Facts from My Fiction: Idiot Sleeves and Apollo Knots

My current work-in-progress, Bayou Fire, is partially set in 1830s New Orleans.  I will be the first to admit that I don’t know this era nearly as well as I know some others, so I am doing lots of research.

At the risk of succumbing to presentism, I must say that I find the women’s fashions for the period truly unfortunate.  Two things give me pause more than anything else:  the titular idiot sleeves (also called imbecile sleeves), and a hairstyle called the Apollo Knot.

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Fashion Plate, La Belle Assemblee

The sleeves are truly enormous, eventually becoming tight at the wrist.  Women used “plumpers” tied around their upper arms to give them shape, as well as stuffing them with goose down.  Day dresses and evening dresses alike had this silhouette, with day dresses also adding a pelerine, or fichu, over the top.

The good news on the dresses, from my perspective, is that the waist was much more natural than that of the Regency era, and the skirts (on day dresses, anyway), were a much more natural length for walking.

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1830s Apollo Knot Hair Style

And then there’s the Apollo Knot hairdo.  You can see it on the fashion plate above, but here is a more clear representation.  Hair was parted down the center and curled on the sides, and then an elaborate braided or looped bun was created from the hair at the back.  Some women included combs, flowers, and more for evening wear.  The style was based on Greek statuary.

I can’t help feeling like the men got the better end of the deal when it came to dressing well during this period … but that’s an article for another day.

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