The Season of Sleeves

In case you missed it, there was a scandal on Capitol Hill. Apparently, in July, a female reporter tried to enter the Speaker’s Lobby wearing a sleeveless dress. The Speaker’s Lobby is a guarded room sitting adjacent to the front of the House Chamber. It is a room where reporters are allowed to wait in hopes of getting an interview with a member of Congress. However, on this hot summer day, the reporter was not allowed to enter because the sleeveless dress she was wearing did not meet the dress code. The bipartisan dress code does not discriminate. If a man forgets his tie, he may be given an unflattering “tie of shame” to wear while in the area. In impetuous defiance, the sleeveless reporter ripped out pages from her notebook and stuffed them into the shoulder openings of her dress. Her attempt to create sleeves was obviously not an acceptable solution. While this reporter was not the first person to be denied entry due to her unsuitable clothing, she did make the news, renewing the appropriate-business-attire debate.

Sleeveless sheath dresses have become a staple in many women’s wardrobe. This style is comfortable, cool in the summer, and easy to wear when it gets chilly by simply adding a cardigan or jacket. I believe that garment makers, in an effort to fit as many different sized women as possible, encourage the sleeveless style. Sleeveless garments are less expensive to make, easier to produce, and fit more women. Bridal gowns are a perfect example. Trying to find a gown with sleeves was nearly impossible before Kate Middleton made wearing sleeves modern, classy, and elegant again. Strapless and sleeveless gowns are quite simply easier to fit, alter, and sell.

All this sleeveless-ness aside, ’tis the season to revisit arm coverings. And perfect timing. Sleeves are making quite a statement on the runway, and many women are delighted with this trend. Through recent years, I’ve overheard several conversations between women who bemoan the fact that finding a blouse or dress with sleeves has been incredibly difficult. According to WWD (Women’s Wear Daily), there is a strong emphasis on sleeves this fall. These new sleeve styles are not the basic cap or raglan sleeve we’ve been wearing all of our lives. These new sleeves are dramatic and often embellished.

Bell sleeves in particular are making a strong statement. You may remember this bohemian look from the 1960s. However, this time they are exceptionally large and have interesting construction techniques. Pleating, fringe, ruffles, and bows enhance the super-sized sleeves of 2017. Ivanka Trump recently wore a lovely pink dress constructed with large, full bell sleeves and adorned with a bow. Model Karolina Kurkova was photographed wearing a red Oriental-style dress with bell sleeves. Her sleeves appeared to be at least 15 inches wide at the wrist-line. The super-short dress may have had more fabric in the sleeve than in body of the dress! When wearing voluminous bell sleeves, consider wearing narrow skirts or pants to balance the fullness of the sleeve.

Sleeve embellishment is also a trend for fall. Embroidered flowers, swirls, and pearls are applied to give tops a whimsical and feminine look. These attractive new designs are not limited to eccentric dresses or poetic blouses. They are also found on button-up shirts offering a playful and trendy edge to more formal or business attire.
One trend that is hard for me to understand is extremely long sleeves. These sleeves can fall well below the hemline of a jacket and can even hang down past the knees. There is usually a slit in the sleeve so that hands can be found and used. Still, I can’t think of any activity that wouldn’t be cumbersome with a sleeve this long. Not to mention how dirty the sleeves would become. Another new spin on sleeves is using a contrasting fabric. The sleeve fabric may be the same fiber as the body of the garment, only a different color, or a completely different fiber such as a silk sleeve on a cotton blouse.

News broadcasters are notorious for wearing sleeveless dresses even in the middle of winter. It looks ridiculous to me to see a woman wearing a short-skirted, sleeveless dress against a backdrop of fluffy white snow. I have trouble concentrating on the report because I’m afraid the poor girl is cold! Maybe this sleeve trend will make a weather-appropriate-clothing-impact on these ladies.

Speaking of cold, the “cold-shoulder” sleeve has become tremendously popular. This style either has a cut-out or slit in the seam exposing the upper arm, or the sleeves begin at the lower arm, completely exposing the shoulder.
Sleeves are fashionable, flattering, and functional. If you are like me, you’re pleased with this trend. No more cold arms!

Style Expert, JeanAnn Taylor can be reached at

Types of Sleeves

Set-in Sleeves can be cap, short, three-quarter, or long. They can be smooth, darted, or gathered. The cap sleeve covers only the shoulder and upper arm. Short sleeves are slightly longer, three-quarter sleeves end just below the elbow, and long sleeves end at the wrist.

Raglan Sleeves are formed from two pieces of fabric. The sleeve goes from the hemline, over the shoulder, and up to the neckline.

Kimono Sleeves are cut as one with the body of the garment. The wide sloping shape can be short or long.

Bishop Sleeves are long sleeves that are fuller at the bottom than the top. The lower edge can be gathered into a cuff or left free and breezy.

Bell Sleeves can be long or short. They usually began as narrow set-in sleeves and then flare to the wrist line.

Tulip Sleeves are cut from two pieces of fabric. They overlap each other forming the shape of a tulip. This design allows for greater range of motion than typical set-in sleeves.

Butterfly Sleeves are gathered at the arm opening and then are left to flutter at the sleeve hemline.

Princess Sleeves are puffy at the shoulder and gathered at the hemline with elastic or a cuff.

Cold-Shoulder Sleeves expose the shoulders and upper arms with cut-outs or open seams.

JeanAnn Taylor
Written by JeanAnn Taylor