A sleeve that has a lot of fullness around the shoulder-bicep area but is fitted around the forearm/wrist.

The Details

T

he Fairchild Books: Dictionary of Fashion (2014) defines the leg-of-mutton sleeve as a:

“Sleeve with full top gathered or pleated into armhole ad tapered to wrist where it looks like a regular sleeve. Size may vary-in 1895, very full sleeve requiring a yard or two of fabric were popular. Also called a French gigot sleeve, which derives from French, for ‘leg of lamb’.” (Tortora 366)

Both genders wore the leg-of-mutton sleeves and similar style bodices, as you can see in comparing the contemporaneous portraits in Figures 2 & 3. The portrait of Robert Dudley shows that men wore leg-of-mutton sleeves with ruffed cuffs, and doublets with a high neck and a ruff–very similar to what Queen Elizabeth herself is wearing.  Both sets of sleeves feature quite of bit embellishing as well.

Daniel Delis Hill in The History of World Costume and Fashion (2011) explains the general trend of fashion during the late 1500s:

“French variations of the exaggerated Spanish silhouette included a wide, drum-shaped farthingale over a padded hip bolster. A lower hip line allowed for a longer bodice with an extended waistline. Huge leg-of-mutton sleeves were padded, and stand-up Medici collars edged the neckline.” (382)

Figure 4 depicts Queen Elizabeth I in a drum-shaped farthingale, leg-of-mutton sleeves, with a lace Medici collar and lace cuffs. Her dress is heavily embellished into an extravagant brocade as she “stands on top of the world”; specifically Europe.

20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment (1987) describe the evolution of the leg-of-mutton sleeve and its re-emergence in 19th-century fashion (Figs. 5 & 6):

“Skirts gradually became wider; it was not until 1823 that their fullness, formerly swept to the back, was spread in gathers round the waistband; the waist gradually came back to its natural place; the shoulder line widened and reached its maximum breadth with of the leg-of-mutton sleeves and jockey sleeves.” (Boucher 351)

The sleeves become particularly popular in the 1840s, as Boucher later explains:

“Leg-of-mutton sleeves let their fullness flip from the shoulder to the elbow, then give way to narrow sleeve fitting tightly to the arm, whose line harmonizes with general trend of the years 1842-47.” (358)

Benedikt von Hertenstein (born about 1495, died 1522)

Fig. 1 - Hans Holbein the Younger (German, 1497/98–1543). Benedikt von Hertenstein (born about 1495, died 1522), 1517. Oil and gold on paper, laid down on wood; 52.4 x 38.1 cm (20 1/2 x 15 in). New York: The Met, 06.1038. Rogers Fund, aided by subscribers, 1906. Source: The Met

Queen Elizabeth I

Fig. 2 - Unknown artist. Queen Elizabeth I, ca. 1575. Oil on panel; 113 x 78.7 cm (44 1/2 x 31 in). London: National Portrait Gallery, 2082. Source: National Portrait Gallery

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

Fig. 3 - Unknown artist (English). Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, ca. 1575. Oil on panel; 96.5 × 68.6 cm (38 in x 27 in). London: National Portrait Gallery, NPG 247. Source: Wikimedia

Queen Elizabeth I ('The Ditchley portrait')

Fig. 4 - Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (Flemish, 1561-1636). Queen Elizabeth I ('The Ditchley portrait'), ca. 1592. Oil on canvas; 241.3 x 152.4 cm (95 x 60 in). London: National Portrait Gallery, NPG 2561. Source: National Portrait Gallery

Dress

Fig. 5 - Unknown artist (American). Dress, 1830–35. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.45.68.1. Gift of Art Worker's Club, 1945. Source: The Met

Dressing jacket

Fig. 6 - Unknown designer (American). Dressing jacket, ca. 1895. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.370. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mary W. Bangs, 1965. Source: The Met

Dress

Fig. 7 - Unknown designer (American). Dress, ca. 1895. Cotton. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.932. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of The Jason and Peggy Westerfield Collection, 1969. Source: The Met

Its Afterlife

Rebecca Minkoff drew inspiration from leg-of-mutton sleeves for her Fall 2013 Ready-To-Wear Collection.

Ready to Wear

Fig. 8 - Rebecca Minkoff. Ready to Wear, Fall 2013. Photograph by Alessandro Viero/InDigital. Source: Vogue

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