Aunt Sallie’s 1896 Fashion

As we learn about our family history and review the records, photos, and circumstances surrounding their lives, it’s always interesting to learn more about related subjects.

For example, the photograph that includes my third great aunt, Sallie John Turner, has piqued my curiosity about the fashion of the day.

Sallie John Turner, born 1880 in Southampton County, Virginia, was living in Liberty, Missouri in 1896. I have shared how Sallie somehow wound up in the household of Presbyterian minister, William Frost Bishop, who was originally from Petersburg, Virginia. Sallie’s my maternal third great aunt.

In 2015, while searching for what may have happened to Aunt Sallie, I connected with a descendant of William Frost Bishop who graciously shared a photograph of Aunt Sallie. The photo was an 1896 group picture of two of William Frost Bishop’s children-Judith Joyce and Henry Roper, Aunt Sallie, and the family dog, Diana.

Pictured from left to right: Judith Joyce Bishop (1887-1978), Diana the dog, Henry Roper Bishop (1889-1971), Sallie John Turner (born 1880 in Southampton County, VA to Rev. John H. Turner and his wife, Josephine. Sallie was taken to Missouri by William Frost Bishop. She was there in the household as a servant (nursemaid/governess). Sallie was never seen by her family again.)
Photo Courtesy: Mr. R.A.

I am eternally grateful to Mr. R.A. for sharing this photo of Aunt Sallie, the first time that the family has “seen” her since before the turn of the twentieth century.

Poring over this image, I’m particularly interested in the clothing that Sallie is wearing.

Perhaps most prominent in Sallie’s clothing in this portrait is her sleeve, most commonly referred to as a leg of mutton sleeve.

Just what was that and what are some other facts about the fashion of the times?

Let’s have a look:

Definition of leg of mutton sleeve:

Sleeve with full top gathered or pleated into armhole ad tapered to wrist where it looks like a regular sleeve. Size may vary-in 1895, very full sleeve requiring a yard or two of fabric were popular. Also called a French gigot sleeve, which derives from French, for ‘leg of lamb’.” (Tortora 366)

Fashion History Timeline
St. Louis Post-Dispatch St. Louis, Missouri 15 Apr 1896, Wed • Page 3
Fashion History Timeline

Plaids were extremely popular in the 1880’s. This was partly due to a general interest in a romantic view of Scotland in general, and partly due to Queen Victoria’s interest in the country.

Everyday Clothes—The Victorian Life

Here are more insightful links on the subject of 1890’s fashion:

Library of Congress: Quarterly Report of metropolitan fashions. Winter, 1896

A History of Fashion 1840-1900

Sallie would have been around the age of sixteen in the photograph, a young lady. Judith and Henry were considerably younger. Here is a newspaper advert showing examples of children’s clothing in 1896.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn, New York 13 Sep 1896, Sun • Page 15

For context, there was lots happening in 1896, according to On This Day…

Jan 5 “Die Presse” newspaper (Germany) publicly announces Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays and their potential for new methods of medical diagnoses in a front-page article.

Mar 1 Battle of Adwa: 80,000 Ethiopians destroy 20,000 Italians in Ethopia, killing two generals and capturing General Matteo Albertone

Mar 1 Henri Becquerel discovers radioactivity

Apr 6 First modern Summer Olympic Games open in Athens, Greece

Apr 20 1st public film showing in US John Philip Sousa’s “El Capitan” premieres in NYC

May 18 US Supreme court affirms legitimacy of racial separation (Plessy v Ferguson), a doctrine that came to be known as “separate but equal”

May 19 1st auto (Karl Benz) arrives in Netherlands

May 26 Dow Jones index begins with an average of 12 industrial stocks (closing is 40.94)

May 26 Last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, crowned

May 27 Tornado hit St Louis, killing 255, leaving thousands homeless

Jun 2 Italian engineer and inventor Guglielmo Marconi applies for the first ever patent for a system of wireless telegraphy in the United Kingdom

Again, there’s always more to learn as we discover more and more about our family history. Even in mystery, there is a way to fact find about many a subject. After all, learning is always in fashion.

The Genealogy Situation Room

5 thoughts on “Aunt Sallie’s 1896 Fashion

  1. That was quite a year! I’m also reminded of the girl Ann in the book “Ann of Green Gables” begging her guardian to make her a dress with puff sleeves. Unfortunately, her guardian said “no” as it was an extreme waste of fabric. That makes me think that if you had a mutton sleeve dress, you had a bit of expendable income.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this comment. It’s a reminder that fashion was and remains a type of luxury and not everyone wore the ‘styles of the day.’

      Darling Anne finally did get her dress with the puffed sleeves, courtesy of Matthew. 🙂

      Thanks again, your insights are ever appreciated.

      Here are links to the chapter and scene of Anne of Green Gables’ dress w/ puffed sleeves:


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