• Christopher Hopkins

The Power of Pretty® Determining Your Best Sleeve Styles

With so many sleeve styles and shapes, you’d think more dresses would come with sleeves attached. This is a never-ending complaint of women who wish to cover their arms. And many do. Sleeves are important.

Your sleeves finish off the outer edge of your silhouette and are important in both length and detail as they call attention to—or distract from—any horizontal figure flaws. Your horizontal body type (bust to waist to hip proportions), plus your arm and shoulder type determine your most flattering sleeve. A sleeve style is defined by how it is seamed to your garment, its length, and its shape or silhouette

Three quarter angel sleeves sometimes (mistakenly) called butterfly sleeves or flutter sleeves.


Sleeve lengths are often referred to, in descending order, as sleeveless, drop, cap, short, half, three-quarter, seven-eighths (or bracelet), wrist, and long.

Short sleeves draw attention to the bust, three-quarter sleeves to the waist, and long to the hips. Therefore:

A Y body type may want to avoid short sleeves that stop at the fullest part of the bust-line.

An I body type may want to avoid three-quarter sleeves, which draw the eye to the waist.

An A body type may want to avoid long sleeves with contrasting cuffs or cuff detail, which draws attention to the hips.

Most sleeves fall into three basic types. The set-in sleeve, the raglan sleeve, and the kimono.

A set-in sleeve joins the garment in a seam that encircles the arm at the shoulder.

A raglan sleeve joins the bodice in a diagonal seam extending to the neckline.

A kimono sleeve is cut as one with the garment, joined but one seam under the arm to the sleeve hem.

Fashion and all its fickleness may change names to suit its fancy, but the following is a list of the most common sleeve styles and as brief a description as I could put together. You may find conflicting opinions in, say, what a cap sleeve really is. And you may find one person’s puffed sleeve is another’s balloon, or her flounce is his trumpet. Take this not as a rule book, but as a guideline in silhouette, and use whichever term makes you feel prettiest. It is, after all, just a garment—not rocket science.

Angel: A flowing sleeve that fits smoothly into the armhole but flares out to the hem. Generally three-quarter or longer, the hem points diagonally toward the floor.

Balloon: A puffed sleeve gathered at the armhole and hem and is generally made of crisp fabrics to exaggerate the balloon-like effect.

Baby Doll: A small puffed sleeve.

Barrel: A sleeve that fits at the shoulder and the wrist, but is full at the elbow.

Bell: A bell-shaped sleeve set in smoothly at armhole then flaring to a horizontal hem.

Bishop: A long, full sleeve, set in smoothly at the armhole and gathered at the wrist. A bishop sleeve appears fuller at the wrist than shoulder.

Bracelet Sleeve: A cuffless, fitted three-quarter sleeve that showcases a bracelet.

Butterfly: A wide open armhole sleeve that marries the bodice with a dramatic diagonal hem appearing as if a butterfly when arms are raised. Also called a flutter sleeve.

Button Tab: A convertible sleeve can be worn long or rolled up and fastened to tab with button sewn on underside of sleeve.

Cap: A very short sleeve that extends from the shoulder, “capping” it with an open armhole.

Flounce: Often mistakenly called a trumpet or bell sleeve, the circular flounce is a separate piece of fabric that is attached to a sleeve then “flounces” out from that point.

Dolman: A sleeve that tapers from a larger armhole fitted closely at the wrist and cut as part of the bodice. Also called a batwing sleeve.

Drop: Known also as a drop or dropped shoulder, the seam is “dropped” off the shoulder rather than at the shoulder (as a set-in sleeve), falling in a soft, diagonal line that helps slim the upper arm.

Epaulet Sleeve: With the center shoulder seam eliminated, this sleeve is cut in one piece and yoked across the top of the shoulder.

Flutter Sleeve: Like a large open bell sleeve with a diagonal hem. Similar to a butterfly sleeve but separated from the bodice.

Handkerchief: A square piece of fabric is attached at shoulder or sleeve hem and descends into points like a handkerchief pulled at it center.

Hanging: A sleeve that opens down the side or front allowing the arm to pass through.

Juliet: A long, tapered sleeve fitted with puffed shoulder.

Kimono: A sleeve cut in one piece as part of the bodice whose width depends on the armhole drop and is attached by one seam under the arm to bodice.

Lantern: A sleeve that is cut in two flared pieces of cloth seamed together then tapering back to the arm. Best with crisp fabrics to accentuate the shape of the “lantern.”

Leg-o-mutton: Dramatically gathered or pleated into the armhole with an explosion of fabric that tapers to its hem appearing, not coincidentally, like a lamb chop.

Peasant: A full sleeve gathered at top and bottom. Similar to a balloon sleeve but with softer more flowing fabric.

Petal: Sleeve that is curved at hem and overlapping to give a petal-shaped effect in front. Also called a tulip sleeve.

Puffed: A sleeve gathered at the armhole (puffed top), cuff (puffed bottom), or both (balloon) producing a rounded shape.

Raglan: Sleeve that extends from neckline to under arms.

Roll Up: Sleeve with a rolled band at the sleeve hem.

Saddle: A variation of the raglan sleeve, and technically the same as the epaulet sleeve, but generally used in men’s sportswear and sweaters.

Set-in: Any type of sleeve which is seamed at and sewn into the natural armhole.

Tapered: A set-in sleeve that tapers from shoulder to sleeve hem.

Three-Quarter: Any sleeve hemmed at the upper forearm.

Trumpet Sleeve: A sleeve set into a natural armhole, falling straight then flaring at the hem like the shape of a trumpet.

Tulip: A sleeve that is curved at hem and overlapping to give a petal-shaped effect in front.

#flatteringfashion #howtocoverarms #length #Sleevesstyles

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