Reader Requests: Why Are SO Many Dresses Sleeveless?

why dresses sleeveless

Gerri popped this one into the suggestion box:

I would love a post about why they don’t make dresses with sleeves anymore? Why can’t I find dresses with flattering sleeve lengths for summer (about midway to elbow)? I’m so tired of having to buy shrugs and jackets then coordinate them over all my dresses. I have a few dresses that fit great and are flattering but need different lengths/cuts/colors of shrugs and jackets. It’s discouraging. Do designers do this so we have to buy more clothes? We have hot humid summers so wearing my regular jackets doesn’t work. Any insights/advice about this would make me so happy!

And this is a phenomenon that we Minnesotans lament for the opposite reason: When it’s winter, the mere prospect of wearing sleeveless dresses makes us shiver. Even layered, they just aren’t as warm. Many of my readers and clients and friends are on a constant hunt for sleeved dress options, and retail buyers are hungry for them, too. But they are rare critters.

For years, I made my own assumptions about this bizarre trend: That the shift to shorter or no sleeves was related to our country’s obsession with youth, since sleeveless garments would appeal younger women who aren’t as self-conscious about their arms (supposedly). I also wondered about cost savings for the manufacturers, who could use less material overall and also design one basic dress shape for the entire year. Growing shopping and fashion markets in warm cities like Miami and Las Vegas struck me as another possible factor, as did the overall move toward “seasonless” dressing.

And if it weren’t for this WSJ article, I probably would have continued with my guesses. But here are the reasons, as outlined by designers including Nanette Lepore and Trina Turk:

  • Sleeves are frumpy. (This is news to me.)
  • It’s difficult to design a cute or flattering sleeve that also feels comfortable.
  • Related: Sleeves can restrict range of motion, which causes more comfort issues. And in our comfort-centric climate, designers fear that buyers won’t tolerate restricted range.
  • Design features that make sleeves more comfortable and less constricting – like gussets – are costly and seldom included.
  • Sleeves can mess with the lines and overall tailored elegance of a dress.

So there you have it. Even though customers are clamoring for them, designers just don’t want to do sleeves. Mainly for aesthetic reasons. Annoying and frustrating.

Want to turn the tide? Continue to let your favorite designers and retailers know that you’d spend even more money with them if they offered dresses with sleeves. Although designers don’t love adding sleeves, it’s clear that some of them do it anyway because they know women really, truly want them. With constant reminders, perhaps they’ll shift from adding the occasional sleeved dress to a collection to adding the occasional sleeveless dress to a collection.

P.S. From what I’ve seen, Boden stocks sleeved dresses year-round. And Nordstrom almost always has some petite and plus dresses with sleeves.

Images courtesy J.Crew

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Green Tartan

Missguided Plus size tartan skater dress, Zara chain embellished boots Zara chain embellished boots Oui Non necklace

Dress- Missguided

Hat- Forever 21

Boots- Zara (old) ( similar here and here or you can customize your boots with these)

Necklace- Forever 21 (sold out)

Are we bored of tartan yet? Because I’m just starting a new obsession with green tartan. I’m searching for the perfect green tartan shirt dress, so if you see something cute, let me know! Everybody else seems to be talking about Spring and bright colors but I’m still stuck in the middle – it’s warmer yet I can’t let go of dark, moody colors. I couldn’t even get myself to wear bright pink lipstick, I wiped it off and went back to a nice burgundy shade.

I talked about Missguided Plus in my last post and since then, I’ve bought two more things: the tartan dress I’m wearing and this checked maxi shirt. Both of them fit great and the quality is good, yay for consistency! Also, they regularly give out discount codes so make sure you check for those before you make a purchase.

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