Frequently satirized by caricaturists, enormous gigot, or leg-of-mutton, sleeves were the defining characteristic of women's fashionable dress at the height of the Romantic period around 1830. Ballooning out from the shoulder and tapering tightly at the wrist, their exaggerated proportions deliberately evoked similarly voluminous sleeves of the late sixteenth century and enhanced the ideal hourglass silhouette with its small waist and full, rounded skirts. Crescent-shaped down-filled pads often kept the sleeves properly expanded; pinned to the corset underneath, they could be used interchangeably with different gowns.
Most unusually, this floral-printed cotton day dress retains its sized linen sleeve supports that were clearly intended to be worn with this dress. Attached to the interior shoulder seams with tape ties, they are an exceptionally rare survival of an undergarment with its original attire.
Although British cottons continued to be imported into the United States in the post-Revolutionary years, it may be that this sturdy twilled cotton with pink, blue, and green blossoms and meandering vines set off against a rich, brown ground is of American manufacture. By the 1820s, the domestic printed cotton industry had increased significantly from its tentative beginnings in late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with large firms established in New England and along the Hudson River. Floral-patterned cottons were a perennial favorite for day dresses in the 1820s and 1830s, especially for the warmer months from spring to early fall. Probably made by the wearer herself rather than a professional seamstress, the gown and its sleeve inserts demonstrate that American women were well aware of—and followed as closely as possible—current fashions from abroad.