I actually remember feeling dismay when sleeves stopped being puffed. They
felt uncomfortably restrictive, weirdly fitted. Just WRONG. But styles
change, sure enough, and once we were in the 90s, puffed sleeves (along
with their soul sister, big ol’ shoulder pads) fell out of vogue. Like
Anne of Green Gables, I loved having luxuriant puffs on my upper
arms when I was a girl, but like a bowl of forgotten Sugar Smacks, even
those puffs went stale with time.
Why did we like them? Well, why NOT? They were feminine and flattering,
waist-whittling and sassy, and gave a little teeny bit of Victorian
flair to even the shiniest, most fluorescent outfit.
Lady Diana Spencer’s dress, worn when she wed Prince Charles of Wales in
1981, brought home the allure of the puff. Her wedding gown’s sleeves
were awesomely inflated.
Designer Carolina Herrera took the image of those puffed sleeves and ran
with it. She designed clothing for clients like Jackie Kennedy Onassis
and Nancy Reagan back in the eighties, full of puff and shine and drama.
No shy little cap sleeves here, ladies. Oleg Cassini, Jessica McClintock
for Gunne Sax, Laura Ashley, and Gloria Vanderbilt, among many others,
designed gloriously pouffy-sleeved garments for us, too.
I guess it was a no-brainer: we wanted our hair big, our clothes shiny,
our makeup bold, and our sleeves large enough to hide cantaloupes.
I love the 1986 movie “Labyrinth” for many, many reasons, only one of
which is the gorgeously pouffed dress that Jennifer Connelly’s Sarah
gets to wear in this dreamy ballroom scene with David Bowie’s Jareth:
Alexis Carrington Colby and her Dynasty cohorts loved a good puffy
Here’s a casual jumpsuit from 1983 that is about as 80’s cool as you can
get: yellow plastic beads with matching shiny belt, zipper, pleats,
popped collar, and, yeah, big puffy sleeves (pictured left). RADICAL.
I love this fresh and snappy vintage sailor dress (pictured right), perfect for work or a
This ladylike teal dress (pictured left) was perfect for a mid 80's
holiday party. The gathered waist, the scooped back, the swishy skirt,
those full sleeves: so pretty! This shapely royal blue dress (pictured
right) gives an elegant and sophisticated spin to puffs, ruffles, and
gathers. Alexis would have loved it.
Formal wear was a natural outlet for our 80’s puff dreams. Check out this
prom photo from North Miama Beach Senior High’s prom in 1984. I love the
plunging neckline and ruffle-pouffed shoulders on Kevin’s date’s plum
dress. Both lovely and dramatic:
Here’s a fabulous shot of prom in 1987, in all its pink-and-pouffy satin
glory (pictured left).
Check out this gorgeous shot, also from 1987, of a metallic silver dress
designed by Prue Acton (pictured rght). Awesome!
I think I don’t have a single puffed sleeve in my closet, and that’s a
shame. It’s fun to dress in 80’s retro gear, and one big tell for an
article of 1980’s ladieswear is a set of fully inflated shoulders.
Fortunately for me, stores like Ebay, Etsy, and good old Goodwill are
happy to oblige my love of the puff.