All about Sleeves (+ How To Pick the Best Style for You)

When you make your own clothing, you have the advantage of choosing what construction works best for your style and your body shape in addition to choosing color and fabric. For knitters, the sweater pattern that we choose is often based on what is easiest or our favorite to knit, but we should truly take advantage of the opportunity to be able to choose what works best for our body shape. For those of you who do not make clothing, knowing the different shirt and sweater constructions and how they fit different bodies will help you to make better selections in the store. Here is a guide:

Set-in Sleeve


Flourish pattern by Alana Dakos, made with Hazel Knits Cadence and knitted by yours truly.

This is the most common type of sleeve for a dress shirt and what you may see referred to as a “tailored shirt.” A set-in sleeve has the most seams and therefore will hold its shape the best on a knit fabric.  This style has a tailored look and, when it fits properly, can be very flattering on the most body styles. If the line of the top of the sleeve doesn’t hit the very edge of your shoulder, the shirt or sweater will look stretched or misshapen (unless the piece is meant to be oversized, of course). But the shoulder seam should never fall before the end of your shoulder. It’s important that the fit is just right on this style.

Drop Sleeve / Drop Shoulder


Migration pattern from Brooklyn Tweed Wool People 10 collection.

Drop shoulders are making a come back! I see these most in bulky weight knits, like the one shown here. It has a looser fit and a more casual look. This style also has plenty of seams to help the item hold its shape and not stretch. It looks flattering on a variety of body shapes, although the extra ease usually found in these sweaters might overwhelm a smaller body shape.



Jonesy pattern in Spincycle yarns, knitted by yours truly.

This style is what you see most on sweatshirts and baseball t-shirts. The sleeve line runs from the neckline diagonally down to under the arm. It cuts across the shoulder and creates a line that accentuates the shoulder. This is helpful for those with larger chests who want to help balance chest size with shoulder size. If you have broad shoulders, however, this diagonal line will accentuate the shoulders and make your top look wider than it actually is.



Francis top by local designer Olga Buraya-Kefelian.

This is hands down my favorite cut of shirt and sweater and, although it is probably not the most popular out there, one that can be very flattering on a lot of body types. The sleeves and body of a dolman top or sweater are all one piece. With no reinforcement or definition around the shoulder or armhole, they hang off of your body and can make someone very petite look even smaller. Because of the extra fabric, they can add bulk to bustier women as well. If you are bustier, try a lighter-weight knit fabric, which will be more flattering in this cut. But dolmans are incredibly comfy and definitely a great piece to layer with. (I love to wear dolmans over yoga clothes when I don’t have time to change after class.)



Cockatoo Brae by Kate Davies, from Yokes collection. Photo credit: Kate Davies Designs

Yokes have less structure than most sweaters and are worked in the round from the top down or the bottom up, with no seams at all. You will recognize them as the winter sweaters with color work or Fair Isle that wraps around the top of the garment and shoulders.  Yokes that do have color work will accentuate the top of the body, specifically the shoulders and chest. Because of the lack of seams, an open neckline on a yoke style sweater will often pull with wear, so be sure to layer something under the sweater that will help it to “stick” in place.

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