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Those of us who read Anne of Green Gables (or watched the 1980s film series by Sullivan Entertainment) growing up know the story's heroine had no more coveted fashion statement than the puffed sleeve. We remember how Anne implored for the trend and treated it as a tragedy when it was denied.
“It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.”
Anne Shirley, the adopted orphan girl in Prince Edward Island, was all about style from day one. A brainy student with an eye for beauty, Anne-with-an-E always wanted to look her best. Early on, her simple wish was to have pretty outfits.
When Anne’s story takes place in late nineteenth-century Canada, the style of the “Gibson Girl”—inspired by the fashionable illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson—was the epitome of beauty. The preferred look was the mutton sleeve (“The puffiest in the world!”). What began as larger-than-life sleeves, which required the wearer to walk through a door sideways, became smaller short-sleeved puffs by the early 1900s. These fun sleeves came back into fashion a number of times throughout the twentieth century, often as a response to a more minimalist style that preceded it. In the 1930s, it was a departure from the straight columnar styles of the 1920s, and in the 1980s it was all about maximalism.
We see many great examples of Edwardian fashion in the Sullivan films. Costume designer Martha Mann—whose grandmother was a personal friend of author Lucy Maud Montgomery—took special care that all the characters looked authentic. Her thorough research into the era and region ensured that the costumes in the film played a big role in storytelling.
As an Anne fan, I felt the same joy as the book’s heroine in recent times when puffy sleeves have again made a comeback. I can’t help but wholeheartedly agree when she says, “I’m so glad that puffed sleeves are still fashionable. It did seem to me that I’d never get over it if they went out before I had a dress with them. I’d never have felt quite satisfied, you see.”
A “Sensible” Blouse for Class or Work
As we follow Anne through student life to work as a teacher, she often sports practical shirtwaists or blouses. We see these in the film series as she journeys through life as a college student, and then teacher. They were remixed with vests and jackets, but today, Edwardian-style blouses would look great tucked into high-waisted jeans.
In addition to the puffs, here’s what to look for to get the look:
- Button-down ivory or cream blouses
- Bib-front, lace, embroidery and/or pintucks
“Soft and Frilly and Clinging” Dress
"Do you really think the organdy will be best?" queried Anne anxiously. "I don't think it's as pretty as my blue-flowered muslin—and it certainly isn't so fashionable."
"But it suits you ever so much better," said Diana. "It's so soft and frilly and clinging.” (Anne of Green Gables, Chapter XXXIII)
When the time came for Anne’s big moment at the White Sands Concert, a dress made of delicate material such as organdy, was what her fashionable best friend, Diana Barry, recommended. We see the scene in the film, and in the book, in which she prepares to look her best. In the 1985 adaptation, we can recall how enraptured Gilbert Blythe looked at Anne as she recited “The Highwayman.”
Though some presumed this style of sleeve might not last a year, the time of restrictions during the pandemic has shown us that maximalist styles—which include puffed-sleeves—are having their moment. When it comes to a return of any Edwardian fashion, we’re all for them.