Take It Or Sleeve It: Dress Sleeve Styles

If you’re wanting to cover your shoulders/arms for any reason, whether it be religious or otherwise, you have a number of sleeve options available to you.  That’s right, even sleeves have been tackled by wedding mania, leaving you with yet another choice for your wedding dress.


The cap sleeve is a small, short, rounded sleeve style that covers the shoulders, but doesn’t really extend down onto the arm.  This is pretty common on t-shirts, so you probably know what I’m talking about.  If the cap sleeve shirt doesn’t work on you, it most likely won’t work for the dress either (like me and my big ole muscle-y shoulders look ridiculous in cap sleeves).  This style is for the bride who needs her shoulders covered, but can or wants to have bare arms.  This can be done in a variety of fabrics, though lighter fabrics will give you more of a drape effect and heavier fabrics will be more structured.


If you want a little more shoulder coverage and partial arm coverage, the standard t-shirt style sleeve is starting to make a comeback in wedding style.  Right now it still has a quirky, unique vibe to it, so you’re more likely to find it on more modern dresses than the more traditional looking ones.  The shape is usually relatively plain, but the sleeve itself can have details on it carried over from the rest of the dress to give it a little pizzaz.  The exact length of it varies with the dress style and your arm length.  If it’s longer than you’d like, you can probably have it shortened, but be aware that with heavier fabrics this will mean the finished sleeve will lay differently.


The petal sleeve is another short variety, with two pieces of fabric draped in such a way that it resembles the petals of a flower.  In less elegant terms, it looks like your arm is coming out of a fabric tulip (hey, I’m not known for my way with words, okay?).  It comes over the top of the shoulder so it is completely covered, but provides little arm coverage.  It’s a very delicate style that works well with lighter fabrics, so that is typically where it is found.  Because this sleeve generally doesn’t have any extra details on it, this can usually be added to a dress by a seamstress.



The Juliet style is a poof type sleeve that covers the shoulder but little else.  This is also known as a Cinderella sleeve as it looks like the cartoon princess’s dress sleeve.  Think of it as the poofy child of the cap and t-shirt sleeves.  It is usually gathered at the shoulder and fitted around the arm, which is how it achieves the shape.  If done in a lighter fabric it gets a more slouchy feel than a fitted poof.  It is a very Shakespearean style sleeve, hence the name.  This style can be found on dresses with a vintage or old world feel to them.



The balloon sleeve is like the Juliet sleeve’s taller sister.  This one is also poofy at the shoulder, but narrows down the length of the arm, closing down and hugging close from the elbow to the wrist.  The “inflated” appearance around the upper arm is where it gets its name.  This is typically done out of stiff fabrics so the shape holds and the sleeve doesn’t just fall over the arm and appear baggy and awkwardly sized.  This is usually found on high-neck style dresses.  The sleeve usually has some detail either close to the shoulder seam or close to the wrist, but rarely down the length of the whole sleeve.


The poet style is a purposely oversized sleeve that is loose over the length of the arm.  If you see a Shakespeare play, this is the shape of the sleeve you usually see on the actors who represent the lower class.  It is loose and drapey, usually gathered at the shoulder seam and fitted close in the wrist.  There are typically very few decorative details on the sleeve (save for around the wrist or shoulder) to keep it from being weighed down and losing its flowing feel.  For continuity, it is usually constructed of the same material as the rest of the dress, though sometimes a lighter fabric is substituted in that has a similar look, again to keep it from getting weighed down.


The bell sleeve takes on a shape much like the infamous bell bottom pants of the 70’s.  It is relatively fitted through the upper arm, then flares out starting at the elbow in a bell shape.  There are different variations of the flare, ranging from a straight cut to a curved cut (to more closely resemble a trumpet) to oversized wrist holes that mimic the sleeve style of old medieval gowns.  Because this one is loose around the cuff (as opposed to most of the other full length sleeves) it can be relatively easy to pull back the excess fabric for dinner or dancing after the ceremony either by rolling it up or, for a more elegant twist, having buttons or hooks sewn into the sleeve that the edges can be attached to (think of it as a bustle for your sleeve).


The illusion sleeve is a full arm sleeve that is made of a sheer fabric.  Since the arm is still visible, this gives the “illusion” of having a full sleeve (hence the name) without actually completely covering it.  This is a nice way to go if you need to have sleeves (either by religious reasons or mothers who are a little old-fashioned), but don’t really want to or are concerned with overheating in a summertime wedding.  This is also good for someone who’s a little conscious about their arms but really doesn’t want absolute and total coverage.

Another popular option that I didn’t mention here (I couldn’t find a pretty picture for it…sad panda) is the 3/4 length sleeve, which is usually done in a more fitted fashion, but can also be done in a balloon sleeve style if you want a bit more drama.

Of course, if you’re doing sleeves slightly against your will and aren’t a big fan of them, you could always go with a bolero.  A bolero is a jacket that is short through the bodice (a half jacket if you will), but can have any length sleeve attached to it.  Some designers actually have a line of boleros that are made to go with their dresses.  This would allow you to have the proper coverage for the ceremony, but allow you to ditch it for the reception.


Posted on November 3, 2011, in Attire, Wedding Planning Isn't For Sissies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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