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August 11, 2021

20 Vintage Portraits of Victorian Women in Puff Sleeve Dresses

The popularity of the puff sleeve has waxed and waned throughout the centuries. At certain points in history, puffed sleeves were deemed the height of femininity, while at others, they were considered overkill, and best kept on costumes.

During the late 18th to early 19th century, the puff sleeve was a diminutive design often featured on dresses with empire waists, such as the Regency gown. From the 1820s to about 1840, the volume of the puff sleeve varied at different points along the arm, and was held up with elaborate materials such as hoops, stuffing, and whalebone. Some styles of puffed sleeves billowed most at the upper arm, while others billowed out at the elbow, or even puffed out from the shoulder and tapered all the way to the wrist – a style dubbed the “gigot sleeve.”

At one point during the 19th century, the fullness of the puff sleeve was so extravagant that it was named the “imbecile sleeve.” The style was even parodied in cartoon publications of the 19th century, which depicted women unable to fit through doorways due to their sleeves.


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