The Bell Sleeve and Return to the ’70s

| Sep 19, 2016
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In the last century, each decade had it’s own unique style. You’ll remember the flapper of the 1920s, the Jackie-O look in the 1950s, the mini-skirt and Twiggy look in the 1960s, the Bohemian look of the 1970s, and so on. In the 2000s, the look became a mishmash of the previous decades. My personal favorites are the ’50s and the ’70s, so I was pleased to see many ’70s looks returning over the past year. Among them is the “Bell Sleeve,” a very feminine design  for both blouses and dresses that characterizes the modern boho look.

Then and Now

But how do today’s ’70s-style trends compare with when they actually happened the first time around?  (Then) Take the flirty floral dress for example. Love Story actress Ali MacGraw (above, left) was all smiles as she modeled a charming printed bell-sleeved Ossie Clark dress, complete with tights and tall leather boots.  (Now) Designer Hedi Slimane had the same idea but gave his flirty frock a sexy spin on the Saint Laurent runway with a plunging scoop neckline (above, right)


(Then) Or  Bianca Jagger partied it up in 1977 in an off-the-shoulder, ground-grazing white number with tiered ruffles and lantern sleeves while (Now) Roberto Cavalli took away the sweetness that comes with a pretty sheer dress by pairing it with an embellished chambray shirt, casually buttoned just so.


The Bell Sleeve

What is the bell sleeve? The bell sleeve is a sleeve that gets increasingly wider as it goes from the elbow to the wrist. Tops with bell sleeves are a great way to add a more dramatic style to your wardrobe.

The bell sleeve was first worn by women  during the renaissance. Women would hide things in the sleeves of their dresses. Back then, the bell sleeve was primarily made with velvet or cotton fabric. Today the bell sleeve dress or blouse can be found in all different kinds of fabric.  A particular fabric that the bell sleeve style is being made with is lace fabric giving it this vintage 1970s look. The extra detail makes these bell sleeve dresses look like one-of-a-kind with the see-through lace around the sleeves. Wear it with a a cowboy hat or a pearl necklace with wedges and you’ll be ready to rock spring break out in style.

These feminine, bell-sleeved blouses are a beautiful choice for your casually chic lifestyle.


There’s a bell sleeve for everybody. If you like a more dramatic look, then go for a longer or wider sleeve with more flounce.

As far as styling goes, you’ll want to keep these things in mind:

  1. Pick a bell-sleeved top is not too wide or baggy. The sleeves are already wide. Add a wide top and you are going to look sloppy and heavy.
  2. Keep your bottom half streamlined. You’ve got a lot of movement up top so keep things compact and narrow down below. For example, a pair of skinny jeans or leggings will really emphasize the sleeves.
  3. Wear simple accessories, so as not to distract from the drama of the bell sleeves.

How To Look Modern

Deborah from Fabulous After 40 shows us how to be modern with this timeless look. For her there are some dresses you never forget like this wine colored, velvet mini dress with the huge bell sleeves that her mom wore back in fall of 1970. “Oh, how I loved that dress! I was just a little girl at the time, and this was one of my first fashion crushes. I remember mom wearing it to a cocktail party and then letting me play dress up in it. What a thrill it was to wave my arms around in those cool bohemian sleeves. I adored that dress, and I’ll never forget the way it made me feel.”

Fast forward to today. Deborah was shopping online and came across this darling wine colored lace dress with these pretty bell sleeves. It brought all those wonderful memories flooding back. Bell sleeves are a huge trend for fall, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Everything old is new again, but  there’s a  modern twist. This adorable ’70s-inspired dress looks totally up to date thanks  to colored lace, a slim cut, and fab accessories including these strappy, nude sandals and hip crossbody bag.


I could see this dress at so many different events. You could even switch out the shoes for a cute pair of sexy booties, or flat boots, or even flat shoes would look really cute, too.

This fall, there’s a bell sleeve for everybody. If you like a more dramatic look, then go for a longer or wider sleeve with more flounce. This feminine, blue, bell- sleeved blouse is a beautiful choice for your casually chic lifestyle.


Key hint: When shopping for a bell sleeve dress make sure that you try it on in person before purchasing. Bell sleeves can fit differently on people depending on your size and arm length. If you are shopping online make sure to read the reviews and to check the return policy. That way if it doesn’t end up fitting right it can be returned.

Are you ready to make a statement wearing bell sleeves this fall?

Take a look at these offerings from two of my favorite retailers, Unique Vintage and Nordstroms. Click on these links for complete offerings or the pictures below for the item shown

Unique Vintage

Nataya 1930s Black & Beige Sleeved Tulle Romantic Party Dress

ITEM #:P17421



1970s Black Floral Long Bell Sleeve Flare Shift Dress

ITEM #:P39932


1960s Mod Style Black Chiffon Bell Sleeved Bradley Flare Dress

ITEM #:P21420



Bardot  ‘Mila’ Cold Shoulder Lace Midi Dress


Emmie’ Bell Sleeve Lace Sheath Dress


Betsey Johnson Bell Sleeve Lace Shift Dress


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Category: Style, Transgender Fashion, Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

Tasi was a transgender, married, lifelong crossdresser. She passed away in late 2018. She’s the founder of the Ladies of the Blue Ridge transgender group in Roanoke VA, a prolific writer, commentator and blogger including fashion articles for Tri-Ess, TG Reporter, Repartee, and Pretty T-Girls magazine. Tasi currently resides in Merida, (Yucatan) Mexico. Her new website, Sister House and her blog, the Fashionable TG Woman are dedicated to fashion and style for the transgendered woman. Tasi’s book, "Top Ten Fashion Mistakes By Crossdressers and How To Fix Them" is available on Amazon or on her site free to subscribers.

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