Article by Jacynth Bassett
A beautiful, versatile dress with sleeves is a rare breed. Yes there are formal (often boring) dresses with sleeves, but very few others, and even if you do manage to find that one special gem, you’re super lucky if it’s also flattering and comfortable.
There’s huge demand for sleeves, especially as women get older. Not everyone wants to cover their arms, but the majority of women do – or at least the top part. And if you’re one of these ladies, you probably find yourself resorting to adding an extra layer in the form of a shrug, shawl or jacket, which can be uncomfortable in summer. And equally, a sleeveless dress isn’t going to keep you warm in the winter.
Why are stylish dresses with sleeves hard to find?
So why are they so hard to come by? Well it all comes down to the designers.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to designers “if you just add sleeves this dress will be so popular.” But they’ve refused. On one occasion a designer even acknowledged how many people had told him that, but he still wouldn’t budge.
The first issue is that a lot of designers think sleeves are frumpy, and they can mess with the lines and overall look of the dress, especially when it is tailored. Few designers are commercially minded; they care more about design and creating something beautiful, than actually making something that will be popular. So they aren’t willing to sacrifice their design for the sake of sales.
Following on from this, there’s a general consensus amongst designers that it’s too tricky to design a flattering sleeve that’s comfortable. Gussets can add motion, but that is costly, so sleeves can restrict movement, and with customers so focused on comfort, they feel they won’t go for it.
You may even find some designers arguing that dresses with sleeves are their least popular styles, or more frequently returned. But that’s usually due to their design; the sleeve may cut under the arm, or be too tight. Yet designers will rarely acknowledge this and adapt.
What’s the answer?
Well the good news is that increasingly there are more cooperative designers willing to add sleeves to their designs or, even better, make the sleeve integral to the style. The use of stretchier fabrics, such as jersey, helps as they add movement and won’t disrupt the look of the dress. Plus, as dress codes become more fluid, designers may feel more comfortable designing less tailored pieces.
What’s also important is continuing to push designers and retailers to offer what you want. Some may dig their heels in, but the less stubborn will eventually be convinced if it’s demonstrated just how much more money you’ll spend if dresses have sleeves – especially given how much retail generally is struggling at the moment. And if the sleeve isn’t quite right, explain why so the designer can make alterations. Otherwise they may just dismiss sleeves all together, and dresses with sleeves will forever continue to be a rare sighting.
Jacynth Bassett is the founder of the-Bias-Cut – Shopping With Attitude Where Ageism Is Never In Style. Swiftly becoming recognised as one of the UK’s leading pioneers of style at every age, she has written on the topic for The Guardian online, The Huffington Post, and contributed to a chapter on grown up style for an internationally published book. She has also been featured in the likes of the New Statesman, regularly speak on panels and podcasts, and is a ViewVo accredited business mentor. Plus she is a weekly and monthly style columnist for various leading 40+ online platforms. In her spare time, she loves to dance, specialising in hip-hop, and to dine out with family and friends.
Images feature the Bias Cut’s latest collection