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Puffy Sleeves: This Year's Way Of Inflating Your Fashion Dreams


Franz Xaver Winterhalter oil painting of Empress Elisabeth of Austria from 1865, Princess Diana and Anrealage SS20

You'll have seen them all over the runways and they have without a doubt overflowed your Instagram feed. Whether you're all about Richard Quinn's minimalist floral take on the trend, or leaning towards Givenchy's statement tailored sleeves, there are enough variations of the trend to make all your bulgy dreams come true. Blindness even designed a puffed sleeve double breasted blazer, incorporating the trend into its outerwear line.

Puffed sleeves are nothing new to the style scene; made popular in the late 1800s as a way to make waists seem thinner, the trend can be traced back to the likes of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, also known as Sissi. In a world famous painting by Winterhalter, the Empress is depicted wrapped in a white satin evening dress, on which hundreds of silver stars glisten along her back.

Fast forward a hundred years, and the 80s are establishing their own rendition of the sleeve craze. The era of extravagance that gave us power suits and shoulder pads had no issue coupling the trend with other golden fabrics and loud patterns, but the 2019 fashion is much more subtle. As always, when designers pillage a previous decade for inspiration, they only appropriate some elements - and the puffy sleeves of today are no exception. Nowadays, expect the trend to be accompanied by dressed down jeans, or a crop-top version.

High street designs from '& Other Stories', 'Song of Style' and 'Fashion Bunker'

Some puffy sleeves even made their way to history - in pop culture, they are most notable for covering the arms of the Little Mermaid on her wedding day. One might even notice its resemblance with an all time favourite of the fashion world: Lady Di’s wedding dress - a perfect example of the trend’s consistency. Formed in woven silk taffeta, the skirt formed a crinoline, which was, at the time, said to represent “sexuality and grandiosity”. Much like Elizabeth’s way back when, Diana’s dress was embroidered with 10,000 pearls that sparkled for millions of people to see on that very special day.

But what about the current designer’s vision of the trend?

For Valentino, the Fall 2019 couture collection delivered a puristic, minimalist approach to puffy sleeves through a light blue cropped jacket. Associated with a colourful plunging neckline and a fitted skirt, the sleeves accentuate the silhouette of the model. The combination of a dramatic sleeve with a simple look is Piccioli’s way of telling us that you can do extra, even if you’re only going to get your groceries.

Emilia Wickstead SS20, Alessandro Lucioni SS20, Roksanda SS20, Marc Jacobs SS20, Alexander McQueen SS20

Marc Jacob’s Renaissance inspired sleeves flowed through his latest fall collection, and one can only admire the trickle down effect that took place following his polka dot sleeve. Six months later, every face on Instagram would be wearing similarly styled sleeves - a statement piece carrying a consequential “WOW” factor. If you’re Marc Jacobs, the polka dot sleeve is paired up with a striped cotton dress that seems to slide down all the way down to the runway. While adapting the trend to an evening look, Jacobs also innovated with his day dresses - moulding the trend into something anyone and everyone can adopt day-to-day. It then comes as no surprise that all Instagram influencers have united under the trend - wearing sleeves with jeans or a fitted skirt, or associating it with fabrics such as vinyl and leather.

The fashion world’s take on puffy sleeves this season is also reminiscent of the 80s and 90s trend - only now, the open necklines and cropped versions make it easier to dress them down, and adopt them for every occasion.


So if you’re still wondering why you should spend some more time incorporating the puffy sleeve extravaganza to your daily fashion routine, then remember this: a puffy sleeve simultaneously oozes the frugal ways of 1800s fashion and the girl boss vibes of 2019, letting you express your feminine and empowered ways all at once.



Words by Valentine Babey

Graphics by Fiona Campbell


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