THE PUFF SLEEVE RE-CONCEIVED

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BY JORDANA LEVINE AND JORDYN AXELROD

11.15.21

COVER ART: KENDALL SINGER

Oversized puff sleeves make for the perfect addition to anyone’s modern wardrobe in 2021. Chic and sophisticated, we have seen everything from dramatic balloon sleeve sweaters, from Fendi’s 2020 AW (Autumn/Winter) collection, to perfectly puffed tee-shirts at TJ Maxx, making this style a staple in every consumer’s closet, regardless of income. Despite its large presence in the fashion world today, the billowing sleeve has actually been around since the early 14th century. 

During the Renaissance era, the puff sleeve was a major symbol of power and elegance. One's social status was frequently illustrated through extravagant apparel that only the wealthiest could attain, as “outward magnificence was inward virtue made tangible,” asserts Vaibhavi Hemasundar, Digital Managing Editor at Stitch Magazine. In other words, lavish, over-the-top clothing was a direct indicator of high status and importance. Today, however, you do not need to be Kate Middleton or Queen Elizabeth to style the romantic puff sleeve. As it has been integrated into society, the prominent look has become widely available and attainable, no longer defining or distinguishing social classes. 

Although most trends have a short life span, the puff sleeve has been on shoulders for countless seasons. Back in 2019, Forbes stated that “​​the maximalist trend shows no signs of slowing down.” Maximalism is the avant-garde, the over-the-top. As minimalism encourages pairing everything down to its bare minimum, maximalism encourages utilizing space in the boldest way possible. Today, according to FashionUnited, an international B2B (business-to-business) fashion platform, “consumers are shopping up puff sleeves from almost every retailer at a range of price points. Bloomingdale’s carries over 490 styles with the trend, at a median price point of 120 dollars, while fast-fashion brands like Nasty Gal carry the look for a median of 19 dollars, with puff shoulders available across tops, dresses and jackets”.

Back in the Renaissance era, the fabulous puff sleeve was known as the Juliet sleeve, in reference to the renowned Shakespeare love story, Romeo and Juliet. As an iconic-royal-princess, Juliet would be adorned in exquisite gowns, embellished with perfect puff sleeves; and thus the name followed. Women dreamed of wearing such a coveted style. However today, our rapidly developing world encourages all women to wear/sport the Juliet sleeve, and the style has even interrupted the top and tee-shirt market. According to Edited, an online retail intelligence site, more than 68% of puff sleeve items purchased are no longer dresses, but tops.

The puff sleeve is exactly what our wardrobe needs this fall. You can sport a soft puff on your favorite tee or blouse and pair it with your favorite boyfriend jeans or go bold with a statement puff on a floral dress. There are few items in the fashion world that obtain such a resurgence as the puff sleeve has. What started out as a rebirth of a romantic high-end trend for the upper-class, the super size sleeve is now timeless, affordable and accessible to the everyday modern consumer.