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Statement sleeves are a big trend right now. Read the history of sleeve styles to know when your statement version was in fashion for the first time.

    1. The Techniques of Making Sleeves
    2. The Art of Sewing-In Sleeves
    3. Sleeve lengths
    4. A Brief History of Sleeve Styles
      • Antique Times
      • Medieval Times (500-1500)
      • 16th to 18th Century
      • History of Sleeve Styles of the 19th Century
      • 20th Century to Today
    5. Glossary of Modern and Historic Sleeve Styles
    6. References
    7. More Fashion Articles


Note: This post was featured on Links à la Mode fashion roundup by Independent Fashion Bloggers.

The Techniques of Making Sleeves

Today there are many different types of sleeves. Their roots go back to ancient times, and evolved with advancements in craftsmanship including weaving and sewing techniques. Furthermore, the kinds of fabrics, and their availability played a role. External factors are weather, politics and religious believes.

We distinguish between one-piece sleeves and set-in sleeves. The term one-piece sleeves refers to garments where the bodice and arm-part are cut in one. Examples are attires with Dolman aka Maygar or batwing sleeves, and kimonos.

Set-in sleeves means the seamstress sews the sleeve to the bodice. This technique requires advanced tailoring and sewing skills. Obviously, there are various ways to attach a sleeve as well as cutting the fabric for it. Therefore, we can broadly distinguish between structured and draped/puffy attachments.


The Art of Sewing-In Sleeves

Sleeves that are roomy at the upper arm sew require gathering their edge before setting them into the top. For most sleeves the gathering occurs only left and right of the back-front seam intersection. Tight sleeves often need to be stretched a bit at the front back seam. Shoulder enhancements require additional room in the top along the shoulder line as well as a correspondingly longer shoulder part of the sleeve. This extra length compensates for the enhancement so the coverage ends at the intended spot.


Sleeve Lengths

Typically, garments come sleeveless or with either cup sleeves, short sleeves, elbow sleeves, 3/4 length, bracelet-length, long sleeves, or thumbhole sleeves. They cover the arm not at all, the upper 1/4 and 1/2 of the upper arm, end at the elbow, 1/4 and 1/8 below and at the wrist, and at the fingers, respectively. Thumbhole sleeves are a key element of Grunge Style, and sun protective vacation wardrobe style.


A Brief History of Sleeve Styles

Antique Times

In the ancient cultures of the Occident, sleeves played no major role. Greek attire covered the arms to a certain extend and some attire even had rudimentary loose sleeves. Some of the Roman stoles had long sleeves. Only the Rich wore this type of stole, which was made from silk.


Roman women with arm coverage
Wall fragment featuring two Roman women. 1-75 AD. From: Getty Open Source Program


On the contrary, in the Orient, the history of sleeve styles is quite different. There sleeves played a major role. In the ancient China, the arm coverage ranged from wide to narrow. It was common for women to wear skirts with robes that had tight-fitting sleeves. The “terra-cotta army” indicates that during the Han dynasty (189-220 AD), soldiers wore hip-length jackets with long sleeves.


Medieval Times (500-1500)

In Europe, early medieval sleeves generally were cut in one with the garment. The variants were the dolman or batwing sleeve, the kimono-style wide sleeve, and the so-called Magyar-sleeve. The latter was narrow at the elbow and widened towards the wrist. Its design stemmed from the Hungarian peasant-style. An underarm triangle-shaped gussets provided ease of movement.

In the 14th century, the invention of the rounded shoulder-cap allowed the development of a more fitted sleeve. Tightly-fitting sleeves became fashionable. Outer tunics often ended at the elbow in a cuff, and hanging tippets. Under-sleeves showed buttons from the elbow to the wrist for decorations. Consequently, the later Middle Ages saw a large variety of styles after 1350. In France, a long, padded, bag-shaped sleeve called Mahoitres was fashionable in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Turkish décor and fashion influenced the Chinese fashion during the Tang dynasty (618-906). This impact led to tightening of sleeves for both genders. Note that this dynasty was the dawn of “sleeve dancing,” an important facet of Chinese culture.

During the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), both genders matched the colors of their sleeve-openings and collars. The Ming dynasty (1368–1644) saw a comeback of wide versions.


16th to 18th Century

Hanging sleeves as long tubes reaching nearly the ground became popular in the later 1400s and were worn still in the 17th century. This style had an opening down the side, front, or at the elbow to pass the arm thru. In the history of sleeve styles, Japanese and Chinese hanging sleeves served also as pockets.

In the Tudor period, detachable puffy sleeves became fashionable among the female European Aristocracy. The noblewomen tied these highly adorned pieces to their non-adorned sleeveless dresses. In the American colonies, the Puritan believes hindered the success of the garment.


Painting of Mary Tudor, Queen of France (1496-1533) in a dress with attachable sleeves
Mary Tudor, Queen of France (1496-1533). This painting shows the attachable sleeves. United States public domain {{PD-US}}


Later the detachable sleeves became also popular among European commoners as slashed sleeves. The name referred to the cut that often run up and down the sleeve and exposed the adornments underneath. The wearers padded the sleeves with metallic ornaments and silky gauze. In the 1590s, sleeve-padding occurred all the way down, but diminished towards the wrist. Banding the sleeves at intervals along the arm to leave material puff-out in between was popular as well. Note that this style called virago resurfaced during the French First Empire as a mameluke sleeve.

The slashed style remained in fashion up into the 17th century. However, it became much simpler than in the 15th and 16th century having only two to three slashes. By 1635, ladies wore three-quarter length, unpadded full sleeves with elegant ruffles or lace cuffs. In men’s fashion, tailors sewed men’s coats with set-in sleeves that widened towards the large cuffs. Women still tied their sleeves to their dresses.

Paned sleeves became popular in the 16th and 17th century. They consisted of vertical panes or panels that opened up. Consequently, the lining or under-sleeve showed thru the panels.


Anthonie van Dyck-Guillaume II wearing a dress with paned sleeves
Anthonie van Dyck-Guillaume II wearing a dress with paned sleeves. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons


In the 18th century, women’s gowns had fitted sleeves to the elbow with a deep cuff finish, and later, pagoda- or funnel sleeve-style.


example of the drawing of a woman with Manche Pagode arm-cover in the history of sleeve styles
Drawing of a woman wearing a coat with pagoda style arm cover. Thomon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


In the China of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), Manchu nobility wore the so-called horseshoe sleeve.


History of Sleeve Styles of the 19th Century

At the beginning of the 19th century, people of the Western World considered slashes as old fashioned. Consequently, the padding also stopped. Nevertheless, puffy long, but now loose sleeves remained in fashion for women in Europe. They wore puffed-out at the top and long, fitting below sleeves, or short puff-styles. In the 1830s, the so-called elephant sleeve, which looked like an elephant ear, became fashionable. Its fullness dropped before it was gathered into a fitted wrist band. At the same time, puff-sleeves evolved into the gigot style (gigot = French for leg-of-mutton).

The sleeve width decreased to a tight fit at the start of the Victorian Era to match the wasp-waist. With the rise of the crinolines for the Aristocracy and upper class, large puffy bell-sleeves became modern. This type typically ended at the elbow. Women wore faux sleeves, so-called engageantes, tacked under the bell-sleeves of their day dresses. In the 1890s, the width increased again with the leg-of-mutton-, balloon- or melon-style sleeves. Read more on the fashion of the Victorian Era.

Men’s coats and suits donned raglan sleeves from the mid 19th century.

In the late 19th century Qing dynasty, sleeve bands were popular.


20th Century to Today

The 20th century saw revivals of arm coverages we discussed in the history of sleeve styles. In the 1930s, puff-sleeves had a short comeback. In the 1980s, Lacroix made them popular again. Romantic Style became one of the major style direction. Just remember Lady Di‘s bridal dress. Ever since, puffy sleeves are popular in bridal gowns.

However, the 20th century also brought new additions to the history of sleeve styles. One new variation is a length to the knuckles with a thumbhole that goes back to the Grunge Tribe. Another is the cold shoulder look that shows the bicep.


Glossary of Modern and Historic Sleeve Styles

One-Piece Styles

Cap and Extended Cap sleeves: The cap sleeve just covering the shoulder with the extended version just being slightly wider. Both sewn-in and one-piece variants exist.

Cold-shoulder sleeve: This style has no coverage of the shoulder and exposes the bicep.

Dolman/Magyar/batwing sleeve: These one-piece styles have a deep arm hole and extends from the shoulder. It is a traditional Indian style. The term Dolman served to describe the style until the 19th century. Today it is popular for women’s sweaters and knit-dresses. The modern term is batwing because the extra fabric in the armpits looks like batwings when the wearer lifts the arms.

Gauntlet sleeve: A tube put over the lower arm.

Kimono sleeves: T-cut. See description in the section on one-piece cuts earlier in this post.


Sewn-In Styles

Angel sleeves: This term can refer to a tube-like version that has fabric sewn on along the bodice and seam of the tube to form an Angel-wing-like illusion when the wearer lifts the arms. The term can also refer to a cut that looks like an Angel wing.

Bell: This style is fitted around the shoulder and upper arm and then flares out to just above the wrist looking like a bell (see photo below). The butterfly version is a short variation. The Pagoda-style (see photo earlier in this post) is a narrower variant of the look.


modern bell-sleeve jacket to illustrate them as one of the fashion history of sleeve styless
Bell sleeve jacket, polka dot tight, Prada bag, leather gloves, Mouse & Cloud booties c/o Coolway, and sheath dress c/o Shein


Bishop or balloon: They are a variation of the puffed sleeves with a tight fit gathered at the shoulders and wrists with a puffy, loosely flowing part along the arms.

history of sleeve styles showing the bishop sleeve pattern
Sketch and pattern of the Bishop-style. Public Domain C0.0 From:


Bracelet sleeve: The bracelet length ends about two inches (5 cm) above the wrist bone.

Cap and Extended Cap sleeves: The cap sleeve just covering the shoulder with the extended version just being slightly wider. Both sewn-in and one-piece variants exist.

Cape or circular sleeve: This style is self-explaining. It currently popular for outerwear and blazers.

Circle or flutter sleeves: This sewn-in style is short and loose-fitting falling over the upper arm. This look works on all body types as the width balances the body shape. It is a designer’s favorite for Mother-of-the-bride dresses and formal evening gowns.

Elbow-patched: This style is popular for men’s jackets and sports blazers. A key element of British Classic style. The suede patch serves to reduce wear-and-tear at the elbow of classic plaid, herring bone, glen check blazer or corduroy sport blazers.

Frill or flute sleeves: This style features several frills sewn on along the lower arm.

Hanging sleeve: See description in the history section above.

Lantern-sleeve: To create a lantern-style a straight set-in-sleeve pattern is cut into equal width stripes just to the shoulder line. The resulting pattern is just flashed and spread before cutting the fabric. The extra-width is gathered in folds at the cuff.

Leg-of-mutton: See description in the history section above. The Juliet-style is a variation with two seams instead of just one. The name refers to the dress of Olivia Hussey as Juliet in the 1968 movie Romeo and Juliet. The Gibson-girl sleeve is the American variant of the leg-mutton.

Mahoitres: See description in the history section above.

Mameluke or Virago sleeve: This style is a long full-sleeve consisting of five parts of which each is seamed to fit around the arm.

Melon sleeve: Large spherical cut in stiff fabric set-in at the shoulders. The lengthwise part is wider in the middle of the sleeve to create a melon-shape.

Off-shoulder sleeves: In this variation, the collars and sleeves flow together as the sleeves start at the upper arms.

Over-sleeve: See description in the history part above.

Padded-shoulder: This style elevates and horizontally extends the shoulders. It was popular in the 1980s.

Paned sleeves: See description and photo in the history section.

Petal (aka lapped) or tulip sleeve: This style was popular in the 1940s. The tailor sews this short one-seam sleeve into the armhole in such a way that the petal-cut pattern overlaps on the upper arm. Today this version often serves as an eye-catcher on cocktail and special occasion dresses.

Peasant sleeve: A variation of the puff-sleeve where the gathering only occurs at the shoulder. It is great for casual clothing.

Poet sleeve: This version features a fitted style from shoulder to elbow that flares out from elbow to wrist or mid-hand often with ruffles on the cuffs.

Puff or drawstring-puff: This sewn-in style is gathered along the armhole except for below the armpit. A rubber band or draw string gathers the fabric about two inches above the hem. The hem often has a lace decoration. The length hits halfway on the upper arm or 3/4. Alpine and Scandinavian Dirndl blouses have this design.

Raglan: The raglan style slopes down the shoulders. The sleeves join the bodice and armscye with a slightly curved seam. The cut is conform with the curvature of the human body, and doesn’t waste fabric.

Regular sleeve: Sewn-in, no cuff. In case of knit wear, there may be a ribbed hem above the wrist.

Slashed or detachable sleeve: See description in the history section above.

Shirt sleeve with cuff: Sewn-in, typically sleek cut style. The slit for the cuff already starts above the cuff.

Slit sleeves: They are a modern variation of the slashed style. However, they are not padded, nor are there under-sleeves. Instead, they show the bare skin.

Square-armhole sleeve: This sewn-in version has a square armhole-cut to fit a simple tube sewn from a square or oblong-cut fabric.

Trumpet-sleeve: Today, this term refers to a straight short sewn-in sleeve to just above the elbow with a slightly gathered tube attached. Its look has some similarity with a trumpet. In former times, a fore-sleeve was worn underneath (see photo below).

William Scrots - Elizabeth I when a Princess (1533-1603) in a dress with trumpet sleeves
Elizabeth I when a Princess (1533-1603) in a red dress with trumpet sleeves and fore-sleeves



Cassin-Scott, J., 1975. Costume and Fashion in Colour, 1550–1760. Introduction by R.M. Green. Dorset, England: Blandford Press.

Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.

DeWitt, N., 2016. Motor Age Fashion, Toppan Leefung Pte. Ltd., China.

Payne, B., Winakor, G., and Farrell-Beck, J., 1992. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins.

Robinson, J., and Calvey, G., 2015. The Fine Art of Fashion Illustration. Francis Lincoln Limited. London.

Sew Guide, retrieved 2021. Types of Sleeves

Taschen (Editor), 2015. Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century, Bibliotheca Universalis.


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Judy Stewart

    Wow. That was a lot of information. Sleeves have evolved a lot. I have seen pictures of ties sleeves but didn’t recognize what they are. And I’ve seen the long sleeves with the holes near the elbow for the arm to stick through. Kind of a good idea to make those into big pockets. I prefer set in sleeves to dolman sleeves. Good article.