Puff sleeve or balloon sleeve: this is the name given to the type of sleeve which, in a very feminine and elegant manner, inflates at the height of the upper arm (for short sleeves) or of the whole arm, including the forearm (for long sleeves) and is then gathered at the end or at the wrist.
Romantic and sometimes exaggerated, balloon sleeves were introduced by the ladies of the upper classes already in the Middle Ages: they were detachable and could be attached to different dresses.
The workmanship of the fabric, the width of the puff and the details of the decoration narrate to indicate the wealth of those who wore them. In the era of the Tudors in England (1485-1603) the wider and more detailed the sleeve, the greater the possessions of those who sported it.
Henry VIII and Elizabeth I
In the Victorian era, then, they became truly immense with a growing in breadth that reached its peak in the Edwardian era : they were so exaggerated that in the newspapers of the end of the 19th century they were called "the imbecile sleeves".
Blouses and dresses of the period - 1894
Gradually, in the years that followed, puffed sleeves began to lose their width and deflate a little, mainly to allow more freedom of movement.
The 1920s, all freedom, comfort and "boys", sent puffed sleeves to the attic. But it didn't last long: in the 1930s they are back in all their glory . Bubbly and exaggerated for the divas, simple but still omnipresent in everyday dresses and sweaters.
With a more relaxed design, these full, flowing sleeves featured a dramatic new look that women loved to wear. The voluminous sleeves were also meant to lengthen the shoulder line , making way for the shoulder pads, which became increasingly popular during this period .
Shoulder pads rose to popularity not long after French fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli introduced them to the world in her 1931 collection.
Creations by Elsa Schiaparelli, anni '30
They were then worn by celebrities and influencers of the time. Notably, actress Joan Crawford wore them on the big screen, cementing their popularity and providing them with lasting power.
Joan Crawford and an advertisement in a magazine of that time
Coming to more recent times, we cannot avoid mentioning the wedding dress worn by the unforgettable Lady Diana . Designed by Elizabeth Emanuel, the dress had wide puffed sleeves and was embellished with frills and flounces.
Lady D's wedding dress
From this moment on, balloon sleeves return to impose themselves in fashion trends at alternating periods until they are completely dusted off in the 1920s of the new millennium.
In the beginning it was Saint Laurent who once again consecrated them to fashion, then all the others came.
Johanna Ortiz, Nina Ricci, Erdem, The Attic, 80s sleeves conquered the catwalks and then the streets.
Chloe SS 2020
From Marc Jacobs to Philosophy by Lorenzo Serafini passing through Chloe and Cecilie Bahnsen : their shows testify to the great comeback balloon sleeves. Over but sexy, sporty but elegant, cheeky but impactful.
Erdem SS 2020
Fendi FW 2020