Fabric arm coverings, or sleeves, were an essential part of the clothing ensemble worn by both men and women during the Renaissance. Although sleeves were sometimes attached directly to men's doublets (overshirts) and jerkins (jackets) or to the bodice of women's gowns, just as often they were made separately and were attached to garments by means of points, or small ties at the connecting end of both garments. Because these sleeves were interchangeable, they could be worn with a variety of garments to create a different look.
There was a huge variety of sleeve styles that were worn during the sixteenth century and beyond. They all used some of the several distinctive sleeve styles, including puffs, panes, and padding. Puffs were large bunches of fabric that puffed out in a circle around the arm. They were most common at the top of the sleeve, near the shoulder, but could also appear at the elbow or at the wrist. One German sleeve of the midcentury featured a series of puffs all the way down the arm. Another common sleeve feature was panes. These were panels of fabric that ran the length of the sleeve. They might be in contrasting colors or fabrics and were sometimes pleated. A popular style of the late century was called rising panes and featured a series of panes caught into vertical puffs. Also late in the century padding and stiffening was added to allow sleeves to hold a rounded melon shape. All of these features were used to add volume to various parts of the arm.
Most sleeves combined puffs and panels with a length of sleeve that was very close fitting. These features were adorned with ribbons, jewels, slashing, a decorative technique that involved making small cuts in the outer fabric of a garment, and other decoration. Both men and women might also wear false sleeves along with regular sleeves. These attached at the shoulder but hung down behind the arm, often in large billows of fabric.
Sleeves were an essential part of the wardrobe, so they were made in the same rich fabrics as other garments, including silk and velvet. They often had fancy lace or linen cuffs attached to the ends of the sleeves.
Cassin-Scott, Jack. Costume and Fashion in Colour, 1550–1760. Introduction by Ruth M. Green. Dorset, England: Blandford Press, 1975.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.