Just when I feel like I’ve got the basics of flattering a variety of figures committed to memory, I read, hear about, or experience something that proves that the world of dressing is wide and deep and ever-expanding. My most recent discovery? Sleeve length can totally transform how a woman’s silhouette appears to the observing eye. I KNOW. Sleeve length. Who’d have thunk it?
Ages ago, I talked about a counter-intuitive sleeve-related tip: Sleeveless garments often work better on full arms than cap and short sleeves. So as we dive into the topic of how sleeve length can impact figure-flattery, let’s start there, shall we?
Many women feel self-conscious about showing their arms because the Beauty Standard Machine has decided that any arms that fail to be slender and toned are sub-par. And that’s just bunk, as we all know, but it can make many of us loathe to don anything sleeveless. But as I mentioned in that previous post, a sleeveless garment has the advantage of the unbroken line: The observing eye sees your arm from shoulder to wrist, with no sleeve to highlight one portion of your arm over another. Even if your upper arms aren’t tan and toned, they will generally look longer and leaner in a sleeveless top. And even if you’d like your arms to appear fuller, a sleeveless look may create a more graceful line.
These have become the summer sleeve standard for some reason, but they hit most arms near or at their widest point. Any garment with an opening or hem that falls across a limb will draw the eye to its own ending spot, emphasizing whatever is happening at that spot. With cap sleeves, that’s generally the upper part of the upper arm. As Imogen has pointed out, slanted cap sleeves work for some figures and are often more flattering than horizontal caps.
This is especially true for women in possession of large busts. Some cap sleeves (and some short sleeves) fall parallel to the bust, which draws the eye right there. Great if you want your bust emphasized, not so great if you don’t.
Short sleeves fall a bit lower on the arm than caps, but still generally bisect the upper arm in a wide spot. This style is great if you wanna show off your pipes, but offers many of the same challenges as cap sleeves: Visually widens the upper arm, draws the observing eye to the bustline.
Many flutter sleeves are the approximate length of short sleeves, and their loose, un-confining shape mean that they’re less harsh on full upper arms. (I don’t seem to own any, or I’d have included a photo here!)
Half sleeves perplex me a bit. They’re darned close to three-quarter length, but not quite … and often feel awkward. I suspect this is due to some variant of the Golden Ratio: Cutting your arm exactly in half at the elbow looks less elegant than somewhere more third-y. That said, if your waist is narrowest high on your torso, half sleeves may end parallel to it, thus drawing the eye there.
THREE QUARTER SLEEVES
This length is lauded by many as THE most flattering in the universe. I’ll admit that it’s my personal favorite, but question the universality of any figure-flattery technique. Regardless, three-quarter sleeves have become a year-round staple since they offer a bit of breeze in summer and reasonable coverage in the winter. If your waist falls a bit lower on your torso, this style will emphasize it since the sleeve ends where your waist narrows. If you’d rather draw the eye away from your waist, half and three-quarter sleeves are best avoided.
As a matter of fact, long sleeves are a solid option for those who would like to distract from the midsection. Though they do draw the eye down a bit, so hopefully you’re OK with a little focus falling upon your hips. If arm length is a concern, long sleeves (or sleeveless garments) are often good bets – other lengths can draw more attention to the relative shortness/longness of the arm.
Now. Many of these considerations are subtle. Arms move a lot, so sleeve length is a fairly changeable factor. Also most people will not see your half sleeves and instantly think, “WOW, LOOK AT THAT WAIST!” This information doesn’t often register on a conscious level, but it’s there in the subtext of your outfit. So considering sleeve length as you contemplate your own figure-flattery priorities can help you refine the silhouette you present.
And, as always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.
Top image courtesy Alter Brooklyn.