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Power Puff: How To Style a Puff Sleeve Dress in 3 Easy Steps

Power Puff: How To Style a Puff Sleeve Dress in 3 Easy Steps Puff sleeve dresses are more than a passing trend, staying on runways from 2020 to 2023 with...

Power Puff: How To Style a Puff Sleeve Dress in 3 Easy Steps

Puff sleeve dresses are more than a passing trend, staying on runways from 2020 to 2023 with no signs of leaving. Flowy and easy-wear nap dresses may have kicked off the puff sleeve craze, but design houses worldwide took this inspiration and ran with it — in about a million different directions.

Puff sleeves are unmistakably high-impact. It can be a challenge to style these dresses without ultimately succumbing to the power of the puff. Use a keen eye and consider the type of puff sleeve, the dress's overall neckline and coordinating elements to balance a puff sleeve look.

Perks of a Puff Sleeve Dress

This decade wasn't the first instance of a puff sleeve renaissance, but it's definitely been the most exciting. Today, the puff sleeve trend pulls from all over fashion history. Most people think of the 1980s and the iconic Mugler silhouette when they think of big sleeves, but their history goes much farther back.

Modern dresses with extremely puffy sleeves and under-the-bust empire necklines would fit on the fashion plates of the 1830s (from the waist up). Sleeves that are enormous at the shoulder but fitted around the wrist were the defining style of the late 19th century. A modest puff at the shoulder with a textured trim fitted down the arm dates back past this current puff sleeve renaissance to the literal Renaissance.

With all of these wildly different style inspirations falling under the umbrella of "puff sleeves," there's no one-size-fits-all styling solution. Instead, balancing these outfits is an exercise in playing with volume.

Experty Style a Puff Sleeve Dress in 3 Easy Steps

Here's how to style any dress with a puff sleeve in 3 easy steps.

1. Pick Your Puff

A puff sleeve is an eye-catching design choice that must inform the rest of the outfit. Get to know the different types of puff for the best fashion results.

Balloon Sleeve

Balloon sleeves have the most volume of any puff sleeve, expanding like their namesake from the shoulder to where they gather at the wrist. Baloon sleeves tend to be narrower at the top and billowy at the forearm.

The most common modern puff sleeve is a half-balloon sleeve that gathers at the elbow instead, but the wrist variant gives much more drama. A full balloon sleeve dress is a perfect choice to wear bare-legged for a night out, but you can also contrast its old-fashioned vibes with a subversive pair of fishnets.

Leg-of-Mutton Sleeve

A leg-of-mutton sleeve has extreme volume around the shoulder and tapers to hug the forearm. This was the original statement sleeve almost a hundred years ago, and it still makes a big impact today on a puff sleeve dress.

One expert way to handle the extreme shape of this sleeve is to keep the rest of the outfit tapered as well, with the shoulder the only point of volume. The leg-of-mutton sleeve may not have the most glamorous name, but it's still a style heavy-hitter that needs its spotlight.

Petal Sleeve

A petal sleeve represents the softer side of puff sleeves, perfect for petites. These sleeves may wrap softly around the shoulder or feature flowery ruffles, and they usually lean more toward romance than high drama. Reflect the delicacy of this sleeve by styling it with ornate accessories, such as a tiny jeweled bag or drop earrings.

Cold-Shoulder Puff Sleeve

The cold-shoulder puff sleeve gives pure 1980s vamp and is a bold style serve. The easiest way to modernize any '80s silhouette is dead simple: slicked-back hair and minimal makeup. Emilia Clarke put this rule into action, looking equal parts adorable and stylish in a bright red cold-shoulder dress at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

2. Consider Your Neckline

Don't get so distracted by a fabulous puff sleeve that you forget to consider a dress's neckline. Puff sleeves and a high neckline are a classic high-fashion combination that puts all the visual weight on the top of the outfit. A sweetheart neckline skews more 1980s vintage, while a square neckline gives that classic storybook princess look. Use these inspirations to guide your shoe and accessory choices for the rest of the outfit.

3. Balance the Visual Volume

A huge sleeve doesn't have to overwhelm the rest of your look or your natural silhouette. Here are some ways to balance an over-the-top puff sleeve with smart styling.

Sheer Accents

Sheer fabrics are a win on two levels: They're trendy and they introduce needed negative space to a puff sleeve dress. Director Ava DuVernay mastered the tricky leg-of-mutton sleeve by making it into sheer perfection.

Matching Skirts

A tight, fitted skirt is an easy way to balance a puffy sleeve on a dress, but who said looking stylish was easy? Puffed sleeve dresses can also go in the other direction, creating cohesion and more volume by matching the skirt to the sleeve.

A coordinating skirt fabric and cut keeps one of these dresses cohesive without turning down the volume. Choosing a mini dress in this style puts a spotlight on your favorite pair of high boots.

Bold Shoes

Any shoe you pair with fabulous sleeves has to hold up its end of the outfit. Leave the nude heels for another look. Instead, choose a shoe with presence to balance out the statement sleeves.

The classic pairing for a puffy sleeve is a pointed-toe shoe, and this can be a good way to tie together a more traditional outfit. However, a color-blocked open-toe pump is another great choice that updates any puff sleeve to the 21st century. If a puff sleeve dress is especially voluminous, sleek boots or thigh-high stockings can add visual balance without drowning the look in extra volume.

Shop the Latest Fashion Trends at Affordable Prices

Puff sleeves are style symbols of so many different eras and aesthetics. At Kate Hewko, we love playing with bold proportions and accessories that can hold their own with any puff sleeve dress. Browse our collection of fashion-forward dresses to find plenty of powerful puff sleeves.


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