Hopefully you are basking in the afterglow of a lovely holiday, lounging in your sweats, perhaps wondering absently, "what accident of history has brought me this sweatshirt, most comfortable of garments?"
Meet Lord Raglan
I'm pleased to introduce you to this rosy-cheeked young British officer with a Mona Lisa smile, FitzRoy John Somerset, first Baron Raglan, later called Lord Raglan. Once you get past his determined jaw and intense sideburns, you'll notice that his sleeve looks rather empty.
Why would a man who is missing an arm have a style of sleeve named after him?
What is a Raglan Sleeve?
A raglan sleeve is attached to the bodice by a seam that extends to the neckline. The Audrey Hoodie, on the left, has a raglan sleeve. You'll often see this on sweatshirts and classic baseball tees.
The Marina Puff Sleeve Sweatshirt on the right has the conventional "set-in sleeve," attached to the bodice by a seam running to the shoulder.
The raglan sleeve allows greater range of motion. When the sleeve is extended you can see that it naturally lies higher than the set-in sleeve!
What would my wife say?
Baron Raglan lost his arm in the battle of Waterloo. A surgeon in the field hospital insisted on amputating above the elbow following a severe musket wound. Raglan called for his amputated arm to be brought back to him. "Hello, boy! Look for my arm and bring it to me. There is a ring my wife gave me on the finger" and a murmur to himself, "What would my wife say?"
Tailor John Emary designed the new sleeve so that Lord Raglan could slip into his coat more easily, and swing a sword around with his good arm. Emary's brand Aquascutum--an outerwear brand that is still active today--surely used the Raglan name to sell coats with a strong military affiliation.
If only that was his only legacy...
Florence Nightengale said of Raglan, "He was not a very good general, but he was a very good man."
An ambiguous command issued to his calvary in the Crimean war led to a catastrophic slaughter later referred to as the "Charge of the Light Brigade." After mis-interpreting Raglan's poorly-worded writing, officers led six hundred calvary on a pointless charge through enemy fire.
Almost three hundred were killed while Raglan watched helplessly through his telescope. (The officer leading the charge? LORD CARDIGAN. Yes, the man who is the namesake of your favorite open sweater. What are the odds?)
My main source is Raglan: From the Peninsula to the Crimea by John Sweetman. I'll be honest, it was so dry I couldn't get through all of it. But I have two podcast recommendations for you! Slip into a raglan-sleeved hoodie and give them a listen!
Tim Harford told the story of the Charge of the Light Brigade on his podcast Cautionary Tales to demonstrate the "Curse of Knowledge." It's really enlightening! The Curse of Knowledge meets the Valley of Death
And if you want to hear about a couple more fashion-related eponyms (things named after people) please check out this delightful episode from Dressed: The History of Fashion Silhouette and Leotard: A Tale of Two Men?