This page explains the reasons behind the changes in both sleeve
and shoulder fashion in the noughties. These changes
are interesting and important as they provide elements of the iconic
silhouette for this era.
Trends in Shoulder
& Sleeve Fashion History
The fashion silhouette of any era is judged on many points; yet
often one factor, such as the
flapper dress has that indefinable
je ne sais quoi which captures the
mood of a particular fashion era. Right now the 'It' factor
making headlines is the shoulder line, and this page examines how
the sleeve and shoulder has developed during this decade.
The interesting sleeves in the images right are courtesy of Swarovski
(Topshop Unique), IFTF,
In the latter part of the noughties decade we have seen the sleeve
and shoulder line become a focus of interest on many garments.
At the beginning of the trend we saw the the floppy
over-the-hand length, what happened next was the shortening of the standard
sleeve to seven eighths, and then three quarter length. This brought new focus to the wrist
which soon became the new erogenous zone of the early noughties.
The wearing of noughties
jewellery cuffs is directly related to the visibility of the
As each new fashion season arrived so designers toyed with
the sleeve length, they
discovered that by playing with the sleeve hemline, they could
create a fresh youthful vibe undiscovered by a whole
generation or more. Soon everyone adopted
the fad for three-quarter sleeves. Within a short space of time
the sleeve was cropped to elbow length, and some designers added a ruffle or flounce frill.
The mass stores soon followed these sleeve trends and fashion history
was made. By the 2008/9 season the shorter sleeve fashion was commonplace on
both jackets coats and dresses. You can see great examples
in these three catwalk show images above, kindly provided by IFTF, Swarovski and Dior from their 2008 archives.
Surprisingly, the first really noticeable change for shoulders occurred
with the pashmina. The pashmina is a very
useful warming cover-up when nothing more suitable can be
found. However, what sparked a change in shoulder fashion
was when the pashmina moved from must-have high fashion shoulder
drapery to be referred to as a classic stole.
One of the trendsetters in changing shoulder fashion was bridal and evening prom wear. Covering the
shoulder up with
a pashmina was no longer the aim. Exposing the shoulder
became a norm with prom bustier looks leading the way. By mid
decade the pashmina had been confined to a wardrobe's classics drawer, and the shoulder was very visible again. In this way the shoulder sleeve silhouette slowly
gained either physical width, or
sleeve protrusion beyond the normal armscye at the top of the
Another way that the shoulder line became more attention seeking
was by the clear
absence of fabric. This was either in bustier prom dresses
or bustiers. This was in total contrast to the late 90s
and early millennium when the shoulder gained interest when the
pashmina was acting as a cover up shoulder focus. Now the new cover ups were cute jackets,
shrugs, boleros and cropped cardigans, or even full dress coats. Matching
a dress with a jacket also made a return to formal wear
providing women with one of the most useful outfits of all time
- the coordinated dress and jacket coat.
These images are all archive
Swarovski 2008, and you can see how designers play with the
sleeve fashion. The sleeve became a true
area of silhouette interest that reached a new peak for 2009.
Back in 2008 this change was evident in every area from evening wear to
For autumn 2008 designers focused on shoulders and
necklines with dresses like these. We've all seen the real
result and adoption globally after
Michelle Obama wore a one shouldered gown at the President
of the USA Inauguration Ball in 2009. By 2009 one shoulder and
one sleeved dresses were a considered style for winter party
Catwalk images above courtesy of
Swarovski, Dior - 2008.
The focus was also on the fuller sleeve. Even slimline sleeves began to show ruffles and frills,
greater bell wrist width, or interesting slashing with eruptions
of contrast fabrics. Folkloric elements brought the return of
the full blouson peasant sleeve and manufacturers pounced on
this design concept. With this came the return of the blouse in
its own right as a fashion garment, to be paraded rather than a
element of a layered look.
The last real era of the full length voluminous bloused sleeve, with floppiness
draping into a deep cuff, was back in the 1970s, beyond the memory of young
women in 2009. Consequently, this full bloused style looked very different to skinny sleeves or
sleeveless fashions of their generation.
Both images above courtesy of Wallis Autumn 2008 Collections.
The blouse sleeves above show lower bloused fullness, very popular
during the mid Victorian and
Edwardian eras as well as the
1970s. The golden tunic right is from Monsoons Autumn 2009
Originals range and shows how the micro trend of drapery has
combined to produce a sleeve line reminiscent of flowing angel
70s styles. Talk about dramatic entrance, this golden top is fit
for a Diva. With arms outstretched, those sleeves would
create an X-factor moment for anyone.
neglected in the 1990s, shoulders have been gaining considerable
attention from designers and this is an area of more than novel
interest. A whole generation of fashionistas have never played
with the shoulder line, smothered in cascades of blousy fabric, preferring to bare all in
bustier tops. But fashion is always cyclical and the dawn of a
new decade sees the latest fashion buzz as being the armour of the
In 2009, focus moved to the head of the sleeve and the overall
shoulder shape began to reform. Yet just over one hundred years ago sleeve
going through a parallel change in silhouette.
The Dolce&Gabbana catwalk photo near right, illustrates a sleeve very
similar to those in fashion in about 1896. The Posen model far
left below suggests a similar source of inspiration. These are
not so much 1980s big sleeves as some fashion magazines suggest, but
to a seasoned observer of dress the new sleeves often appear
more like 1890s sleeve fashion.
Centre below, note again the important gigot sleeve from
Dolce&Gabbana in this
berry toned evening suit. On the right
below observe the domed structure of the boned sleeve head
Antonio Berardi uses in this grey coat. The grey sleeve demands
high standards of couture construction with layers of interfacing and boning to
achieve that shape. No doubt mass fashion producers will soon
have a foam shoulder pad version on the rails.
These sleeves are not difficult to make as long as you have the
right pattern, and the upper sleeve head is suitably interfacing
supported. Materials like horsehair, firm twill cotton, net,
Vilene, Calico, Buckram, Tarlatan and bridal hem net can all be
Enormous gigot (leg of lamb/mutton) sleeves were
a focal point of fashion in the late 1820s and 1830s too. None of us were around
in that Romantic era, but this
caricature of sleeves and hats of 1827 from my personal
collection gives you an idea that
such extreme styles are nothing new. Do remember this is a
send-up cartoon; but it does emphasise as all cartoons the
pertinent points - that sleeves of the 1820s were indeed
Clearly we should expect anything in the next
decade when it comes to sleeves and shoulders!
With mass communication being what it is today I suspect we will
go through similar sleeve silhouette stages, but in half the
can trace the
noughties power shoulders that began it all, to the now
seemingly minor silhouette changes such as in this Balmain
nautical inspired jacket and shown left. Now well into 2009, it is clear that there has
been an escalating importance of
the stylish, Balmain inspired fuller peak-shoulder line. By the
end of 2009 everyone will think of it as the must-have
silhouette to start off the new year.
Courtesy of Harvey Nichols.
Fashion trendsetters know that the changing
shoulder silhouette is likely to define 2010, and go down in the
fashion history books as an iconic style message, distinguishing
the latter part of this
fashion decade from earlier years.
In living memory many can recall the voluminous
Dynasty (TV serial)
shoulders of the 1980s, The New
Romantics and the Princess of Wales,
Diana's wedding dress
right. Now we can see the statement shoulder is moving in on us
once again and we have to re-learn to embrace the styles that
suit us. The key will be to try on many different garments until
you find just the right shoulder look to enhance your own
In fashion history terms
the new shoulder line is clearly making
its mark, especially in tailored looks. I think it is silhouette destined to stay for a couple of years. The
must-have shoulder factor was confirmed when Madonna sported the
latest Balmain shoulder look in her video in the latter part of
2009. So reader, if you want to get a wider berth fashion wise,
is your answer.
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