As a fashion historian, sometimes I look at a garment and marvel at the way it is mounted on a mannequin. Like the afternoon dress above from the Met, I see those sleeves and wonder what the mount maker used to get them so bouffant-like. You see, every mount maker has their own tricks of the trade, and I’m eager to learn them all.
But then I stop and remember that someone actually wore this garment — and that someone was not a stationary mannequin. So how on earth did the living, breathing woman who wore this dress keep her sleeves so full and puffed out?
And was that something other women gossiped about? “Did you see Mary’s sleeves tonight?” “I did, they are simply the most voluminous I’ve ever seen!” Or, “Helen’s sleeves are so sad and droopy tonight.” “Oh poor dear, she is really letting herself go.” Can you imagine?
Well the answer to my question (not those gossipy, imaginary ladies), was that some women wore sleeve puffs made of cotton and down stuffing. Basically they wore pillow-like underwear tied around their arms inside their sleeves. How funny is that?! Imagine trying to keep those in place in a ladylike manner. I still am a bit baffled about how they did it.
Of course, I’m sure 200 years in the future some fashion historian will be looking at Alexander McQueen’s Armadillo shoes laughing and wondering how on earth women walked in them. Let’s just hope Gaga is keeping some kind of journal about that.