Dolman sleeves, sometimes called batwing sleeves, are sleeves that are cut deep and wide at the shoulder, with armholes extending almost to the waist. The sleeves taper to the wrist, and when the arms are held outward the fabric hangs in a long wing. Unlike set-in sleeves, dolman sleeves are usually cut as one piece with the top of a dress, blouse, jacket, or coat. Full and roomy, the sweeping sleeve had been used for women's clothing since around 1910 but reached a peak of popularity in the early 1940s.
The dolman sleeve design was originally borrowed from a garment worn in Turkey and other parts of the Middle East called a dolman as early as the Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500). The dolman was a loose, cape-like robe with very loose sleeves formed from folds of the robe's fabric. Europeans adopted Eastern styles starting in the sixteenth century and used the dolman as a model for a military jacket, also called a dolman, that continues to be worn in parts of Europe in the twenty-first century. The dolman sleeve was simpler to sew than a set-in sleeve, and so it was widely used when sewing techniques were still in the early stages of development.
During the first two decades of the 1900s, people were fascinated by designs from the East, and so the dolman sleeve was revived as a modern, exotic fashion. One of the great appeals of the dolman design is that it gave an elegant, flowing line, while allowing the wearer freedom of movement. In the 1940s, following the hardships of the economic depression of the 1930s, glamour and elegance became very fashionable. The dramatic lines of the dolman sleeve were perfect for those who wanted to dress with the flair and grace of a movie star. In 1941 the dolman dress became one of the most stylish dresses a woman could own.
Within a year, however, World War II (1939–45) had caused fabric shortages throughout Europe and later the United States, and the baggy fabric of the dolman sleeve went out of style. The dolman sleeve returned at the end of the war as part of the ultrafemi-nine New Look of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The dolman sleeve had another period of high popularity during the 1980s, when it returned as the batwing sleeve, both on formal clothes and on sportswear.
Baker, Patricia. Fashions of a Decade: The 1940s. New York: Facts on File, 1992.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.