Design, Photography, & Fashion

What Are the Different Types of Sleeves in Fashion? A Comprehensive Guide to Sleeves

Written by MasterClass

Aug 23, 2019 • 3 min read

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Sleeves are an important fixture of fashion design and garment making that have both aesthetic and practical functions. Sleeve designs can be created in any fabric and any style and they are a crucial element of a garment’s look and silhouette.

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What Are Sleeves?

A sleeve is the part of a clothing item, whether a dress, blouse, jacket, sweater and more, that covers the arm.

  • Sleeves can come in a variety of lengths—short, mid-length, or long.
  • All sleeves have an opening at the end that the hand and arm pass through, and sometimes the sleeve extends beyond the hand.
  • Sleeves can be either tight or loose, depending on the style of the sleeve.
  • A garment that ends at the shoulder line is generally referred to as sleeveless.

What Is the Practical Purpose of Sleeves in Fashion?

At a practical level, sleeves simply serve to cover and protect the arms and shoulders, keeping them out of the sun or providing a level of warmth.

Beyond their practical function, different styles of sleeves add to a garment’s silhouette and style and can create movement and structure to the piece.

16 Different Types of Sleeves

There are many different sleeve styles that can be loose and flowy, structured or puffy, long or short, and can be made from any kind of fabric.

  1. Set-in sleeve. A set-in sleeve is a sleeve that is attached to the garment’s armhole and sewn all the way around. Most sleeves, if they are not continuous with the bodice’s fabric are set-in sleeves.
  2. Bell sleeves. Also called peasant sleeves, this long sleeve is fitted around the shoulder and upper arm and flares out to the wrist, like a bell.
  3. Cap sleeves. A cap sleeve is an extremely short sleeve that doesn’t extend very far from the shoulder and doesn’t go below the armpit. It can have a gathered, elastic seam or a loose seam.
  4. Kimono sleeves. A kimono sleeve is a sleeve that is in one piece with the garment’s bodice and is not sewn on separately. The sleeve is generally wide with a uniform circumference throughout. These are generally used for Chinese-style robes, not Japanese kimonos, despite their name. For a Japanese kimono, the sleeves are usually sewn separately.
  5. Raglan sleeves. A raglan sleeve extends from a garment's neckline, rather than from the shoulder, and this allows better movement. This type of sleeve is used for baseball t-shirts.
  6. Bishop sleeves. A bishop sleeve flares out from the shoulder, giving volume to the sleeve all the way to the cuff, where the fabric is tightly gathered.
  7. Butterfly sleeves. Like a bell sleeve, a butterfly sleeve flares out from the shoulder, but it usually does not fully cover the arm.
  8. Flutter sleeves. A flutter sleeve is very similar to a butterfly sleeve except it is generally a little shorter and wider, falling loosely
  9. Dolman sleeves. This is a type of sleeve that has a very deep armhole, and the sleeve gets progressively narrower to the wrist. This type of sleeve is also called a batwing sleeve, due to its likeness to wings.
  10. Puffed sleeves. A puffed sleeve is gathered at the shoulder and at the seam but is full and “puffy” in the middle.
  11. Cape sleeves. Cape sleeves are full and flowing sleeves that look like capes. The fabric is gathered at the shoulder and flares out like a cape from there.
  12. Lantern sleeves. A lantern sleeve is a long sleeve that balloons out between the wrist and the elbow and then gathers again around the wrist.
  13. Balloon sleeves. Balloon sleeves are long, puffed sleeves that are gathered at the shoulder and then puffed out and gather back at the wrist. Sometimes, the sleeve puffs out lower than the shoulder, but it is still a full puff rather than a tapered flare.
  14. Slit sleeves. A slit sleeve is a sleeve that has a slit down the center usually exposing part of the arm. This sleeve can also be called a cold shoulder sleeve.
  15. Leg-of-mutton sleeves. This sleeve is gathered and puffed by the shoulder and upper arm and then fitted on the forearm. This style of sleeve somewhat resembles a sheep’s leg, hence the name.
  16. T-shirt sleeve. A t-shirt sleeve is a short, set-in sleeve that starts at the shoulder and ends at the middle of the upper arm.

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