By: Emily Bach
Recently while rehousing a box of bustle pads and underpinnings, we came across a rare find – a pair of beautiful sleeve puffs in amazing condition! These sleeve puffs, called "sleeve plumpers" throughout fashion history, date back to the 1830s. Puffed sleeves first emerged in the 1820's, when dresses featured small puffed sleeves. This trend expanded to a dramatically large sleeves beginning in the 1830s. During this decade special sleeves were introduced called gigot sleeves, which translates from French to “leg-of-mutton” due to its memorable shape resulting from a very wide shoulder tapering gradually down to the wrist. Gigot sleeves became popular as they helped women achieve the desired silhouette of the time, a dramatic hourglass shape. The exaggerated sleeves with an accompanying full skirt helped create the illusion of a tiny, narrow waist.
In order to produce and maintain the puffed sleeves that characterized the 1830's, women required sleeve plumpers. These were pillow-like constructions made of a thin cotton fabric and a down filling, the same materials as the museum’s pair of plumpers. This type of padding had strings to attach onto corresponding strings on the wearer’s corset, another characteristic shared with the museum’s sleeve plumpers.
Not only are sleeve plumpers and gigot sleeves amazing on their own, they help us date garments as we go through our rehousing process. Along with the presence of gigot sleeves informing us a dress is from the 1830's, the location of where the sleeve plumpers would have been placed in the sleeves can further help narrow down a date. In the early 1830s fullness in the sleeves was very high in the arms, while the sleeve plumpers lowered as the decade progressed. We processed two dresses yesterday that had gigot sleeves. As most of the volume in the sleeves for both dresses was closer to the shoulder, we were able date the dresses in the early 1830's.
The following fashion plates are from the French magazine Journal des Demoiselles and from the Ladies’ Pocket Magazine, which was a monthly based journal based in London and presented the latest Paris and London Fashions. Looking at these plates, it’s easy to understand why women wore sleeve plumpers in order to create such voluminous sleeves!