Monday, April 11, 2011

The Style Dictionary: Kimono Sleeves


I got an e-mail from a reader quite some time ago asking how I learned style terminology and whether there was a book that could point out the difference between a shift and a sheath, for instance. To be honest, I don't think I learned a lot of these terms until I got into vintage patterns. Vintage descriptions of clothing seem so much more detailed to me than our modern language. For a fun new feature, I thought I would do dedicated posts to various style terms. The posts will include examples from vintage patterns and vintage clothing. Let's jump in today with a simple but fascinating one: kimono sleeves!

Dior's "Ecarlate" Dress of 1955
Kimono sleeves are drafted in one with a bodice. They look very simple (and almost boxy) when you look at the pattern piece. But on the body, they create a lovely, soft effect.


Kimono sleeves are, in fact, modeled after the Japanese kimono and they gained popularity during World War II when Asian styles became more wide-spread. In the 1940s, kimono sleeves were still worn with shoulder pads, retaining that popular strong-shouldered look.

With the advent of Dior's New Look in 1947, with its softer silhouette, women favored more subtle shoulder pads--or none at all.

{source}
As bodice styles became more fitted, designers would add an underarm gusset (a triangular pattern piece) to a kimono sleeve to keep a close fit while still retaining mobility for the wearer.

Underarm gusset
Pattern pieces for the style above
By the early 1960s, kimono sleeves were still in style, but bodices had gotten a little blousier, eliminating the need for gussets.

{source}
There we have it, the amazing kimono sleeve! Please let me know if there are any particular entries you would like in this new series.

38 comments:

  1. I love seeing this evolution of style. Thanks, Gertie.

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  2. So what, then, is the difference between a Dolman and a Kimono sleeve? Or are they two names for the same things?

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  3. Love the posting. I've wonder where the term Empire Waiste came from.

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  4. Great idea for a series of posts! I had to look up the details of a Kimono sleeve on Wikipedia last week - I thought it was a sleeve set into the body at right angles.

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  5. So interesting reading about terminology.

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  6. Vintage grrl, dolman sleeves are much wider at the armhole (they can be as low as nearly the waist) and they taper to very slim at the wrist or forearm.

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  7. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

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  8. Although when we learned to draft a kimono sleeve I couldn't imagine using it, it's now my very favorite arm silhouette of all!

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  9. That red Dior dress is absolutely stunning! I always thought that kimono sleeves were synonymous with dolman sleeves, so I wouldn't have guessed that they might be so figure flattering. Thanks for the lesson.

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  10. I am in love with that red Dior dress!It epitomizes everything I love about dresses from that time period.

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  11. Such an interesting new segment! I enjoyed this entry very much. Thanks Gertie!

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  12. What's the difference between ruching and gathering? They seem like the exact same thing but ruching is a term used more often in magazines and gathering in patterns.
    What are those flaps called that usually hang over the top of a 50s style dress? http://www.etsy.com/listing/69966167/shorts-bustier-or-crop-top-sewing Sometimes they go over sweetheart necklines and the rectangular collar piece becomes two separate things that don't connect at the center. Thanks so much!

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  13. Great idea! When you do these entries, could you also show a modern example of said style? Thank you!

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  14. Oooh, lots to consider:

    skirt styles: A-line, dirndl, bell

    various types of darts

    collars/neckline treatments: sweetheart, fichu, platter, shawl, peter pan, nehru, spread, wing

    different types of set-in sleeves, including those gorgeous rotated styles that involve a trapezoidal bodice back

    love the sheath/shift idea

    the use of tailor's points and pad stitching

    buttonholes: bound, keyhole, handstitched

    pockets: flap, bound, patch, hanging

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  15. Really interesting - thanks. Perhaps it is worth noting (because the examples are mostly drawings it doesn't show up all that clearly) that kimono sleeves do tend to need a quite drapey fabric because, whatever you do, you get folds down the arms. You can quite clearly see the vertical folds running down the sleeves of that wonderful Dior dress and they are drawn in view A of butterick 9097. But if one weren't expecting them one might be surprised and think there is something wrong with the fitting. It will be fascinating to see the other entries you do.

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  16. That Dior dress is a beaut! I'm not quite getting the construction though. Is it open like a coat from the waist down, or is that simply a trick of the light/ perspective/ photo?

    There are so many terms I don't know I wouldn't know where to start! I'll take whatever is going, as I'm sure to learn something every time.

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  17. To me whe kimono sleeves on current patterns are way too big to flattering. The vintage sleeves are the most becoming

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  18. Oh, that dress is GORGEOUS! I will enjoy this "series" of posts very much - thanks Gertie!

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  19. Awesome idea on the Style Dictionary! I'll have to really consider what my questions are, before asking half-cocked. But I love how you're helping so many of us round out our knowledge of our craft. Thanks!

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  20. I am going to enjoy this series, thank you. I design and make most of my own clothes and know what I want but rarely have the correct name. I too did not know the difference between kimono and dolman, until now that is.

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  21. Great post! One thing that drives me nuts is people renaming styles with a name already! Like the harem pant trend a while back....Those were not harem pants! They were dropped crotch pants. It makes shopping on etsy impossible sometimes. Maybe a book of fashion terms and styles is in order...

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  22. OMgoodness - I had the same question about kimono versus dolman. Thanks for answering Vintage Grrl's question.

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  23. Great post, and great idea for a series. Love it!

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  24. Great explanation, thank you! I have a vintage pattern to sew that will require a kimono sleeve and can't wait to try it.

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  25. Kimono sleeves, I like knowing the term and which sleeves it applies. I know that style and remember seeing my Moms patterns. That same sleeve was popular in the seventies - I remember seeing girls wearing tops that were cut with almost no collar. Cut from one sleeve to the other sleeve. Front and back sewn together and left loose around the bottom of the blouse. Thanks for the history.

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  26. Kimono sleeves, I like knowing the term and which sleeves it applies. I know that style and remember seeing my Moms patterns. That same sleeve was popular in the seventies - I remember seeing girls wearing tops that were cut with almost no collar. Cut from one sleeve to the other sleeve. Front and back sewn together and left loose around the bottom of the blouse. Thanks for the history.

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  27. Gertie, I would love to see a post on how to make and insert an underarm gusset! ('Cause you obviously need more to do...)

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  28. This is a brilliant idea for a blog posting series. I will be sure to tune in to whatever tems you choose to define for us.

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  29. I am really looking forward to this series!

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  30. I love kimono sleeves - LOVE! And I didn't realize that gussets were in the earlier versions because of body skim. Of course, it makes sense. I just never thought it out.

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  31. I've used kimono sleeves almost exclusively for months now--I love it for tee shirts! Also thanks for the kimono/dolman clarification.

    I'll definitely be sharing this series with all of my customers at the fabric store I work at in Venice CA (if anyone's ever in the neighborhood).

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  32. I have a pattern-making book from the 30s, in which kimono sleeves are called "Magyar sleeves."

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  33. Although actual kimono have separate sleeves, so this term always puzzled me.

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  34. I would love to see an entry on (or possibly debunking of?) the word "shirring". Is it actually any more than a fancy sounding word for gathers? Because it seems like a complete buzzword that is way overused. Kids these days!

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  35. Terrific topic!

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  36. What on earth is a facing, why does one need it and are there situations where you don;t?

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  37. Teen in DesignlandApril 20, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    I love kimono sleeves. They're so cool! I want to put them on a dress someday.

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  38. Where is there authenticity/provenance for a kimono sleeve being cut in one piece without body/sleeve seam? I think you are referring to a dolman sleeve which has been accepted in American terms as a 'kimono sleeve.' I cannot find anywhere in Japanese or Chinese apparel history where the "kimono" was anything but originally the attachment of five rectangular pieces of cloth. Two fronts, one back and two sleeves. I think you are not correct, but following a recent US history and accepting it as correct. Much like toile in the US has been accepted as what Europeans term as toile de jouy. To call/term toile de jouy as "toile" is incorrect. Toile is french for canvas and the "toile" pattern, printed fabric Americans call toile is toile de jouy. I think you/we/USA are doing the same to kimono sleeve and distorting the basic "kimono block" pattern that I learned in UK fashion school. Comments?

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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