Sleeve styles define a shirt more than any other design element. Sleeves, or lack thereof, make a shirt suitable for the season, the occasion and the fashion. Sleeves come in dozens of styles, the basis of which is a basic straight sleeve. From there, a variety of trims and pattern manipulations turn a basic sleeve fancy.
Bell sleeves are usually three-quarter length or long sleeves. They are generally tight from the shoulder to the elbow then they bell out onto a wide sleeve opening. Bell sleeves experienced the height of popularity in the late 18th century, and the trend still continues. Bell sleeves can be made as one piece of fabric by increasing the width of the sleeve opening and blending the wider opening lines into the elbow. Bell sleeves can also be seamed at the elbow, adding another circular piece for maximum volume. Trims such as lace are added at the seam or at the sleeve hem, adding a feminine element to the shirt.
Puff sleeves are sleeves that are gathered into the armhole and at the sleeve hem. Puff sleeves are mostly short sleeves on a knit shirt but are seen on woven shirts as long or three-quarter length, using smaller amounts of volume. Puff sleeves are created by extending the sleeve pattern from the center out, then gathering it back into the same measurement as it originally was. Sometimes they include elastic at the sleeve hem for comfort, other times they have a binding at the sleeve hem. Puff sleeves have been popular on and off since the 16th century, experienced a resurgence in the 1980s, and have recently become popular again.
A flutter sleeve is flat at the armhole and wide at the sleeve hem, creating a flutter effect. For shirts, flutter sleeves are popular in shorter, mid-bicep lengths, but since the 12th century, long, flared sleeves have been a prevalent fashion staple for men and woman alike. This sleeve is made by cutting vertical slash lines in the basic sleeve pattern from the hem to just below the armhole of the sleeve and opening the slash lines at the hem to the desired width. The open slashed spaces are filled in, and the sleeve is cut along the outside of the new sleeve shape. A flutter sleeve is much like a flared skirt. They are different from bell sleeves in that they create far more volume and flare from the armhole seam instead of from the elbow. Flutter sleeves are done best in light, airy fabrics such as chiffon, light jersey and crepe.
A raglan sleeve has a completely different sleeve pattern than any other sleeve. Instead of the armhole going from the underarm to the shoulder in a circle, the sleeve seam goes from the underarm into the front and back necklines. The raglan sleeve is for a sportier shirt because it is roomier and can be flatter than a set-in sleeve. Raglan sleeves are usually short or three-quarter length.