Whether it’s intuitive or deliberate, most of us have a set of figure flattering priorities. These are super specific outfit proportions that we adhere to because they make us feel confident, attractive and comfortable. This is where the PERSONAL in personal style becomes all important, because figure flattering priorities differ between people, and your own priorities may change over time.

Over the years, many of my clients, friends and family members have expressed extremely specific preferences when it comes to the lengths of sleeves on tops, knitwear and dresses. Here’s a summary of their thoughts and mine.


Most of my clients will wear sleeveless tops and dresses, but not all of them will bare their arms. Some will cover up with a cardigan or jacket because they feel their arms aren’t sufficiently smooth or toned. Yet they stick to sleeveless because it’s more comfortable than layering toppers over sleeves. Some are fine to wear sleeveless in casual settings, but not in work or formal settings.

Cap or Grown-On Sleeves

A cap or grown-on sleeve is an extremely short sleeve that offers slightly more coverage than sleeveless, but not much. This is where many of my clients and I differ about what looks more flattering. To my eye, a cap sleeve is one of the hardest sleeves to look fab in because it cuts the top of the arm in an odd place and messes with the grounding effect of a shoulder line. It can visually broaden broad shoulders, and sometimes, make a large bust look larger. I prefer the clean and more cut-away lines of sleeveless if you’re going to bare your arms. That said, I am supportive of clients who like to wear cap sleeves because I am always on the side of the wearer. Cap sleeves can broaden a narrow shoulder line and offer just enough arm and underarm coverage to make them feel comfortable. And some clients feel that cap sleeves minimize the size of their larger busts. Interesting how we see different things.

Diagonal Sleeves

Diagonal sleeves are a mix of a short and a cap sleeve. They’re like an oversized and longer cap sleeve with a much looser fit around the upper arm. The hem of the sleeve creates a long diagonal line across the bicep, which is how it gets its name. The drapey fit and longer length of the diagonal sleeve make it easier to wear than a short tight-fitting cap sleeve. It also offers more coverage. The diagonal lines minimize the size of the bust, especially when the neckline is V-shaped or scooped. Furthermore, the diagonal integrity of the sleeve has a more interesting and structured visual effect than a wide short sleeve. Some of my clients will wear diagonal sleeves, but not sleeveless or short sleeves, precisely because of their visually flattering effects.

Short Sleeves

This is a sleeve length that finishes around the middle of the upper arm. Short sleeves can be streamlined or flared like flutter sleeves. Interestingly, apart from T-shirts, this is the sleeve length that my clients are the most fussy about. They are fast to find the length unattractive because it cuts their bicep at the widest part, and accentuates the size of a larger bust. Flared flutter sleeves are more forgiving, but you have to like a bit of ruffled flounce. Usually my clients prefer to wear shorter or longer sleeves.

Elbow Sleeves

These sleeves finish right on the elbow or an inch or so above it. Visually, I find them flattering because they cut the arm naturally in half. They offer a great bit of coverage, but are breezy nonetheless. They look streamlined, and don’t interfere with the bust line. That said, some of my clients feel quite the opposite. To them, elbow sleeves widen their arms, and draws attention to their bust. Again, those clients prefer to wear shorter or longer sleeves.

Three-Quarter Sleeves

I have two clients who won’t wear three-quarter sleeves, but the rest perceive it as a flattering length. One client feels that the length accentuates her already very long and narrow arms, and the other feels it makes her arms look short. Long sleeves are usually scrunched to a three-quarter length, which looks fabulous on all of us to my eye. Three-quarter sleeves are annoying to layer under long sleeve toppers though.

Bracelet Sleeves

Bracelet lengths are long sleeves that finish a few inches above the wrist bone so that you can showcase a bracelet or two or three in all their glory. You can showcase longer gloves too. I think bracelet lengths are great in certain wardrobe items because I like the look of accentuated wrists and arm candy. Conversely, most of my clients think they look off because they are neither here nor there. Too short for long sleeves and too long for three quarter sleeves.

Long Sleeves

I don’t know anyone who won’t wear a long-sleeved top or sweater, so this sleeve length goes down as the most popular and slam dunk flattering length. Some like the lengths to finish at the end of the wrist, while others prefer them a few inches longer. And some like to wear long sleeves scrunched to create a bracelet, three-quarter or elbow-length sleeve.

As far as my own style goes, I find all sleeve lengths flattering except the cap and grown-on sleeve. I seldom wear sleeveless items because I find them impractical, but I do like the way they look. I seldom wear diagonal sleeves because the armholes are too wide, but when I find a narrower version with structure, I like it. Visually, my favourite flattering sleeve lengths are elbow, three-quarter, and long. I often scrunch long sleeves because I like to showcase my forearms and wrists. I like a tailored short sleeve and a flutter sleeve too.

Over to you. Which are your favourite and most flattering sleeve lengths and why?