Ruffles and flounces on sleeves are extremely fashionable, part of the Modern Retro trend, and completely mainstream. The bell sleeve silhouette — true to its name — flares out at the hem resembling the shape of a bell. You’ll find bell-shaped sleeves all over solid and patterned shirts, blouses, knitted tops and dresses. They’re as lovely on jackets, cardigans and coats, although not as popular as bell-sleeved tops. 

Bell sleeves vary in shape. Sleeve length varies from elbow and three quarter lengths, to bracelet, full length, and beyond. The sleeve can flare from the crown of the sleeve right through to the wrist without a break to create a bohemian vibe. Or the sleeve can be broken up with a cut line to create a ruffled and flounced effect from seam to wrist. Sometimes, that style of sleeve is called a flutter sleeve. The flounced and ruffled bell sleeve is more popular at the moment than its straighter boho cousin. 

Bell sleeves vary in volume. High volume flounces are more visually dramatic, especially when the fabric is stiff, and/or the hem of the sleeve is asymmetrical. The sleeves stand away from the arms like wings, which is an intentional trendy look. They are hard to layer over unless the topper is sleeveless, a cape, a wrap, or has wide sleeves to accommodate the shape of the bell. High-volume flounces in soft fabrics are less dramatic because they collapse flat back onto the body and drape like a dream. It’s easier to layer over a more subtle bell sleeve with a jacket that has tailored sleeves, although “bell squashing” can occur. 

Silk bell-sleeve top
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Lace Bell Sleeve Top
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If you like the idea of bell sleeves but don’t fancy the drama or distinctive frill of the silhouette, choose a style in a soft fabric that is three quarter or bracelet length for a more subtle version of the look. The extreme lengths of elbow or beyond-the-wrist with high-volume flounces are the versions that make you feel like you’re going to take off and fly. Overwhelming, unless that’s the vibe you’re going for. 

I love the bell sleeve trend because of its pretty and girly integrity, and because it’s a flashback to fashion of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It looks fresh after years of simple straight sleeves. My holiday dress last year had a fluted sleeve, which is a cousin to this trend. My chartreuse cocoon coat layered over perfectly and didn’t squash the sleeves. I want to add a bell-sleeved blouse to my warm weather blouse capsule this year in a solid or pattern. The sleeves must be elbow, three quarter or bracelet length because I don’t like the fussy feeling of the fabric flopping around my wrists when they’re longer, although I do like the way it looks. 

Over to you. What’s your take on the bell sleeve trend?