Gigot is the French word for the back leg of an animal, especially of a lamb or sheep. The gigot sleeve, also called the leg-of-mutton sleeve, was named for its resemblance to a sheep's hind leg: wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. With a large puff of material at the shoulder, gigot sleeves tapered sharply at the elbow to fit closely along the lower arm. This dramatic style of sleeve was first seen on women's dresses in the sixteenth century but became a very popular style during the late 1820s and early 1830s, a romantic period that favored flamboyant styles. The gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeve came into style again during the 1890s as part of the fashionable hourglass figure, for which women were supposed to be wide at the shoulders and bust, narrow at the waist, and wide at the hips.
The wide puffed gigot sleeve was showy and stylish but not very practical. In order to hold the fabric out in a large balloon shape at the top of the arm, whalebone strips were sewn into the sleeve. For very large gigots, padding and even hoops were used to keep the shape of the sleeve. All these additions to the large sleeve made it hard for women to use their arms, or even to enter narrow doorways. Some fashion critics considered the style so ridiculous they nicknamed the gigots "imbecile sleeves." However, during the periods in which they were popular, many women's dresses featured the wide sleeves, and even little girls and boys under six years old wore dresses with miniature versions of the puffy gigot sleeve.
Hansen, Henny H. Costumes and Styles: The Evolution of Fashion from Early Egypt to the Present. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1973.
[ See also Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Sleeves ]