Fashion & Beauty

Statement Sleeves, Again

March 10, 2020


A FEW YEARS ago sleeves got so long and floaty that drinking a cup of coffee or eating anything became a challenge. Not practical for mere mortals without a personal dry cleaning/laundry service. In the past couple of seasons, designers have been pushing up sleeves to create rounded shapes with broad shoulders, flashing back to the ’80s (the voluminous sleeves on Princess Diana’s wedding gown and on  “Dynasty’s” Alexis Carrington ) or to the days of leg-of-mutton sleeves.

On the spring/summer 2020 runways, as well as on the Golden Globes’ red carpet (Olivia Colman, Cate Blanchett, Jodie Comer, Beyoncé), dramatic sleeves in a variety of fabrics, bright colors and prints were a runaway hit. High collars, smocking and ruffles also got some catwalk love this spring and will continue going strong this fall.

Big sleeves, both feminine and powerful, are not just for the runway or the red carpet. They also translate to the street. It’s a flattering silhouette for lots of body types, for anyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Leslie Jones.  Nailing the look is a matter of proportion. To balance a puffy sleeve on a blouse, look for a close-to-the-body fit on top and pair with tailored or longer, wide-leg trousers or a slightly A-line midi skirt.

Below, our picks for big sleeves that haven’t looked as fresh for decades.

—Janet Kelly


LEFT: Ulla Johnson’s Rue Printed Cotton Top ($375, Moda Operandi), made from a cotton-blend fabric in a floral-abstract print, is not too precious to wear with jeans but would also pair nicely with a flowy midi skirt for more formal occasions. RIGHT: The puffy sleeves and pleating on the shoulders and cuffs on this Denim Shirt ($79.99, Mango) set it apart from the usual suspects.


LEFT: Banana Republic’s Relaxed Puff-Sleeve Shirt ($74.50, Goop) updates the white blouse with details like a banded collar, back yoke and sleeves that pouf out from the cuffs. Wear it with a pleated midi skirtRIGHT: 525 America’s cropped Cable Knit Sweater  ($98, Shopbop) with defined shoulders gets the nod for the perfect wear-right-now item. It’s a modern take on the leg-of-mutton sleeve.


LEFT: English Factory‘s pretty pink Short Puff-Sleeve Sweater ($70, limited availability, Shopbop) will brighten your wan winter complexion, maybe even your mood, plus it packs plenty of style for a wallet-friendly price.  RIGHT: Leopard spots ground the fluttering silhouette and billowy sleeves of this sheer Ganni Pleat Printed Georgette Blouse ($170, Nordstrom) with subtle ruffles at the collar and cuffs.



LEFT: Think spring in a girly, ruffled Ruched Sleeve Top from Moon River ($65, Shopbop) RIGHT: The eye-popping neon color, plus the voluminous sleeves and big bow on Dutch designer Lieselot Elzinga’s Tie-Neck Blouse ($407, Matches Fashion) will delight the fashion forward.

LEFT: White shirts are a wardrobe essential.  We like the way this Keely Pintucked Blouse ($88, Anthropologie), with its combination of crisp pleats and a gently pouffy sleeve, spins the classic.  RIGHT:  J. Crew’s Tie-Back Top in Ditsy Eyelet ($74.99) hovers on the prissy side in white, which is why we prefer it in black. And when the weather warms, it would happily partner with white pants or jeans.


LEFT: We spotted this Puff-Sleeved Top ($125) in a Cos Store in Montreal. The silk/linen blend creates a light but voluminous silhouette. For a monochromatic, suiting effect, wear it with a pencil skirt in the same hue; it would also look smashing with slim pants in khaki. RIGHT: 525 America is known for their quality cotton sweaters, such as this  Short Puff Sleeve Cotton Shaker Sweater (also available in white and pink, $88). Spring is only 10 days away.


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2 thoughts on “Statement Sleeves, Again

  1. Carol A Lichty says:

    I love you Little Bird Janet but this look makes me, hmmmm, uncomfortable 🙂 never liked the puffy look but maybe on someone else…. I bought a flouncy below the elbow sleeve lace top for a wedding last year but haven’t worn it since. maybe next year

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      Thanks for your comment, Carol. Love you, too. With a puffy top, you have to get the proportions right. Keep the bodice close-fitting and the sleeves just slightly pouffed. Also, the look depends on what you’re wearing it with. You have to balance the top with slim pants or a just slightly flared skirt. Do you have a photo you can send to me?

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