Puff Sleeve Power - Why This Trend is Still in Vogue.
Updated: Sep 17
Puff sleeves are not going anywhere. If you want to know why they're still popular, read on to find out.
"It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves."
In L. M. Montgomery’s 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley dreams of owning a puffy-sleeved dress. Set in the late 1800s, the sleeves are the latest fashion trend. The red-headed orphan knows how trendy they are. She yearns to wear some luxurious sleeves like the other girls in the neighbourhood.
To Anne’s dismay, her adoptive mother gives her a set of plain dresses instead. Marilla Cuthbert is a no-nonsense woman. Not one for petty trends, she sees puff sleeve dresses as a waste of fabric. It’s difficult for Anne to hide her disappointment:
“Oh, I am grateful," protested Anne. "But I'd be ever so much gratefuller if--if you'd made just one of them with puffed sleeves. Puffed sleeves are so fashionable now.”
Marilla doesn’t give in. However, Anne's dream is not over yet. Matthew Cuthbert is Marilla's reserved but goodhearted brother. After noticing that Anne doesn't own a pretty dress like her friends, he ventures out to get her one and brings back a lovely brown dress with big puff sleeves.
Anne’s dress isn’t brown in some TV and film adaptions of the book. It's light blue instead. This on-screen change was a smart decision. The dress represents the young girl's bright-eyed idealism. At last, she has a dress that reflects how she feels inside. It’s a sweet moment that makes you appreciate the power of a puff sleeve dress.
Our Major Love for the puff.
Jump forward to 2020 and puffy sleeve clothing still excites our imagination. This trend has been everywhere. We’ve seen it on runways, social media feeds, and in retail collections. But why are many of us so smitten by this sleeve?
A puff sleeve is bold and delicate at the same time. It’s an expression of femininity that doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. Although some will view the trend as silly or immature, a woman wearing them will simply not care. She’ll find it liberating.
Perhaps this is the appeal of puff sleeves. Much like babydoll dresses and padded headbands, this trend promotes a lighthearted approach to fashion. Where women can express a girly and playful side of themselves and ignore what other people might think.
In our rocky political climate, a healthy dose of escapism is always welcome. A delicate, rounded sleeve conjures up images of a pastoral paradise. Of the countryside, picnics, food baskets, and bike rides. In fact, puffy sleeves are a staple of other popular fashion styles. Think prairie, milkmaid, victoriana, princesscore, and cottagecore. The puffiness is a sign of fantasy.
As the GQ style writer Rachel Tashjian says,
Where you've Probably seen puff sleeves.
Hop onto your Instagram explore page and there’s a good chance you’ll find someone wearing these balloon-like sleeves. It’s a hit with influencers. An it-girl silhouette for the trendiest of women. From bright hues to classy nudes, puff sleeve tops are often paired with mini skirts or ripped denim, strappy sandals, and micro bags.
Popular puffy pieces include organza blouses. You’ll find these in bright or pastel colours and often in a print like polka dots. On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve seen rounded sleeves on tops and dresses with natural-looking fabrics and neutral colours - like white, cream, and beige.
Brands like LoveShackFancy and For Love & Lemons enjoy amping up the girly factor. They'll add extra ruffles or ruching as if puff sleeves on their own weren't already feminine enough. But I don’t mind this at all. Spring and summer wouldn’t be the same without these whimsical pieces.
Princess Beatrice’s wedding dress is an exquisite example of puffy sleeves. For her marriage to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, she loaned a vintage dress from the queen. Some delicate organza sleeves were added to make the dress appropriate for the wedding venue. A small detail that had magical results.
puff sleeve clothes from history.
Women have enjoyed voluptuous sleeves for centuries. Like today, they were romantic fashion statements. Huge sleeves were popular in the late 1820s and early 1830s. They were called leg-of-mutton sleeves that were huge near the shoulder but tapered from the elbows to the wrists.
This sloped shoulder was a sign of beauty. It was associated with women who were pining for their lover. Romantic right? Even after the trend had fizzled out, it came back with a vengeance in the 1890s.
Balloon-sized sleeves were also popular in the 1980s. We’ve already talked about Princess Beatrice’s wedding dress, but what about Princess Diana’s? It was a trend-setting gown that would be mimicked by other women throughout the decade.
In line with the excess of the 80s, her wedding gown had huge puffy sleeves. It was an opulent symbol of her ‘happy-ever-after.’ (Even though her life didn’t end up that way.) At that time, large sleeves were also found on power-suits and party dresses. Shoulder pads were all the rage.
When styling puffy sleeves today, it’s best to keep things simple. I’ve seen many chic stylings on Instagram. Light-washed denim, hoop earrings, and simple sandals look great with a classic puffed blouse. And for a Parisian look, you cannot go wrong with neutral cropped trousers and minimalist jewellery.
Not everyone wants their puffy-sleeved clothing to look sickly sweet. This is when you should experiment with texture and prints. Leather, neon, and animals print are all fun to play around with. You'll want to create an interesting contrast between the sleeves and the other pieces in your ensemble. Be sure to mood board your ideas too!
will puff sleeves EVER go poof?
I don’t think we'll see the end of the trend anytime soon. Even in the colder months, watch out for rounded sleeves on jumpers and evening wear. Since puffy sleeves are a bold statement, I bet they’re going to be around at the Christmas and New Years party season too. (Unless we’re all stuck inside still.)
In the mean time, we still have plenty of summer left. Go and enjoy your puff-sleeved pieces! They’re fun, freeing, and fabulous. (And you get extra points from me if you wear them to go frolicking in the countryside.)
What do you think of puff sleeve tops and dresses?
Love them? Hate them?
Let me know in the comments!
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till next time,