I was so fixated on waistlines rising and hemlines falling in the short time period 1929-1930 that I was overlooking other fashion changes. One is the short (i.e., mid-bicep length) or “one-quarter” sleeve (click here); another is the introduction of a short, puffy sleeve on dresses for adult women.
These sleeves were sometimes described as “Directoire.”
“Directoire” refers to the period of French history called the Directory, which was brief: 1795 to 1799. It ended with the rise of Napoleon to political power. However, fashion vocabulary is often used very loosely. For many writers, “directoire” and “empire” are used interchangeably.
The gigantic painting of the Coronation of Napoleon, by Jacques-Louis David, shows Josephine and other ladies of the Imperial court wearing sleeves that are puffed at the shoulder as well as the cuff, but this may reflect an attempt to evoke earlier royal outfits, or as a result of the painting being completed in 1807, three years after the coronation took place (and seven years after the Directory ended.) By 1807, the trend for puffy gathered sleeves was in progress.
I recommend tiffanyslittleblog for excellent close-up views and identification of the characters in the painting. She shows a preliminary sketch of Josephine wearing sleeves that are puffed at the bottom, but not at the top, as well as a close-up of her coronation dress, for comparison. Napoleon’s sisters also wear puffed sleeves.
Which brings me back to the description of this image:
American women were already wearing these sleeves, as seen in this advertisement which ran in April, 1930:
It appears that the sleeve which is not noticeably gathered at the shoulder is closer to the original “directoire sleeve.”
“The position of the high waistline depends on how you wear your belt.” For women who were reluctant to abandon the low waistline of the 1920s, some dresses were made without a waist seam.
Because I grew up in the 1950s, I associate the puffy sleeve with dresses for little girls. This is how I was dressed for elementary school:
However, except for “peasant” influenced smocked dresses, little girls didn’t usually wear puffed sleeves in the Nineteen Twenties.
I did find a few examples of puffed sleeves on girls’ dresses from the late 1920’s:
Nevertheless, the reintroduction of the puffed sleeve for women, teens, and little girls was called “new” in 1930.
Even in 1930, puffed sleeves could be associated with youth.
This little flower girl definitely shows the Kate Greenaway influence:
But these sleeves were also worn by older members of the wedding:
From blouses to evening gowns, the “quaint” directoire sleeve made a modest appearance around 1930.
Sleeve heads became enormous later in the thirties — especially after the 1932 movie Letty Lynton. Did their inflation start with these “quaint” styles from 1930?
9 responses to “Directoire Sleeves, 1929 and 1930”
This style always looks juvenile to me, and the shape doesn’t flatter arms that aren’t slim and trim. Good that it only lasted a few years!
Maybe that’s why the young can wear it more easily than older women. I do like styles that make my shoulders look wider — but I don’t want the 1980s to come back!
I love the way you pick up details and research them so completely!
This is yet another well-done and highly infirmative piece. Thank you so much! ~ Chris Aupperle, Model A Restorers Club, Fashion Committee
“Informative”! Hate that word prediction aspect….
And it’s rarely the word I want! Commiserations…
I so enjoy your posts, and appreciate you preserving and sharing the information you find.
For me, 1930s -1940s is often the first era that comes to mind in regard to puff sleeves. The Directoire-Empire years, 1830s, 1890s, and early 1900s follow, in different orders, depending on context. It’s nice to know that 1930s puff sleeves may have started out as a bit of historicism. I also find it interesting that this was happening so soon after the Empire Revival.
Yes, this style sleeve is hard to wear, but I sure love the ones that have that little tie.
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