The Right to Not Bare Arms

by Kim Crow

You know springtime is in the air when ladies are shedding layers and wriggling into lighter dresses and tops — and cries of “But what am I going to wear on my arms?” rise from Evie Lou’s fitting rooms.

The issue of bare arms is probably the most common one we hear about sleeveless dresses and tops. When I’m buying for the stores and website, the No. 1 thing I’m looking for is flattering, easy dresses with a bit of edge and with sleeves — and these are as hard to find as a crooked smile at the Oscars.

That’s one of the reasons we treasure designers such as Aimee G, who offers the option of adding a sleeve to most of her dresses and tanks for a modest additional charge. But a funny thing happens on the way to the cash register: It’s our experience that people will still buy sleeveless dresses, even when we provide an alternative.

Over the past four springs, we’ve routinely brought in the same Aimee G dresses in sleeved and sleeveless versions. We might change the color options or bring the pieces in at different times of the season, but essentially, we’re selling the same styles. And almost all of the time, the sleeveless ones sell faster. The same holds true with our other popular brands that offer a sleeve vs. no-sleeve option, such as Rundholz, Veronique Miljkovitch and Cut Loose.

Customers’ reasons for this? Read on:

— Sleeveless looks “springier” and “dressier.”

— Fit can be compromised when sleeves are attached to a garment. There’s more likelihood of pulling across the bust and shoulders with a set-in sleeve. Also, it’s easier to size down in a dress when you remove the arm/shoulder factor.

— Sleeves tend to make a garment appear visually “heavier” and thus “too hot” for some of our gals to wear in the warmer months… even if we gently point out that adding a top layer to cover their arms will be warmer than wearing one layer that includes fabric on the arms.

It’s a conundrum, to be sure. So many women won’t even consider a dress without sleeves, at least at first, yet don’t like their options for those with sleeves, dismissing what we have as being too hot, too unseasonal and too matronly. (Keep in mind, it’s often the same dress being compared, one with sleeves, one without.)

We’ve built up a decent collection of cover-up alternatives, from mesh boleros to lightweight cotton cardies to Sleevey Wonders (these are sleeved underpinnings that snap in front, right over the bra, sort of like a dickey for the arms), but every dress has different demands, and it can be really challenging to find the right piece for every look.  Often, the cover-up covers up what one actually likes about a dress!

I’m encouraged that more and more designers are beginning to offer cardies and cover-ups designed to go with their sleeveless pieces. And in the meantime, we’ll continue our little sleeve-vs.-no-sleeve experiment with the same dresses, the results of which play out in the next season’s buy.