A bell sleeve is flared at the hem, creating a bell shape and giving the silhouette its name. You’ll find bell sleeves on dresses, tees, knitted tops, blouses, shirts, tunics, sweatshirts and knitwear. Occasionally on jackets and coats too.
The flare differs greatly in volume. It ranges from sleek and subtle, to billowing and dramatic. Sometimes the flare starts at the crown of the sleeve, and sometimes much further down the arm. Some bell sleeves have gathers, or are set in along a horizontal seam to make them flounce and swoosh even more. Bell sleeves also differ in length. They can be as short as elbow-length, or as long as extended sleeves. Here are some examples.
We see variations on the bell sleeve every season, especially now with the ongoing exuberant sleeve trend. When the fabric is soft and lightweight, the sleeves swoosh splendidly, adding movement to an outfit. The visual effect can be awfully romantic and pretty. When the fabric is thicker and stiffer, bell sleeves can drape in an architectural way, and look wonderfully dramatic.
I like the look of bell sleeves, especially on dresses and Summer tops. They remind me of the ‘70s and ‘90s, and that’s probably when I wore them most. I’m attracted to their swoosh, prettiness, soft integrity, and romantic vibe. I like the stiff and architectural versions too. That said, I can also get annoyed with bell sleeves, which prevents me from wearing them too often. They do not layer well under jackets and coats, which I need to be able to do in a Pacific Northwest climate. They do not scrunch to a shorter length, so they can get in the way when I cook, eat, or tend to our Yorkies. They can also flap around, which I find impractical for working at home and with clients.
I will wear bell sleeves, but have learned to keep them shorter and less voluminous so that they don’t get in the way. I also wear them in situations when I will not need a top layer. So I usually stick to high Summer tops and dresses with bell sleeves.
I am a calculated yay. How about you?