In the interest of saving my dresses from sweat stains (gasp!) and myself from having a heat stroke while I restock wine, beer, and move deliveries around, I have begun a little research project. I hypothesize that there were short sleeved dresses for women--and not just young ones or ball gowns. I'm talking about daytime attire.
I have not spent too much time researching (the wedding and life ate up a bunch of my time you know), but I did manage to find a large collection of dresses at the Met that are American made, cotton, from the mid 19th century, not classified as ball gowns, and SHORT SLEEVED.
My criteria to be on this research list:
1. Must be from between 1835-1855.
2. Must not be a dress for evening of dinner or a ball gown
3. Must be for an adult woman
4. Must be American
5. Must be cotton
(note all links to the Met are to the dress's page)
|Exhibit 1: Late 1840s Mourning Dress from The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Exhibit 2: c. 1847 Dress from The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Exhibit 3: 1849 Wedding Dress from The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Exhibit 4: 1841-1844 Dress from The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
From what I can tell, it appears short sleeves are okay to wear. Sure it's possible these dresses were worn with detachable sleeves, but it's also entirely possible they were not. If a woman owned them (or something similar) when they were new and brought them across the country sometime around 1850, they would be "old clothes." These wouldn't necessarily be the dresses you cherished and wore to fancy events. These would be what you wore around your home or at work, when you didn't need to worry about damaging them. They are the 19th century equivalent of those faded, torn, and worn out jeans that you wear on weekends or when you want to be comfortable. Or that thread bare T-shirt that you wear to clean your house. You don't wear those to make an impression on people, you wear them because they are comfortable. I doubt very much that a woman living in Columbia, CA c. 1850 that had to work to support herself or even a family would have thought twice about wearing comfortable old dresses without all the fine accessories they might once have had.