoured and indeed respectful, of women.
thanks fro being there for my mornings in North Vancouver, Canada

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket