I love any chance to successfully introduce some drama into my wardrobe (hello, I'm a Leo), so when everyone started talking about how to style the puffy sleeve trend, my ears perked up. With credit to Mara Hoffman, Simone Rocha, Alexander McQueen, and Beyonce's arms at the 2020 Golden Globes, puffy sleeves are the statement-making detail of the season. But before you dip your toe— er, shoulders, I should say — into the trend, you should know puffy sleeves have the potential to tap into a rather unfortunate aesthetic; there's a very thin line between serving romantic shoulder drama and Victorian-era pirate vibes.
The good news, however, is that there are several foolproof styling tips for puffy sleeves that'll make it look less like you're attending a nautical-themed costume party and more like you're a master of the latest fashion trends before they've even walked off the runway. Puffy sleeves have the potential to dominate your look (which is when you can steer into the dangerous waters of a pirate aesthetic), but these six outfit hacks keep the focus on your outfit as a whole. From opting for a lengthy silhouette that evens out the shoulder drama to a cinched waist that adds a point of definition amongst all the volume, here are a few ways to ensure puffy sleeves won't stage a mutiny on your look, along with some prime puffy-sleeved options.
Texture adds weight and structure.
When it comes to a detail as voluminous as puffy sleeves, texture is your BFF. A heavier fabric decreases the overall flounce of puffy sleeves (peep this structured blouse from the Brock Collection Spring 2020 show for proof), which means you won’t look like a windswept sailor. Organza sleeves or structured cotton will provide the stiffness needed to tone down the, at times, unruly puffiness of large sleeves and return the control over your look.
Maxi dresses balance out your silhouette.
Naturally, puffy sleeves are little attention stealers. If you want to balance out your sleeves, a style element that can stand its ground against a big sleeve is key. Enter: maxi dresses. The floor-length silhouette of a maxi dress visually evens out the drama happening up top and adds to the statement of the overall look. Although this style combo moves away from pirate-inspired looks, I feel like there is potential here for a film franchise featuring female pirates in maxis with puffy sleeves. Someone call Keira Knightley!
Bold prints add an extra statement to your look.
At first thought, a puffy sleeve and bold print together might seem like Way Too Much, but when done properly, they can be the unexpected duo you never knew you needed. The two work together to add drama and recenter the focus on your outfit as a whole, instead of having all the attention on one element. If you're looking for even further evidence that a bold pattern and puffy sleeve work in tandem, take a look at this gorgeous gown from the Simone Rocha spring 2020 show. Might I suggest either a bold polka dot or a vibrant floral in combo with your puffy sleeves?
A cinched waist tones down the volume and adds shape.
If puffy sleeves remain unchallenged, their eye-catching volume has a tendency to overpower your look, putting you on a fast track toward pirate-zone. Luckily, there's an easy solution to quell the drama happening on the upper half — all you have to do is cinch in your waist. By adding an element that draws in the waist, you add definition and keep the focus where it belongs: on the look as a whole. Whether you choose a peplum shape, a chunky belt, or corset detailing, a cinched waist is a great shape-defining detail, as seen here with this stunning dress from the spring 2020 Mara Hoffman collection.
Sheer fabric is a more subtle option to showoff the trend.
Puffy sleeves can be intimidating because, let's be honest, they're basically little balloons on your shoulders. If you're wary of too much volume, a puffy-sleeved item with sheer fabric is a perfect way to ease into the trend. Since the fabric is transparent, there's only a gentle outline of the puffy sleeves, as opposed to a full-on opaque sphere on your upper arm, so the overall look is less intense. Want some inspiration for sheer, puffy sleeves? Check out this Simone Rocha piece from their spring 2020 show.
Jumpsuits visually even out the look with a powerful silhouette.
Say it with me now: "Jump! Suit!" Similar to a maxi dress, a jumpsuit with puffy sleeves also has the long silhouette needed to even out all the volume at the shoulders, but with a different vibe than a super feminine maxi dress. Jumpsuits are a power move, so when coupled with a whimsical detail like puffy sleeves, you get a versatile look that works with any mood or event.
Puffy sleeves are the ultimate statement, but they can also teeter dangerously close to Jack Sparrow's aesthetic if you're not careful. (Unless, of course, you're into that, and in that case, full steam ahead.) With these six style tips, you can easily work this fun, yet occasionally fussy, element into your fits, while showing everyone you're still the captain.