How much do you think about sleeves? Are they so important that you buy a dress based on what they look like? Or do you think they are just an arm cover? If sleeves matter to you, what makes you choose one over another? Is it as simple as sleeveless and short sleeves in the summer and ¾ and long sleeves in the winter? We believe that like a belt or a ruffle, the sleeve on the dress is a necessary design detail that highlights and enhances the dress itself. Sleeves can be deemed casual, they can be functional, they can be flirty, or they can be non-existent aka sleeveless.

A sleeve is defined as an item of clothing which covers the arm. In earlier days, sleeves were one with the garment, kimono style. In the Middle Ages set-in sleeves were used; in the 16th through 17th centuries sleeves were puffed or slashed. In the 18th century, ruffled sleeves were popular. In the 19th century, short, puffed sleeves were worn. In the Victorian Era, oversized, puffed and leg o’mutton sleeves were worn. In both the 20th and 21st centuries, all sleeve types have their day in the sun as the trends come and go.

Sleeves can be practical or a design element. The dress you choose may very well be determined by the sleeves, whether you know it or not. Many women prefer to have a little something on the arm. Others do not care. The good thing for women is that there is a mix of sleeves to choose from every season and you can usually find what you want.

Designers use sleeves as a creative element on a dress. They can be detailed with ruffles or pleats or left plain. They can be in any fabric and any style and are often the first thing you notice when picking out a dress. Sleeves are a crucial addition to the dress silhouette and can create movement or balance with the design.

Closet52 believes sleeves are very important. We will try to demystify them for you. The following is a Sleeve Guide to help to determine which you like


Short sleeves are always in style. 

These sleeves don’t need much explanation. They descend down the arm halfway to your elbows. Women naturally opt for short sleeves in spring, summer and early fall. They are a simple design detail and also very easy to layer under a sweater or jacket. Only 100 years old, women started wearing short sleeves in the 1920’s when playing tennis. Now ubiquitous and favored when the temps rise. We bet your closet is filled with short sleeve dresses.

May we suggest: Short Sleeve Geo-print Skirt Set

 Closet52 Geo-print Skirt Set


Geo-print Skirt Set



Just a little “somethin’, somethin’” on your arm!

Cap sleeves do exactly what their name implies… they cap the shoulder with a slight piece of fabric. Cap sleeve styles are in-between short sleeves and sleeveless silhouettes and are requested by those who fancy a feminine look. They are a flattering finish to the bodice that brings the eye upward.

Cap Sleeve Dotted Midi Dress


 Also available in Plus Size


Sleeveless silhouettes span the seasons. 

Contrary to logical thought, sleeveless dresses are popular year ‘round. They are indeed mostly worn in warmer weather, but evening and special event dresses are preferred in sleeveless styles all year long. Even sleeveless office dresses are worn in the winter when layered with blazers, cardis and turtlenecks, too. Sleeveless styles offer a vertical line that is flattering to most as it gives the illusion of an elongated torso. Some women are self-conscious about their arms, but those women, who still want to wear sleeveless styles know to look for a dress with a deeper v-neckline, which creates balance and puts the focus to the center of the dress and not on their arms.

May we suggest:


A.K.A. Peek-a-boo sleeves.

Slits can be found in short sleeves, elbow sleeves and long sleeves. It’s a detail that women love because it gives the dress a bit of mystery by flashing just a bit of skin, but not overly sexy, (still Church-appropriate). It gives an ordinary dress a different look; one that’s fresh, one that’s got elevated elegance. Any way you slice it, it also means the sleeves are looser and allow for movement and comfort.

May we suggest:  

Painterly Print with Keyhole



The best length, these sleeves go to “right there” on the arm.

Known to be flattering on all, the three-quarter sleeve style gives us just the right amount of coverage and offers the perfect canvas to show off your bracelets. These sleeves stop between the elbow and wrist, sometimes ending in a cuff, sometimes a ruffle but always an eye-catching finish. Often in the same fabric as the dress, if you are searching for a special occasion dress, you will sometimes see three-quarter sleeves in a sheer or chiffon fabric.

May we suggest:

Abstract Check Shirtdress



Sleeves that elicit coverage and confidence.

A length known for its flattering appeal; these sleeves end at the crease of your arm. What most people don’t realize is they also frame your waistline. If you draw an invisible line from the end of the elbow sleeve on one arm to the end of the elbow sleeve on the other, you will see how they define endpoints on your waist and give the illusion of an elongated torso. It’s a trick that fools the eye and nobody is the wiser except you. Also, they are loved by those who are looking to take the focus away from the upper part of your arm.

May we suggest: 

Closet52 Dotted Wrap Front Dress

Dotted Wrap Front Dress



Balloon sleeves offer a fairy tale ending to your dress.

Usually puffy, balloon sleeves add whimsy to a fancier style dress, but more recently they’ve shown up on casual styles as well. They stand out more when the silhouette is straight and narrow, and they are an innovative design detail that catches the eye on a fit-and-flare style. They are
always a good addition because they are always flattering in any size dress.

May we suggest: 

Floral Jacquard Midi Dress



A sleeve of instant drama and uniqueness.

Just by the definition of flutter, you know these sleeves are, at the very least, lightweight, if not created entirely in chiffon. They are meant to let the air ripple through the fabric giving this short sleeve some life. Uniquely feminine and frequently added to special event dresses, they hit at just the right point on the arm, so you never feel you have to cover up. Put down your wrap… you don’t need it.

May we suggest:


Show some skin with decent exposure.

Showing off your shoulders is decidedly feminine and makes an unabashedly confident statement. Instead of wearing a dress that covers you up all over, opt for this look that opens up in just the right places. With a glimpse of your shoulders, you will feel empowered, showing great style and it doesn’t matter if your sleeves are long, elbow or three-quarter length. This design detail flatters all and is de rigeur for your wardrobe… for date night or any night out.

May we suggest:

Cold Shoulder Watercolor Print Dress



The most common and most wanted sleeve style.

Long sleeves have been around since people have been making clothes, even in the heat of the summer. You might think that would make them look out-of-style or “tired”. Au contraire. They are beloved and most sought after while dress shopping. They can be made in almost any fabric— knits or wovens. They can be embellished with sequins or embroidery. They can have pleats or ruffles, cuffs to be buttoned down or rolled up. The list is endless. And the choice is yours.

May we suggest: 


Flowy statement makers.

These sleeves are unique and not always easy to find… but when you do, you should scoop up the dress right away. They are so easy-to-wear, so comfy and flowy. When you’re in a kimono sleeve dress, the air floats up your arms and delivers not only great style but a breezy treat all day. The length sometimes stops at the elbow, sometimes three-quarters and often to the wrist. No matter, these sleeves can be found on dresses from relaxed boho designs to special event, body-skimming sheaths, where they stand out in the crowd.

May we suggest:

Closet52 Patchwork Print Dress


The hardest working sleeve in your fashion arsenal.

You may not go out looking for an extended shoulder sleeve dress, but when you get one, you’ll be grateful. Why? They offer a cleaner look than other sleeves. Extended sleeves are a part of the dress and not sewn on separately. There are no armhole seams. Very often, that gives you a very slight batwing or dolman effect (see below for definition). Once you find a dress with these sleeves, you’ll be looking for more.

May we suggest: 

Also available in Petite

The trend towards dots is here on our fantastic wrap front dress. But it’s not just the print, it’s the style and the stretch fabric that makes it so flattering and so comfortable. Crossover v-neckline ties at waist creating a sarong skirt. These extended short sleeves are a definite plus. Once you slip this dress on, you’ll know why.


Short sleeves with a flourish.

Tulip sleeves are named for their shape. And they are just as sweet. This beloved botanical is replicated upside down on the arm. It starts with tiny origami-like crystal pleats on the shoulder which creates the base of the tulip and goes down to the end of the short sleeve, which is the top of the tulip. They take their inspiration from capped sleeves and go from there. Found on many spring and summer styles, they are a flattering addition to your closet and your arms.

May we suggest:

Metallic Floral Jacquard Dress



Exaggerated sleeves are making a comeback.

Extremely reverential to the fashion elite, bishop sleeves are here, and they are getting women noticed. First introduced in the 1830s-1860s on religious men, they are now found on fashionistas of every age. They start with a long puffy sleeve and end when the cuff starts. The cuff can be standard: to the wrist or extended: to the elbow. They add drama to many dress silhouettes. These sleeves create photo-ready look, so your jewelry is optional.

May we suggest:

Colorblock Sweater Dress




You might not know the term raglan, but you definitely know these sleeves. They are the sleeves on baseball jerseys. They are designed to be an extension of your shoulder, which gives a longer feminine line. They aren’t just for sports; you will see them on some of the most fashionable dresses. Often used with colorblocking, they don’t have to be a different color than the dress. They are constructed for ease of movement, no matter the fabric.


Dolman is another fashion term you may not be familiar with; you might know these sleeves when they are called batwings. They have a poncho-like effect. Incredibly easy to wear, even in the most constricting fabrics, you’ll see them on special occasion dresses where they beautifully replace a wrap or a cape.


Ruching is another way to say gathering. Ruching or a gathering of fabric creates tiny pleats and delightful dimension to whatever sleeve they are detailing. The ruched sleeve is very often a puffed sleeve. And it can be long, short or elbow-length. The ripples or pleats that ruching creates are not overt, but rather a demure look that’s always welcome.

We hope this guide on sleeves will help you learn what differentiates one from another. And hope it helps show you what sleeves you like and ones you want to wear… from casual to special event dresses to even jumpsuits… the sleeve can make all the difference. When others compliment your dress, you’ll now know how big a role the sleeves had. And now, armed with this knowledge, pun intended, you’ll be able to search by the type of sleeve as much as you do by the dress length, type of silhouette or color.


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