1890 fashion

leg o'mutton sleeves, patterns, resources for costuming

  • New for your Dressing Miss Lizzie paper doll


    Just in time for Christmas, Lizzie gets a new frock. This will fit your Lizzie paper doll. Be sure to print in color at 100% on matte photo paper or 28 pound copy paper for best results, portrait paper layout. I am sure you recognize the dress as do visitors to the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum!    Click on the following link to download a high resolution PDF file of the dress here >  christmas-dress

  • A few changes for August 4th

    The Pear Essential Productions’ annual August 4th dramatization at the Borden house will have a few new faces this year. Mike Shogi, from Cleveland will be directing this year for the first time as long-time producer-director and script writer Shelley Dziedzic steps down after a long run.  She will still assist with ticket sales, script and costuming.

    ???????????????????????????????Mike is a familiar face at #92, having played Dr. Dolan in 2011 and Detective Seaver in 2012 as well as being one of the Second Street Irregulars “Muttoneaters” for many years.

    There will be some big changes in casting this year as well as a few old familiar faces reprising their usual roles.  Stay tuned for more cast announcements here.

    August 033Carol Ann Simone will be returning as Lizzie Borden this year, shown here in the famous pink and white striped wrapper which she designed and made herself.

    Below: The cast from August 4, 2012.


  • On the beach Summer 1892

    It’s hard to imagine Lizzie or Emma in these on Horseneck Beach or in the water at Fort Phoenix, Fairhaven.  The fashions are from Godey’S Lady’s Book, August 1892 issue 746. Figure 12 is a “bathing dress of of red serge  trimmed with rows of white braid.  Vest of white serge trimed with red braid.  Sailor collar of the same with anchors embroidered in the corners.  A thick cord is passed under the collar and knotted in front.” Figure 13 “bathing shoe of checked flannel with golosh toe and heel.”

    Especially interesting is the bathing cloak, Fig. 11; “These cloaks are always used abroad to conceal the bathing dress when walking down to the beach, and they are now appearing at many watering places, especially the quieter ones.  This model is of bath toweling trimmed with a Greek key pattern of navy blue braid, collar of blue linen.” Naturally Lizzie or Emma would not dream of “mixed bathing” with rambunctious males but would keep to the appointed Ladies’ Hours at the beach.

  • Muttoneaters return to Fall River

    This past weekend the cordial society of armchair sleuths returned to #92 Second Street for the annual flocking of the Second Street Irregulars (Muttoneaters) for a jam-packed tour of many Borden-related sites around the area. Friday morning the group of 16 visited the Fall River Historical Society to bestow the yearly awards upon the recent publication by Michael Martins and Dennis Binette, Parallel Lives. The flock enjoyed a coffee hour, tour and photo session in the beautiful Victorian garden before heading off to Fairhaven for a picnic at Fort Phoenix and a city tour given by Chris Richards who was dressed to impress!

    Chris fired off a vintage rifle, explained how teeth were extracted, limbs were amputated and the life and activities of a wartime barber-dentist-surgeon, a role he re-enacts in costume with a local history group at Fort Phoenix annually.  Afterward the Muttoneaters toured city hall and learned about Mark Twain’s dedication speech given on the stage there, visited the locales of the homes in which Helen Brownell stayed (Emma Borden’s alibi), and visited the beautiful Millicent Library where a letterbox was found in a very special place inside. (see Atlasquest.com for clues!) The group then returned to Fall River for a pizza party and presentations on the Villisca murders of 1912 and discussions on Andrew Jennings, one of the attorneys for Lizzie whose journals they saw at the historical society earlier.

    Andrew Jennings’ journal and newspaper clipping collection

    Saturday was a busy day which began with a trip to Oak Grove Cemetery to see the room in which the Bordens were autopsied on August 11, 1892, and to inspect the interior of the holding tomb used to house the coffins of the Bordens both before and after the heads were removed by Dr. Dolan.

    The morning concluded with a very special visit to Maplecroft and a great tour by Mr. Bob Dube who conducted the group through every room of the three-storied home and explained what was original to Lizzie’s tenure there. This was a very special and much-appreciated opportunity as the house is currently for sale with the future owner still unknown.

    On the “piazza” at Maplecroft in the spot where the recently published photo of Lizzie and her dog appeared in Parallel Lives.

    Poppy garden at Maplecroft

    After lunch the Muttoneaters visited the Animal Rescue League of Fall River, an annual stop, to bring dog and cat treats and a special 1927 newspaper detailing Lizzie and Emma Borden’s donation to this worthy cause, bequeathed in their wills.

    The afternoon brought a real surprise when the group was invited to visit the cellar of the Lodowick Borden (also known as Dr. Kelly’s) home next door to the Borden house on Second Street to view the chimney and cellar where in 1848 Eliza Darling Borden threw three of her children in a cistern and then committed suicide behind the chimney.  Beautiful cabinetry with little drawers and cupboards were added much later when the Kellys moved to the house in 1891 and are still intact. The room was most likely used then as Dr. Kelly’s home office.

    Muttoneaters flocked to June Street to pose on the porch of Andrew J. Jennings house which must have one of the best views of the Taunton River in Fall River.

    Saturday evening concluded with a visit from the “Women’s Christian Temperence Union” with Muttoneaters dressed as Mrs. Brayton, Carrie Nation and Mother Willard, followed by a Sunday-style chicken Gospel bird dinner and many hours of animated conversation about the famous Borden case. As always, nobody wanted to leave on Sunday morning and the planning begins again for next year’s adventures.

  • Debut of cover art for Parallel Lives

    Today the Fall River Historical Society has released the working cover art for its long-awaited volume, Parallel Lives, a history of Lizzie Borden’s Fall River.  The cover features an expanded view of the famous “pansy brooch” portrait of Lizzie, with her dress tinted in a rich shade of burgundy and was designed by Charles S. Medeiros of Burnt Toast Graphics.  It is a rare treat to see colorized photographs of the well-known black and white images so familiar to students of the Borden case.  The rich hue used for the dust jacket is one which perfectly reflects Victoriana.  Lizzie truly comes to life. The photograph in black and white featured in the background is of the wedding day of the William Lawton Slade Braytons, June 18, 1913.

    For all the latest on publication date, follow the historical society online at  http://www.lizzieborden.org/ParallelLives.html  and on Facebook.  The volume is currently in final revision with a publication date soon to come- and not a minute too soon for the many eager enthusiasts and historians who are eager for the new photographs of the Bordens and more than 500 photographs in all.  

  • Top 10 favorite posts

    Crime Scene-Andrew Borden  3,254

    New photo joins other “Lizzies” 2,892

    Lizzie’s leg o’ mutton sleeves 2,456

    Salem Witch? 2,264

    Haunted Happenings- ‘Tis the Season 1,844

    Somewhere in Time- A Cult Classic 1,825

    Victorian Fashion Links 1,428

    1890’s Fashionplates 1,418

    Companion Fall River Blogs 1,225

    Leg O’ Mutton Madness 1,031

    It’s always interesting to see where people like to go when they visit this blog.  Whether coming across us by accident, or googling another topic altogether, there are many non Lizzie-related posts which are in the top 10 all time “hits” for this blog.  Victorian fashion has its share of seekers as well as fans of the 1980 classic romantic film, Somewhere in Time.  Still, the most visited post is the crime scene of Andrew Borden, with its 360 degree pan of the sitting room.

  • August 4th cast at Maplecroft

    The cast enjoyed a great day at the Lizzie Borden  Bed and Breakfast Museum as they, for the 14th year, adapted the facts of the case for performance to the public.  Tickets were sold out well before the afternoon, with starting times on the half hour this year.  An exit poll was given to the visitors and over 60 % of those who filled out the form decided Lizzie was the guilty party, with Uncle John Morse coming in a distant second.  There was a drawing at the end of the day for a gift certificate to the popular B&B.  Some of the cast is shown above after the day was ended, before being treated to a tour of all floors of Lizzie’s home on French St., Maplecroft.   It was a big day for all things Lizzie with the new exhibit also debuting at the Fall River Historical Society. For more about the day visit the Fall River Herald site article http://www.heraldnews.com/news/x84685033/Fall-Rivers-infamous-Borden-murders-reenacted-on-118th-anniversary

    More script details and cast photos coming soon!

  • Richard Behrens Reads from Lizzie Borden: Girl Detective

    It was a charming June afternoon at the Fall River Historical Society when author Richard Behrens’s treated an appreciative audience to selections from his new book, Lizzie Borden: Girl Detective.  The gardens were in bloom, lemonade and gingersnaps were on the sideboard, and spellbound fans of the latest Lizzie Borden fictional incarnation were held in rapt attention for a delightful interlude.  Copies of the book may be found at the historical society or may be ordered through the website (link in right hand column). Thanks to Mondo Lizzie and Youtube for the following videos from this afternoon.

  • Mutton Eaters On the Prowl

    After the visit to the police station, the flock descended on the Fall River Public Library to have a look at the Fall River Room and exhibit of Fall River artist paintings.  A happy hour was spent there looking through old street directories, postcards and reference materials-some rare, and all chock full of information about the city.  After a tour of the library it was check-in time at #92 Second Street and preparations for the annual banquet, this year at the old Quequechan Club on North Main Street.  Some Mutton Eaters opted for vintage clothing.  The group handed out awards and enjoyed a superb dinner in the Captain Study on the second floor after taking a tour of the bowling alley and other rooms of the 1894 former gentleman’s club.  Dinner was followed by the cutting of the 2010 Cheesecake- a tradition for the Mutton eaters, this year featuring  a topper of Lizzie Borden counting dollars instead of sheep in her little bed back on Second Street.  It was a late night with lots of singing and presentations by members which included new material on Dr. Seabury Bowen and Sarah Cornell.

  • Living History-Laura Loew

    Photograph courtesy of JENNIFER KARPUS/SUN NEWS

    Laura Loew lives what she loves.  The Medina, Ohio woman offers classes and lectures in various Victorian-era topics including Lizzie Borden, one of the most popular presentations. Ms. Loew presents programs on many aspects of Victorian fashion from hats to needlework to mourning customs including hairwork jewelry. Her company, Lost in the Past,  has a web site at http://lostinthepast.com/ where she may be contacted to book a lecture, date a photograph, advise on period costume, plan Victorian teas and  myriad other fascinating services related to the Victorian era. Her next class will take place in her restored Italianate Victorian home and will be a craft session in making a fan, a presentation on the language of the fan, and a tour of her home filled with period antiques on April 10th.

  • Lizzie’s Flower

    Over the decades since Lizzie Borden’s death in 1927, the pansy has become the flower associated with her.  She herself never claimed that this was her favorite, and we have only the well-known photograph of her wearing the pansy brooch at her throat as any indication that she liked the flower.  Whether it was a favorite of Lizzie’s or merely a favorite blossom of the era cannot be known with any certainty.  Postcards, other ephemera, jewelry, household decorations, needlework, painted china, and such are all lavished with pansies.  It was a sentimental favorite, probably second only to blue forget-me-nots.  Violets, which signify faithfulness, and rosebuds of varying colors were other flowers most often seen.  The Language of Flowers was a popular code of the times, of which most ladies were very knowledgeable.  Pansies, from the French “pensees” means “thoughts”.  Naturally this was an ideal flower to associate with card sending and gift-giving.  There is a very good possibility that Lizzie’s pansy brooch was a gift given to her by a lady friend of close acquaintance.  Lizzie seemed to have a great many dresses in her closet which featured blue, so perhaps the blue-violet shades of pansies appealed to her for that reason.  Another well-know name for the tiny johnny-jump up, a diminuative pansy cousin, was “heart-ease”.  The motif was very popular in handwork for ladies of the time.  A lady reporter who wrote about Lizzie’s neat bedroom mentions a pale blue coverlet worked in embroidered flowers by Lizzie.  Too bad she did not mention what kind of flowers!  Today a vase of silk pansies is kept in Lizzie’s bedroom on Second Street, a Victorian oil painting of pansies hangs above her bed and pansies are always planted in the garden at #92.

    Here is a poem by Louisa Don Carlos, born in 1874, one of many Victorian verses about the beloved pansy.

    O give me not red roses,
    That early dews have wet!
    They speak to me of kisses
    That are remembered yet.
    O bring me not white roses,
    That summer winds have drest!
    For once I placed white roses
    Upon a quiet breast.
    But bring me purple pansies
    If so you wish to please,
    For them I have affection;
    For pansies are “heart’s ease”.

  • Halloween Lizzie-Dressed to Kill?

    LizzieBordenFSWith the proliferation of Lizzies popping up at haunted hayrides, ghost tours and Halloween venues all over the country,  Lizzie duds are in demand for the season.  The same fashion ensemble used for the Living Dead Dolls series is now available up to a woman’s size 12 in a “dead ringer” three piece in black and scarlet, selling for $44.95.(hatchet not included).

    Those leg o’ mutton sleeves are de rigeur of course, but the rest of the costume is easy to manage from your closet and tool bench, being a long skirt, boots and weapon-in-hand.  Lizzie’s frizzie bangs and tight little bun complete the look, and perhaps a slightly crazed glint in the eye.  Internet tips on Lizzie costuming urge red hair, but of course Lizzie was not a redhead- light brown hair is listed on her passport from 1890. 

    Don’t forget the costume contest Saturday night at the Eagle on North Main Street, a special feature of Lizzie Borden Live ! , the award-winning play starring Jill Dalton.  First prize will be a night’s stay at the famous house on Second Street.  Strap on your corset and come on down!

  • Leg O’ Mutton Madness

    The popular gigot, or leg o’ mutton sleeves continued to grow in size from 1890 until they reached ridiculous proportions by 1898.  After reaching gargantuan dimensions, there was nowhere to go but down- and they did.  The new Edwardian era changed the emphasis entirely from huge sleeve, hourglass figure, and wide -bottomed skirts to a slim silhouette, monobosom, the “S” shaped curved silhouette and by 1911, a pencil slim hobble skirt which barely allowed a lady room to walk at the bottom.  All of that was topped off by monstrous cartwheel hats which were recently glorified in the Cameron film, Titanic.


    An advertisement for starch, 1898, the leg o’muttons last gasp



     (blogger’s collection)

  • 1890’s Fashionplates

    Fresh from the McDowell Dress Cutting Academy Journal in New York- Summer fashions for the seaside. This could have been Emma Borden and her friend Helen Brownell at Fairhaven shore, dressed in some serious leg o’ mutton sleeves.



    (From the blogger’s collection)

  • Dressing Up History


    Over the years since 1991, it has been fun to re-live the 1890’s and to re-enact history as part of the cast at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast.  Every August 4th there is a new script and new faces to fill the roles.  Before the house was open to the public in 1996, some of us had fun dressing up and giving performances and carriage tours around the city.  In 1992 the city put on an impressive effort to mark the centennial of the Borden case with Maplecroft open, plays, a Victorian Cafe, city exhibits and a conference at the local Bristol Community College.  1992 may never be equalled.  The Second Street Irregulars, a group of armchair sleuths, evolved from the conference as friends were made there who wanted to continue to meet when the centennial ended.  Today the group is going strong again, and meets twice a year to discuss aspects of the case and visit places pertaining to the Borden family and the crime. 

    Finding costumes for the past 16 years has been a challenge, but thanks to Butterick and Simplicity patterns, and a new company called Recollections, (see link) dressing the part has become easier. 

     Thankfully costumes for the men are not as difficult, and for many years the part of Andrew Borden has been played by Borden scholar Ed Thibault who has made Lizzie the subject of interest for over 30 years and has worn a black frock coat to great effect! There’s nothing quite like time traveling in a costume with friends who share the same interests with matching enthusiasm.

  • Fashionplates of the 1890’s

     After the decline of the second rigid bustle period, the 1890’s ushered in an interest in the reprise of the leg o’ mutton sleeve, called “gigot” in a previous incarnation. While skirts became plainer and wide at the bottom, sleeves became elaborate and grew to an alarming rate at the upper arm, reaching ridiculous proportions by 1896. After reaching the limit, mercifully, the gigantic ballooning sleeves collapsed and returned to the more pleasing contours of pre-1890.  Big shoulders and sleeves, a small waist, neat, close-to-the- head hair with frizzled bangs, and dainty boots were the aim of Lizzie’s 1892 social set.  Those who could afford it had their evening gowns from Worth.  It was a great time to be a girl! Images from www.fashion-era.com, the Delineator magazine, www.costumersmanifesto.com and Long Ago Fashions.

  • Remembering Guy Verhille

    Guy Verhille awards: Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design : The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975) Tied with Margaret Furse for Love Among the Ruins (1975).

    On permanent loan, The Lizzie Borden House, Fall River

    Set design and costuming as well as casting, can make or break a film.  For those who have seen the 1975 Legend of Lizzie Borden starring Bewitched’s beautiful Elizabeth Montgomery, getting the house and costumes just right were very important.  The famous house had been photographed and blueprints of the layout have been well- known since the murders in 1892.  Lizzie herself is frozen in time in those leg o’ mutton sleeves.  The house owners received Lizzie’s famous acquittal dress from Paramount Film Studio, and it is currently on display in the room where Abby Borden met her violent end.  It is a popular item for visitors spending the night at the house on Second Street.  Miss Montgomery was a size 4 when she wore this dress, which is actually a gray nubby-textured wool blend with a capelet with accordian-pleated long lappets which hang down the front and tuck into a belt at the waist.  The very full accordian-pleated wide sleeves give the impression of the popular leg o’ mutton sleeve which was growing ever-larger in 1892.  The back of the cape is finished off with heavy metallic bead fringe.  Sadly, guests at the house have purloined some of these fringes as souvenirs (see photo).

    The late Guy Verhille, veteran costumer of many large screen and television productions won an Emmy, as did the set designer, in 1975 for his work in The Legend of Lizzie Borden.  The hat to this ensemble was unfortunately thrown away.  It featured a strong vertical embellishment as seen in the photo below, which was exactly correct for the era.



    With budget constraints, this was the only copy of the dress made for the television movie, and how lucky that Mr. Verhille’s great design has survived.  To see more of Mr. Verhille’s credits, visit the Internet Movie Data Base  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0894181/


  • Frozen in time with those leg o’ muttons

     When you ask just about anybody what Lizzie looked like, most will mention her pale, penetrating eyes, heavy lower jowl- and those leg o’ mutton sleeves ! Perhaps it is because the only photo of Lizzie facing the camera was taken on the porch of the Covell house on Farewell Street in Newport after the acquittal.. She has a certain relieved and self-satisfied expression as she gazes right at you, and that Mona Lisa smile is flanked by two enormous leg o’ mutton sleeves.


    Actresses who are asked to portray Lizzie are always pressed to give the 1893 Lizzie look, complete with leg o’ mutton or gigot sleeves.  Surely Lizzie marched on with the trends of the times, and by her demise in 1927, had probably tried out the cloche hat, narrow, shorter skirts, sacque dress and flapper bandeau. For students of costume history, one thing emerges quickly when comparing trends from decade to decade- if the skirt is simple and plain, the bodice and sleeve will be elaborate.

    By 1892, the bustle had come and gone twice, the soft bustle of the  early1870s, and the rigid and ridiculous second bustle period of 1883-89 – a bustle so wide a small dog could perch on it.  greenrosebustle_small.jpg 1884                         marbbluebrownsbustle40_small.jpg  1875 & 76  http://www.fashion-era.com/bustles.htm (drawings from the Costumer’s Manifesto)

    With all the emphasis on the skirt and bustle, elaborate draping of the layers, and passementerie, or trims, the bodice and sleeves were kept plain. This is sometimes referred to as The Upholstered Age in ladies’ fashion.  By 1890 things would change again as skirts became smoothly fitted over the hips and wide at the bottoms- made possible by many gores, sometimes as many as 9.  These were called bell or morning glory skirts and were a joy to more athletic girls who liked a rousing walk in the country.  To offset the plain skirts, the top part of the sleeve of the basque or jacket or waist (term for blouse) started to grow and grow into the leg o’ mutton monstrosity of 1896, and then it died a merciful death in fashion.  Lizzie kept up-to-date with her expanding leg o’ muttons at the trial, and probably was always aware of fashion’s fickle fancy.  It has been said by some who knew Lizzie Borden later in life that she kept to darker shades, quality tailoring, and the luxurious fabrics which money could buy.

    lizzie-pose2.jpg   lizzieaccmo.jpglizzie-tea2.jpg 

    “Monster Muttons of 1896“(click on thumbnails for larger images)