Actress Mabel Love in an outfit with leg-o'-mutton (gigot) sleeves in 1919

A sleeve (O. Eng. slieve, or slyf, a word allied to slip, cf. Dutch sloof) is the part of a garment that covers the arm, or through which the arm passes or slips. The pattern of the sleeve is one of the characteristics of fashion in dress, varying in every country and period. Various survivals of the early forms of sleeve are still found in the different types of academic or other robes. Where the long hanging sleeve is worn it has, as still in China and Japan, been used as a pocket, whence has come the phrase to have up one's sleeve, to have something concealed ready to produce. There are many other proverbial and metaphorical expressions associated with the sleeve, such as to wear one's heart upon one's sleeve, and to laugh in one's sleeve.

Sleeve length varies from barely over the shoulder (cap sleeve) to floor-length. Most contemporary shirt sleeves end somewhere between the mid-upper arm and the wrist.

Early medieval sleeves were cut straight, and underarm triangle-shaped gussets were used to provide ease of movement. In the 14th century, the rounded sleeve cap was invented, allowing a more fitted sleeve to be developed.

During the Victorian era, sleeves became extremely wide and puffy on women's dress, so some women would wear sleeve supports to keep their sleeves silhouettes.[1]


Middle Ages

The medieval sleeve or set-in sleeve was unlike modern techniques. The seam for this type of sleeve was usually placed at the back of the arm, and fit under the arm.[2]

Types of sleeves

Often the names applied to sleeves in historical costume are modern.

TypeBrief descriptionImage
Angel sleeveA long wide sleeve that usually hangs loose from the shoulder
Batwing sleeveA long sleeve with a deep armhole, tapering toward the wrist. Also known as a "magyar" sleeveBatwing sleeve.jpg
Bell sleeveA long sleeve fitted from the shoulder to elbow and gently flared from elbow onward
Bishop sleeveA long sleeve, fuller at the bottom than the top, and gathered into a cuffBishops sleeve.jpg
Butterfly sleeveUsually found on Filipiniana, the national costume for women of the Philippines, and dresses or formal blouses that start at the shoulder and get wider toward the end of the sleeve but usually do not go longer than 4–5 inches. The difference between a butterfly sleeve and a bell sleeve is that butterfly sleeves usually do not go completely around the full arm.
Cap sleeveA very short sleeve covering only the shoulder, not extending below armpit level, usually worn by women
Fotothek df roe-neg 0006503 018 Ein Mädchen posiert mit Sommerkleid bei der "Internationalen Messemodenschau", H.jpg
(c) Deutsche Fotothek‎, CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Cold shoulder sleeveA long sleeve that is disconnected past the stitching on top of the shoulder, but not underneath, where the armpit is. The top of the bicep is exposed.
Dolman sleeveA long sleeve that is very wide at the top and narrow at the wrist
Fitted point sleeveA sleeve that is long and narrow and ends in a point resting against the back of the hand
Gigot or leg-o'-mutton sleeveA sleeve that is extremely wide over the upper arm and narrow from the elbow to the wristLeg-of-mutton sleeve.jpg
Hanging sleeveA sleeve that opens down the side or front, or at the elbow, to allow the arm to pass through (14th, 15th, 16th, 17th centuries)Jan van Eyck 001 sleeve.jpg
Juliet sleeveA long, tight sleeve with a puff at the top, inspired by fashions of the Italian Renaissance and named after Shakespeare's tragic heroine; popular from the Empire period through the 1820s in fashion, again in the late 1960s under the influence of Zeffirelli's film Romeo and JulietWindswept by John William Waterhouse.jpg
Kimono sleeveA sleeve cut in one with the bodice in a wide sloping shape, similar to that on traditional Chinese robes (not Japanese kimono, whose sleeves are sewn separately)Kimono sleeve.jpg
Lantern sleeveFull, gathered sleeve where the top part of the sleeve is plain and the cuff balloons out halfway between wrist and elbow
Pagoda sleeveA wide, bell-shaped sleeve popular in the 1860s, worn over an engageante or false undersleeveCousin Argia (1861) - Giovanni Fattori.jpg
Paned sleeveA sleeve made in panes or panels, allowing a lining or shirt-sleeve to show through (16th and 17th centuries)Joana de Braganza.jpg
petal or tulip sleeveA sleeve that has one curved overlapping seam, resembling the petals of a tulip.
Poet sleeveA long sleeve fitted from shoulder to elbow and then flared (somewhat dramatically) from elbow to wrist (or sometimes mid-hand). Often features ruffles on the cuffsPoetblouse.jpg
Puffed or puff sleeveA short, ¾ length or full sleeve that is gathered at the top and bottom, now most often seen on wedding and children's clothingVladimir Borovikovsky3.jpg
Raglan sleeveA sleeve that extends to the neckline allowing easier movementRaglan sleeve.jpg
Set-in sleeveA sleeve sewn into an armhole (armscye) - also known as a "Drop Sleeve"Set in sleeve blind stitched.jpg
Two-piece sleeveA sleeve cut in two pieces, inner and outer, to allow the sleeve to take a slight L shape to accommodate the natural bend at the elbow without wrinkling; used in tailored garments
Virago sleeveA full "paned" or "pansied" sleeve gathered into two puffs by a ribbon or fabric band above the elbow, worn in the 1620s and 1630sAnthonis van Dyck 021.jpg
Wizard's sleeveA sleeve that extends from the shoulder to wrist expanding in a conical shape, draping openly off the wrist
1/4-length sleeve or quarter-length sleeveA sleeve that extends from the shoulder to midway down the biceps and triceps area.
¾ length sleeve or three-quarter length sleeveA sleeve that extends from the shoulder to a length midway between the elbow and the wrist. It was common in the United States in the 1950s and again in the 21st century.

See also

  • Kandys


  1. ^ "Sleeve supports ca. 1828". Retrieved 2021-06-08.
  2. ^ Sarah Thursfield (2001). Medieval Tailor's Assistant: Making Common Garments 1200-1500. p. 33.

External links

Media related to Sleeves at Wikimedia Commons

Media files used on this page

Author/Creator: Dan Polansky based on work currently attributed to Wikimedia Foundation but originally created by Smurrayinchester, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
A logo derived from File:WiktionaryEn.svg, a logo showing a 3 x 3 matrix of variously rotated tiles with a letter or character on each tile. The derivation consisted in removing the tiles that form the background of each of the shown characters. File:WiktionaryEn.svg is under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike, created by Smurrayinchester, and attributed to Wikimedia Foundation. This is the version without the wordmark.
Batwing sleeve.jpg
David Ring
, Licence: CC0
Drawing of the Thesaurus concept : 'batwing sleeve'
Raglan sleeve.jpg
Author/Creator: Kelly Hogaboom, Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
A child wearing a raglan sleeved shirt.
Leg-of-mutton sleeve.jpg
David Ring
, Licence: CC0
The description of the concept in this drawing is: Sleeves with very full tops around the shoulder and upper arms and beginning at the elbow, tapering to a tight wrist; fashionable especially during the 19th and early 20th centuries. (AAT)
Author/Creator: Combirom, Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
A man wearing a ruffled white satin poet blouse. England, 2011.
Kimono sleeve.jpg
David Ring
, Licence: CC0
Drawing of the Thesaurus concept : 'kimono sleeve'
Fotothek df roe-neg 0006503 018 Ein Mädchen posiert mit Sommerkleid bei der "Internationalen Messemodenschau", H.jpg
(c) Deutsche Fotothek‎, CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Original image description from the Deutsche Fotothek
Ein Mädchen posiert mit Sommerkleid bei der "Internationalen Messemodenschau", Herbstmesse 1953
Set in sleeve blind stitched.jpg
Author/Creator: kellyhogaboom, Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
Shoulder of a set-in sleeve, joined to the body of the garment using a blind stitch
Mabel Love with a bicycle.jpg
Mabel Love with a bicycle
Cousin Argia (1861) - Giovanni Fattori.jpg
Cousin Argia (1861), by Giovanni Fattori
Vladimir Borovikovsky3.jpg
Елена Петровна Балашова, ур. Бекетова (1779-1823), Дмитрий (1800-1858), Анна (1804-1824) и Петр (1811-1845)