Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fashion Tapas: When Puffiness Was In Vogue--The Hourglass Figure

Do you remember ever wearing a dress with puffed sleeves? Perhaps it was a favorite childhood dress or a prom dress or bridesmaid's dress in the 1980's. In any case, you may remember that the dress felt romantic and feminine, befitting the history of those sleeves.

The Romantic Period of clothing is roughly given as the years from 1825-1840. It was the era of the quintessential hourglass figure, and it stood in contrast to the more slender Empire silhouette of 1795-1820 which emulated classical Greek and Roman lines. The clothing was exceedingly bulky and puffy--something most women today would avoid.

A key feature of this period was a sloping, broad-shouldered upper body accented by very large sleeves. The ideal shoulder width was equal to the width of the period's voluminous bell-shaped, ankle-length shirt. Between the two was found that tiny romantic waist that attracted suitors. The style was distinctively round-bosomed with a bare décolleté for evening.

At the beginning of the Romantic period the waistline was lowered slightly from the previous Empire fashion. As the period continued, it moved increasingly downward toward the natural waistline.

In 1830 you would find that most of the sleeve fullness was over the upper arm but by the middle of the decade the fullness has crept down toward the elbow as in this evening dress:

By 1840 the puff is at the lower arm, ending at the wrist, and the waist is finally where is occurs in nature.

In the next decade the sleeve puffiness disappears and is replaced by a natural shoulder line and narrower sleeves. The waist stays tiny and the skirt stay full and lengthens to the floor.

In next week's Fashion Tapas feature, we'll take a look at what the romantic woman had up her sleeve and how she got that itsy-bitsy waist. Meanwhile, if you are interested in reading more, check out the twelve fascinating monthly issues of The Royal Ladies Magazine from 1831.


Victoria said...

Hmm, sounds like the 1840s and 50s would be a better style for me! I think the 80s puffed sleeve phenomenon only caught me as a small child, so I can't be blamed. :) Great pictures though!

Cindy said...

Sometimes it would nice to be able to hide in the puffiness of those dresses. At this point in my life I'll have to give up on the tiny waist idea.

SleightGirl said...

I love the bell shaped skirts and the hoop skirts... Waists looked so tiny by comparison.

Rebecca said...

Wow...think of all the yards and yards of fabric needed to make those dresses!