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Sleeves make a dramatic statement at The Museum at FIT

By VICKY VELOSO-BARRERA, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 13, 2024 5:00 am

NEW YORK—Sleeves may function chiefly as the part of clothing that cover the arms, or at least part of them. But they can do more than just protect skin from the elements or provide a measure of modesty.

In the hands of creative fashion designers, sleeves can provide drama and theatricality, indicate status and social standing, cast a spell of allure and glamour, convey strength and formidability, or fragility and a sense of being vulnerable. Their styles can cross centuries, borders, gender, or body types.

Statement Sleeves is the current exhibit at FIT’s Fashion and Textile History Gallery.

Sleeves can become in themselves a canvas for all kinds of embellishment and adornment. The range of shapes, lengths, frills, and technical details fills a whole landscape of design.

Sally Milgrim on the left and John Galliano for Dior on the right

The current exhibit Statement Sleeves at The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York defines the term as “a sleeve style that is exaggerated, embellished, elaborately constructed or otherwise eye-catching to the extent that it defines a garment.”

The concept and practicality of detachable sleeves has been around for centuries.

The exhibit, running until August 25, 2024 and curated by Colleen Hill, invites the viewer to explore a rich collection based on the type of sleeve and not chronology. Certain styles have been around for centuries, such as the bell or the raglan, but are continuously reinterpreted by designers. Other sleeve construction designs may be very simple yet the feathers, sequins, embroidery, and ruffles transform them into wearable pieces of art.

This $500 dress in 1965 by James Galanos was one of the most expensive of its time, but eliminated the need to wear jewelry.

Even the ancient Egyptians were found to have been stylishly pleating sleeves, as seen in a 5,000-year-old linen dress at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology in London. 

Sleeves throughout history have been revealed through portraiture, paintings and photographs. Trends like the puffed sleeve repeat themselves through various eras in different centuries. 

The puff sleeve by Carolina Herrera, who felt sleeves mattered when you sat at the dinner table.

Recently, because of the amount of interaction done through Zoom meetings and video calls, sleeves became a fashionable way of expressing ourselves in a pandemic-altered world.

Thierry Muglet’s silver lamé evening dress from the Spiral Futuriste collection: His vision for formidable women uses tucks to provide a strong architectural appearance.

The 70-plus pieces at FIT’s Statement Sleeves may seem deceptively small, but we were entranced for hours at the beauty, the skills, the range of shapes and even the sheer ingenuity of sleeves that were created for wheelchair-bound wearers.

Lucy Jones wanted to “challenge the infrastructure of mainstream fashion, which overlooks the needs of wheelchair users and people with diverse abilities. She uses a classic white shirt, makes the sleeves stylish and interchangeable and with magnetic fastenings to make them easy to use.”

Sleeves are often seen more than other parts of an outfit, such as when one is seated at a desk, a counter, at the dinner table or viewed on a screen. This visibility is what makes them a powerful tool in design, whether they puff out dramatically or drape fluidly, stick out stiffly or extend on slightly, whether they are in practical denim or lush brocade. They can awe, repel, entice and invite one to take a second look, a closer inspection and more than a moment to appreciate their style and creation.