Ever wonder what is that one defining factor in a top or dress that truly defines a wearer’s silhouette and profile besides the obvious bust-waist-hip dimensions? Well, yes - it's the shoulders and the sleeve.
Shaping, structuring and contouring the area closest to the face and going all the way down the torso, sleeves are such a prominent and defining aspect of any garment, and yet they fly low on the radar of most people’s styling focus. To their detriment - as a special attention paid to the sleeve area can actually change the way a garment looks on the body in a major way.
Find yourself wondering what’s the style hack that facilitates all the fashionistas and influencers to always make the right silhouette and fit choice & why everything they wear looks so chic and elevated on the gram? They make really cool and complimentary sleeve choices - be it in women full sleeve tops or casual active-wear sleeves and shoulders. Here are some things to keep in mind for the sleeve and shoulder areas when shopping:
Sleeves have been used since medieval times to make statements - as symbols of stature, a tool to send a message, to hide and reveal armour and weaponry and in general play a very significant and functional role in medieval society.
Sleeve styles have been introduced in many permutations of pattern over the centuries and in accordance to the cycles of fashion, they have been revisited, reintroduced and re-invented many times over in modern modes of dress.
Early medieval sleeves were cut in one pattern as the garment, not set-in and stitched in with a seam. In a variety of lengths and depending on the stature, standing and occupation of the wearer, these sleeves would have a variety of shapes, lengths and embellishments.
Many of today’s post-modern sleeve trends stem from interesting tid-bits in history and share a throwback with iconic figures in medieval, victorian, industrial, colonial and pre-modern eras, along with significant reprisals in the 20th century. These are incorporated today from the most chic and feminine of styles to the sportiest full, 3/4th length and half sleeve t shirt styles available.
Let's take a deep dive into 5 styles of sleeves in women’s topwear that we’re crushing on today - where they come from, what they look like today, how they impact the overall silhouette of the wearer and how to incorporate them into our modern wardrobes!
A key element of modern fashion trends is the ‘flare’ or ‘bell’ sleeve. Crisp and fitted well on the shoulder area, eventually flaring out wide toward the wrist - the bell sleeve has made its appearance throughout the marketplace for full sleeve tops for womens wear - from the highest of runways to the most affordable high-street sales. Just as the name suggests, the ‘bell’ sleeve is shaped like a bell and is soft, fluid in its appeal. Here are some things to note for this dramatic, yet delicate sleeve style:
Styling Tip: Remember to keep the rest of your look minimal when wearing a bell sleeve top. A simple silhouette in a neutral colour palette, paired with printed pants or a scarf as an accent is the perfect outfit choice for busy work days!
The ‘raglan’ and ‘dolman’ sleeve types are variations of the ‘drop sleeve trend. These types of sleeves do not feature a shoulder seam and their patterns are either cut in as a whole with the garment such as ‘dolman’ or ‘batwing’ drop styles (these are sometimes also referred to as ‘kimono’ style sleeves) - or the seam is not placed at the shoulders and is set in differently, from a point much lower than the underarm to the neckline, forming a ‘raglan’ shape- that also give a ‘drop’ sleeve effect, but still maintains a tighter silhouette.
Styling Tip: Style your chic ‘Dolman’ sleeved top with a pair of chinos or high waisted trousers and belt it up for a smart casual look. When it comes to a ‘raglan’ kind of a drop sleeve, try going super feminine and look for ones made in interesting materials to go beyond the usual fare of athleisure.
One of the most sophisticated styles available in the womenswear category, ‘Off-shoulder’ and ‘Cold-shoulder’ sleeve styles are all the rage today! These have been trending for almost half a decade now, and it looks like they’re here to stay. Here are some fascinating points on this irresistible style:
Styling Tip: Always ultra stylish and feminine, this style is not for the faint hearted. Go bold with a sleek off-shoulder top and skirt combo in a chic single solid color - such as a bold pink, classic off-white or pastel green. Pair with a sleek middle-parted bun or bob, that lets your shoulder and collar-bone area have the spotlight. Also, pro tip - don’t forget to use a skin highlighted for your collarbones to ensure that they hit the sunlight in the most flattering ways possible.
The ‘puff’ sleeve trend is also a fave with high-fashion mavericks - designers like Lacroix famously featured puffed sleeves in his designs, Vivienne Westwood, used the sleeve in her innovative gowns and trills; and closer to home - AnamIka Khanna, has often utilized this type of sleeve style in lush, diaphanous designs. This style, however is just as popular in everyday styles and is the most prominent throughout fashion history:
Styling Tip: Pretty, classic and in many cases exaggerated, this sleeve is chic and striking and deserves to be the centerpiece of the outfit - balance the rest of the elements out by opting straighter, classic bottoms in chic, unassuming colors. Go for a classic v-neck peasant sleeve blouse and accentuate your style by adding delicate layered neck-chains with whimsical charms.
Girly, unapologetically feminine and with a slightly more subtle appeal than ‘bell’ or ‘peasant’ sleeves, this type of a sleeve makes a minimal statement without losing any flair. Popular ever since they appeared on various runways during S/S 17, these were back in style with a bang. Here are a few things to note for this whimsical and elegant sleeve style:
Styling Tip: Tuck your flounce sleeved top into a pair of jeans or denim skirt for the charming girl-next-door look. Give it a youthful spin with fun accessories, headbands, and a backpack. We love this one in preppy back-to-school styles as well.
A sleeve is to women’s topwear, what quiet yellow lighting is to mellow jazz nights - an important and defining element that isn't loud or abrasive in signifying its own importance. Yet choosing the right sleeve most certainly can make or break any outfit - choose wisely!