The July Challenge in the Historical Sew Monthly 2018 is Sleeves, and I’m extremely excited to see what people do with it. It’s such an easy challenge to interpret and fulfil, and there are so many possibilities.
Because it’s such an easy challenge to find a project for (just make anything with sleeves that are in some way interesting and significant!) I’m just going to show you some of my favourite (or, in the case of late 16th century examples, least favourite) sleeves from throughout history.
And I mean it when I say throughout history, because the oldest known extant garment, this 5,000 year old tunic/shirt, has fascinating sleeves which have been purposefully pleated or ruched to give them shape and interest:
Only 3,400 years later, this Coptic tunic from the same area of the world features quite simple sleeves, but beautifully decorated:
I love Medieval fitted sleeves, especially ones with lots of buttons. If you’re trying to fit your own pair of 14th century sleeves, you may find my post showing how I fitted and patterned mine quite helpful.
The late Middle Ages are full of fantastic sleeves, with five different kinds of amazing sleeve-ness shown below, from enormous dagged houpeland sleeves, to very fitted short sleeves with falling tippets.
For early 16th century examples, I couldn’t go past an example of Northern German sleeves with their horizontal stripes, interesting slashing, and elongated cuffs.
I adore the more restrained slashing and elaborate oversleeves with their tie embellishments on Élisabeth de Valois’ dress.
While they aren’t as extravagant as the more aristocratic high-fashion examples of the era, I really love the different kinds of sleeves shown on peasants in Brueghel the Elder’s paintings:
Halfway between the two, showing sleeves that are fashionable and practical, is Moroni’s tailor:
And then, from those perfectly nice, elegant, totally practical sleeves, fashion moved into what I would argue were the ugliest sleeves ever devised: 1580s & 90s maggot grubblet sleeves:
Everything about that guy in the centre who coyly turns to face us gives me the heebie jeebies. I’m absolutely convinced that one day I’m going to glance at the painting and his limbs are going to wriggle off him and start crawling across the page.
These ones are less creepy, but have the distinction of managing to combine individual elements that are all phenomenally beautiful in their own right (that embroidery on the bodice and sleeves!) into an unabashedly unattractive whole.
17th century sleeves are a huge improvement in my opinion, from the slim examples of the 1610s:
To the soft, romantic puffed sleeves of the 1630s:
And the fanciful sleeves of the 1660s, like these ones, that look back to early 16th century slashing:
The 18th century did equally beautiful sleeves, like the ruffle trimmed lace sleeves seen on robe de cour, like the ones seen on the governess, and the wide sleeves of men’s justacorps:
Or the ones on this Robe Volante, with pleating that equals the back pleats of the loose gown:
And the classic ruffle-trimmed 3/4 length sleeves that we know from so many mid-century Française and Anglaise, and early mid-century Mantua, like this one:
The way the 18th century used stripe placement is so fascinating, and it’s particularly obvious on sleeves:
Early 19th century sleeves carried on construction and design traditions from the 18th century, but added in new inspiration and shapes, including sleeves which referenced classical drapery:
They also looked to the past, and to a variety of ‘exotic’ cultures for inspiration, as seen in these mameluke sleeves, which reference fashions seen in the Ottoman Empire (or at least claim to).
1820s sleeves are pretty much the last time men got to have fun with their sleeve fashions, with puffed sleeves that created an exaggerated, curvaceous silhouette.
And women’s sleeves of the 1820s & 30s are famously inventive and whimsical (or, simply mad, depending on your perspective):
A whole variety of sleeve styles were fashionable in the 1860s, but I quite like the revival of the mameluke, particularly as a sheer blouse:
You can see almost every previous historical period referenced in late Victorian sleeves, like this pair, which use elements of both Renaissance and 18th century sleeve designs:
And I couldn’t possible do this post without an example of extremely puffed 1890s sleeves. I think these might have been a bit much even for Anne:
The early 20th century saw a whole range of sleeve innovations which are still being seen in modern fashion, including variations on cut-on sleeves, including kimono sleeves, and Magyar sleeves, like the ones shown here:
So, happy sleeve sewing!