The types of sleeves range from the simple cap sleeve to elaborate flowing sleeves. Adding a sleeve to a garment inevitably changes the style, feel and season of the outfit and from an average day dress to an elaborate ball gown.
Types of Sleeves - Lengths
The basic sleeve will vary according to its length.
- Long-sleeved to the wrist
- Three-quarter sleeves just below the elbow
- Short sleeves between the elbow and the shoulder
- Cap sleeves just hugging the shoulder cap
Some types of sleeves suit the longer variety while others are best suited to short or three-quarter length.
Types of Sleeves - Set in vs Attached
The types of sleeves may be determined by the cut of the pattern and can be attached or a separate sew-in sleeve.
Some types of sleeves like the bat-wing or the dolman sleeve are part of the front and back pattern designs. They are cut and sewn all in one, saving the need to set in the sleeve. Some cap sleeves are found to be part of the bodice pattern and not cut separately.
If you look at an attached sleeve dress or top you will see that the seam runs down the arm. If you look carefully you can see the seam going down the arm of the green dress below.
Set in Sleeves
A set-in sleeve needs extra care and diligent matching of sleeve and armhole markings to ensure the sleeve is set in and fits properly.
Following the pattern’s specifications make the difference between an ill-fitting sleeve and one that serves its purpose and finishes the armhole perfectly. Set-in types of sleeves give a more fitted look to the armhole.
29 Types of Sleeves
These types of sleeves are often identifiable by their names but are all worthy of a description in this A to Z list of sleeves. Sometimes styles may be combined or altered slightly to give a unique, modern look.
These types of sleeves appear to be like angel wings as they flow down from the armhole into a wider asymmetrical shape at the wrist. They are popular for traditional wedding dresses, robes and gowns and they are particularly suited to lace and sheer fabrics.
Batwing Sleeves (Dolman)
These types of sleeves look like a bat’s wing. It is cut with a deeper armhole and the sleeve reaches down to waist level. The batwing sleeve is sometimes known as a dolman sleeve and may be shorter or full length. Batwing sleeves are an attached sleeve meaning the sleeve cut all as one piece with the body. When sewing, these types of sleeves use a lot of fabric and often need a seam down the center back of the dress or top.
These types of sleeves flare out towards the wrist creating a bell shape or effect. They are also known as trumpet sleeves because of their shape. Bell sleeves have a bohemian vibe and create a soft feminine effect on clothing.
The bishop sleeve is a full-length sleeve. It is fitted or semi-fitted near the elbow and then opens wider towards the wrist. The sleeve usually has a cuff at the wrist with buttons. The wrist can also be secured with elastic.
Cap sleeves are a short sleeve that just covers the shoulder. It usually ends before or just under the arm. Cap sleeves are mainly fitted and are a flattering type of sleeve. Most often, the cap sleeve is a separate shaped piece but the cap can also be joined to the bodice and created as an attached sleeve.
This unusual sleeve design looks like a cape from behind but has a slit at the front where the sleeve would be so the fabric wraps round like a cape when it is cold or just drapes at the front when not required for warmth. A two in one kind of style!
Cold Shoulder Sleeves
These types of sleeves are another variety of open sleeves showing bare shoulders and part of the top of the arms. The sleeve is often an attached sleeve with the cutout in a moon or oval shape.
The pattern piece for these sleeves will determine the length of the sleeve. The circular sleeve falls softly and looks rather like a mini circular skirt covering the arms. The longer and wider the circle is the more flow there will be to the sleeve. This is a very flattering type of sleeves and looks best when attached to a fitted bodice.
Cuff sleeves are particularly suited to shirts. The cuff finishes off the end of the sleeve and buttons to keep the sleeve closed and neat. Cuffs can be used on different lengths of sleeves.
Drop Shoulder Sleeves
A drop shoulder sleeve means that the arm pattern piece extends past the shoulder. It gives an oversized and relaxed feeling to clothing and is often used for t-shirt, sweaters and activewear. If you are doing some home sewing this is one of the easiest types of sleeves you can sew as the sleeve cap is often straight. Many shift dress patterns use this easy technique.
Flutter sleeves are very feminine and with soft flowing fabric like organza. They are the perfect finish for a top or summery dress. The fullness or amount of flutter depends on how much gathered fabric you put into the sleeve. Flutter sleeves can be layered for added volume and effect.
Frilled sleeves, sometimes called ruffled sleeves, add layering and volume to the sleeve extension and to the shoulder area of the garment. The gathered or ruffled part may be pleated or just lightly gathered for a soft effect. The type of fabric chosen for these types of sleeves will dictate the amount of gathering used in the sleeve. Frilled sleeves can be big and bold or soft and billowy. Another variation of frilled sleeves is the attachment of the frill at the elbow of the sleeve. Frills at the elbows can be added onto a cuffed sleeve instead of a cuff. A frill added onto a three-quarter sleeve adds an extra bit of glamour.
These types of sleeves are a traditional style of sleeve adapted from medieval times. It is puffed at the top and tapers down to a tight fit at the bottom. It usually has many buttons decorating the tightly fitted part of the sleeve. This style is another popular wedding dress style. See the red dress in the photo below.
Kimono types of sleeves are inspired by the traditional Japanese dress style. It is wide and long and loose. It is a comfortable style for blouses, dresses and robes. Due to the width of the sleeve, garments will have an oversized armhole to fit the kimono sleeve.
The lantern sleeve is almost the opposite of a Juliet sleeve. It is fitted at the top and then gathered below the elbow and then gathered again into a cuff at the wrist. It is most often seen in a full length but it can also be shorter or ¾ length.
The long sleeve refers to a sleeve that ends at the wrist and it can be fitted, full and any combination of many other sleeve types. It is one of the best types of sleeves in Winter or people wishing to wear more covering clothing.
Mutton Leg Sleeves
The shape of this sleeve reminds one of a leg of mutton. It is full at the shoulder and top of the sleeve and tapers down to the wrist. You can see in the photo below, the mutton sleeve is the blue dress on the left. In this instance, it is combined with a frill below the elbow.
Off-shoulder sleeves give summer vibes to a dress or top. They sit below the shoulder bone and can be effective in different lengths. Off-shoulder sleeves work perfectly for peasant-style dresses with elastic in the neck.
Open Sleeves and Slit Sleeves
These sleeves use the same concept in different ways. Part of the sleeve is open to show the arms of the wearer in a summery casual style. The slit can be subtle or all the way to the top of the shoulder. When made with bright or contrasting fabrics, this can be a dramatic look. The slits are vertically down the arms.
Peasant sleeves are loose and soft sleeves. They may be short or long and are a very casual style. Peasant sleeves are often combined with off-shoulder styles have a raglan (diagonal) style seam.
Petal types of sleeves are cut in two matching pieces that look like petals. They are set in the upper part of the armhole to overlap slightly for a soft feminine look. Petal sleeves are often trimmed in a contrast colored bias tape to highlight their shape.
Puffed sleeves are short and gathered to look like puffs of fabric. They give a youthful look to a top or dress. They are usually gathered into a narrow cuff or finished with elastic for maximum comfort. Girls dresses often use this type of sleeve.
The raglan sleeve suits all different lengths. It has a seam running from the shoulder into the armhole and this gives it the distinctive slanted seam line. It is a comfortable sleeve for t-shirts and tops or fitted dresses. In t-shirts, the sleeve is often a contrasting color to give that typical baseball shirt look.
Short sleeve is a fairly generic term given to types of sleeves that finish above the elbow. They can be plainly cut or gathered, circular or many other variations of the sleeves found on this page.
A slashed sleeve makes a trendy statement with slits ‘slashed’ into the fabric in horizontal slits. Quite often the slits will have raw edges allowing them to fray further over time. You will see many denim jackets with this type of sleeve.
Not every armhole requires a sleeve. Where there is no sleeve attached, it is called sleeveless. Should you decide to do away with a set in or attached style sleeve, then the armhole will require a facing or some bias tape to neaten the armhole area where a sleeve would have been set.
These sleeves may be different styles but the fabric is of sheer quality and gives a ‘see-through’ effect to the sleeve. Sheer sleeves are a popular effect for wedding gowns and evening dresses.
Three-Quarter Length Sleeves
¾ length sleeves can be fitted, gathered or many other styles but end at the point between the elbow and wrist. These types of sleeves are great for in-between seasons and can balance out an unfitted dress bodice.
Voluminous Billowy Sleeves
A larger-than-life look with lots of material involved to make the big flowing sleeves. Best suited to soft organza and satin fabrics. Not your everyday wear types of sleeves.
Types of Sleeves - In Conclusion
Sleeves are not only a stylish accent on any garment, but they serve a purpose too. Keeping warm in winter or adding whimsical detail to a summer outfit, gives a sleeve its purpose. The types of sleeves are a welcomed fashion accessory for the home seamstress and top fashion designers. Every designer loves to play around with a fancy sleeve to create a unique fashionable outfit.
Really, the sky is the limit with the types of sleeves. Existing sleeves can be added onto with patches, lace, and trims. Sleeves have evolved over the years and some old-fashioned names still grace the fashion models of today while new names and designs are still adding style and glamour to sleeves.
Learn more about how to sew a sleeve.
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