Dolman sleeve tops made my 20 must haves list for Autumn/Winter 2010 because they look refreshingly “new”. Sure, some of us wore rather awful chunky knit dolman sleeved pullovers in the 70’s, and neon shoulder-padded versions in the 80’s, but that shouldn’t stop us from wearing the improved incarnation 25 years later. The right dolman sleeve top is more flattering and forgiving than you might expect. Some styles are great at concealing muffin top.

Dolman sleeve tops are voluminous yet sleek, and modern yet retro. The kind of shape that works for many different body types when the right silhouette is selected. Surprisingly, a dolman sleeve top can soften a strong shoulder line as well as strengthen a weaker one. So the shape works equally well for inverted triangles and pear shaped body types. Petites should watch the excess volume under the arm, but should by no means stay away. A more streamlined version of a dolman sleeve top will not swallow you up.

There are no hard and fast rules, but if you are struggling to find the perfect dolman sleeve top, the following guidelines might help:

  • Soft fabric: Woven drapey silk and rayon blends for blouses are ideal because the fabric collapses close to the body. Fine gauge knits and jersey knits work well for the same reason. Dolman sleeves in chunky knits on the other hand, are harder to wear and almost impossible to layer under a coat.
  • Volume under the arm: The excess fabric under the arm is what makes this style unique. If you’re petite, full busted or strong shouldered, keep the volume fairly subtle. Also, if you like to layer over a jacket or coat, keep the volume subtle too. Less bunching.
  • Neckline: Lasses with fuller bust lines should choose a wider scoop, cowl or V-neck.
  • Sleeve length: A voluminous sleeve which does not taper at the hem works best when its short. I’ve found that my strong shouldered clients look exceptionally good with short sleeved dolman sleeve tops.
  • Tapered sleeves: Dolman sleeves that taper at the hems are often more flattering because it structures the volume. Scrunch up the sleeves for textural outfit interest.
  • Tapered bottom: Dolman sleeve tops with banded bottoms are also easier to wear because they balance out the excess fabric of the sleeve and “ground the style” so to speak.
  • Length: Both tunics and regular length tops will work. Tunics work particularly well with slim cut bottoms, whereas regular length dolman sleeve tops work well over skirts and bootcut pants or jeans.

I have several dolman sleeve pullovers that I wear with skinnies tucked into boots because they happen to be tunic length. But regular lengths in fine gauge knits work well over pencil skirts and boot cut pants – a nice business casual look. These tops also look great belted if you prefer a defined waist.

The dolman sleeve tops pictured are all tapered at the hems and sleeves because I’ve found those styles easiest to fit on most body types. The volume under the arm isn’t excessive either. So far, I haven’t had a disappointed client in the right dolman sleeve top! Are YOU sold yet?