20th Century, Miscellenia

The death of big sleeves

While no-one has mentioned the large sleeves of yesterday’s Rate the Dress as a problem yet, large sleeves have been almost universally unpopular among my readership.  With that in mind, I thought you might find this fashion column from 1900 amusing:

Anne Shirley would mourn.  Young Emily would love the use of words though!

And, for your edification, some tea gowns with suitably brobdingnagian sleeves from a few years earlier:

A Lovely Tea- Gown, Auckland Star, 23 June 1894, via Papers Past

A Smart Tea Gown, Auckland Star, 17 February 1894, via Papers Past



  1. The gym suit sleeves were downright tiny compared to a lot of the Gay Nineties fashions!

  2. Ha ha! I love it. Diminution in sleeve amplitude…
    Ah, this was back when people could actually write words instead of LOL or Totes and fluff like that….


  3. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    That was a fascinating article to read, it’s no surprise that they were glad to see the big sleeves go, that first tea gown picture is hideous. How do styles like that come into existence in the first place? I love the style of writing in old articles like these. They were dead wrong about “reducing the proportions of millinery” though.

    The gym suit sleeves were a reasonable size compared to a lot of other 1890s dresses, that’s part of the reason I liked it.

  4. My problem with big sleeves is that they make the head look so small by comparison, and there’s just something weird and distracting about that look.

    • If Victorian literature is anything to go by, a small head was considered beautiful. Both The Prisoner of Zenda and The Scarlet Pimpernell (off the top of my head – no pun intended) make a point of the heroines small head (perched, of course, on top of long, elegant necks). Fashion sure is a funny thing!

  5. Lynne says

    I love big sleeves, but I am not mad the short puff sleeves. I like them to come down to the cuff – even better if they are variations on full and long without a cuff. The gauzy Elizabethan sleeves with blackwork traceries were just lovely – big without looking upholstered.

  6. Brobdingnagian! Straight into the list of my favourite words.
    Brobdingnagian! Brobdingnagian! Brobdingnagian!


  7. I have just realised it’s from Gulliver’s travel, been a long time since ai read that book. Will try and remember how it sounded in Italian, since I am sure I read it long before I had access to the English version.

  8. marian says

    ooh, what a great word, Lauren Bacall has some fabulous sleeves on her blouse in How to Marry a Millionaire! Maybe not Brobdingnagian but certainly voluminous.

  9. Elise says

    The wording is so classist and catty! I do appreciate the constructive advise on proportions…but man–“The balloon-like arms will be relegated to suburbia and servantdom, whose constancy to the cast-offs of La Mode…” Wow!

  10. Brobdignagian sleeves… what a fabulous description! (Sad thing is most modern fashion people wouldn’t have a clue what it meant or to what it refers…)

  11. I have chubby upper arms and a very round face, so big sleeves are both a blessing and a curse!
    On the one hand, I fit comfortably in them even with all the fluff-n-stuff that you wad inside to poof them up, but other other hand, they make my look kind of squatty and Pillbury-Dough-Boy-ish.

    However, I still love them. 🙂

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