Types of Sleeves


Sleeves have always been used for changing the silhouette of a garment. Important sleeve silhouettes keep appearing, disappearing and reappearing over a period of time. There are two major classifications of sleeves: Set in sleeve cut separately and stitched into the armhole of the bodice. Sleeve combined with part or the entire bodice. Sleeves are such an important part of clothes as it is one of the first things you see in a garment. They should fit properly and be comfortable to wear as well. Sleeve styles vary greatly with time and fashion. Sleeve designs can be created in any fabric and any style and they are a crucial element of a garment’s look and silhouette.

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.

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. 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. Let's talk about different types of sleeves.


There are 2 ways a sleeve is attached – Set in sleeve is a normal sleeve with a high rounded sleeve cap. The sleeve is attached after the bodice and the sleeve is finished. This is a sleeve which is set into the armscye with the sleeve head curved to adjust to the roundness of the shoulder.

The other one is the shirt sleeve. The usual way is to sew this sleeve to the bodice and then the side seams are finished.


A t-shirt sleeve is a short, set-in sleeve that starts at the shoulder and ends at the middle of the upper arm.


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.


This is similar to the leg of mutton sleeve. The difference being that this sleeve has two parts to it. The top part at the sleeve head is very full . This is gathered and joined to a fitted sleeve part in the lower arm.


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.


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.


This is a long sleeve with two sections. The top portion of this sleeve flares from the sleeve head towards the wrist. The bottom part flares from a fitting wrist to meet the flare from the top. The two parts are joined by a seam which maintains its flared lantern shape. A long lantern sleeve and short lantern sleeve can be made.


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.


A puffed sleeve is gathered at the shoulder and at the seam but is full and “puffy” in the middle.


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.


This sleeve is also called peasant sleeves, this long sleeve is fitted around the shoulder and upper arm and flares out to the wrist, like a bell.


Like a bell sleeve, a butterfly sleeve flares out from the shoulder, but it usually does not fully cover the arm.


A flutter sleeve is very similar to a butterfly sleeve except it is generally a little shorter and wider, falling loosely


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.


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.


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.


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.


This sleeve has a length between elbow and the wrist. The whole idea is that when you wear this sleeve you can see your bracelet. From the elbow it measures about 4 inches.


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.


This is sleeve which is fitted on the upper arm and has tiered frills on the lower part of the arm to the wrist. Usually there are three tiers.


This is a gathered raglan sleeve which is gathered at the neck and hem with drawstring or elastic.


This sleeve is joined at the top two edges overlapping. There will be no underarm seam for this sleeve. The layered panels that form this sleeve make it look like petals; they are usually short or skimpy sleeves.


This is a vintage sleeve which is long and full and is divided into many (usually 5) full sections. The parts are gathered at intersections fitting the arm.


Extra fullness is given at the top part of the sleeve whereas the under arm portion of the sleeve remains fitted. A drapey effect is created by the fullness at the top, which is sometimes drawn up with elastic.


This is a very long sleeve that is open down the seam and hangs down.


This sleeve has a patch on the elbow to protect the garment from wear and tear.


Off-shoulder sleeve gives 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.


This is an off-shoulder style sleeve. The sleeve hangs on to the bodice from the sides rather than from the top of the armscye leaving a hole exposing the shoulders.

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.