Sleeve

In 1800 it was observed that “fashion can be particularly recognized by its sleeves.” In the mid-twentieth century, it was reiterated that “the clothing revolution starts with sleeves.” This “part of male and female garments that covers the arm,” long, short, three-quarter length, fitted, full, raglan, kimono, bell-shaped, round, puffed, ruffled — whose “insertion” has always represented a challenge and a delight for tailors — has, without doubt, played a very important role in the history of clothing. Its most ungenerous reincarnation was the half-length variety, or rather the type of cloth sleeve that covered only the upper arm. The sleeve has inspired popular sayings such as “roll up your sleeves” or “an ace up your sleeve.” It went through particularly glorious periods in previous centuries, especially in male fashions. For example, consider the opulence, luxury, and originality of the sleeves of the various Henri and Louis (kings and emperors) to confirm its importance. However, with the end of the Napoleonic empire, men’s fashions — following the more sober and elegant English style and later adopting the straight cut jacket — became simpler. In fact, there have been very few “revolutions” or variations in coat and jacket sleeves (mostly round or raglan) during the twentieth century, with the exception of a few evening shirts, with simple or double cuffs, sometimes pleated or with lace, another example of returning fashions. In women’s fashions, sleeves have been made of fabric or fur, decorated with lace, embroidery, stones, or pearls, and enjoyed periods of particular prominence, for example when they were worn in the style of the Amadis, the Venetians, Louis XIII, nuns, priests, sailors, Turks, Bedouins, Persians, gardeners or shepherdess style (the “petite bergère”), in the Sévigné and Du Barry style, puff sleeves or ruffled sleeves, as seen in the portraits of girls and women at the coronation of Napoleon or the Empress Eugènie with her ladies-in-waiting, or women painted by Boldini. And they resurfaced in some collections, especially haute couture ones, in evening clothes or garments for all occasions, from the start of the twentieth century until today. At the end of the 1940s, for example, sleeves were long and close-fitting, with a high, turned back, double cuff or, “handkerchief” sleeves, particularly at the elbow, for Christian Dior; bell-shaped to the elbow, over long sleeves edged with fur for Balmain; with high lace cuffs for Fath; round and “falling” with a small double cuff for Rochas; draped from the shoulders and completed with small cuffs embroidered with stones for Grés; very full, puffed, with a ruffled cuff for Schiaparelli; and very large, cloak sleeves, cut in a single piece together with the bodice for the great Balenciaga. Subsequent generations of designers created sleeves that were attached down to the waistline, three-quarter length with incrustations of lace or velvet, with small buttons up to the elbow, with little cuffs with triple bands of ruffled lace or embroidered using the English stitch. These were sleeves that became more and more essential, apart from when they were omitted altogether or substituted by little shoulder straps, even when the arms revealed beneath were not always suitable.