Polka dot bodice with leg-o’-mutton/gigot sleeves

ca. 1894-1895

Gigot, or leg-o’-mutton sleeves were high fashion in the early 1890s. This bodice was probably worn ca. 1894-1895 by Kathleen O’Reilly, who lived in Victoria. I selected it because it is so very beautiful, and it has been conserved, so we can see the skilled needlework and the richness of the fabrics. It would have been tailor-made for Kathleen.

The fabric is cotton, stiffened with 13 metal stays, and decorated with blonde lace and black taffeta ribbons. This would have been worn with a skirt of the same fabrics. A photo shows her wearing this outfit at a garden party. The fashion then was for women to wear corsets that cinched in their waists dramatically, with similarly constricting clothing. Women were not supposed to exert themselves in such garments, which would have been worn for social occasions.

As the daughter of a prominent government official, Kathleen lived a life of social engagements. She was fond of tennis (she would have had a different dress for that!) and undertook the domestic responsibilities in her family home. These included supervising the cook and the various servants, budgeting for expenses and serving as hostess after the death of her mother. She chose not to marry, claiming she did not wish to leave her family home (Point Ellice House, now a provincial heritage site). She lived out her life there with her younger brother and his family.

Hear a song about Kathleen here.