Friday, July 19, 2013

60s fashion elements - The Bishop Sleeve

Some of the things about 60s clothing tend to catch my eye when trawling through Pinterest or Tumblr. Certain elements that you begin to notice as integral parts to the look that was being worn by the Dolly Birds and Dandies of the time

In this set of blog posts, I want to explore the different elements of clothing that we often associate with or were popular in the 60s

I'll try to explain the construction of these elements and show some examples of these styles

There are many features that became popular in the 60s - most of which already existed in some form and were adapted for modern youth wear, or were invented from scratch through the genius of designers like Mary Quant or André Courrèges

This week we are going to have a look at Bishop Sleeves. Read onto the end for a little tutorial.

This particular type of sleeve is distinct in shape - a long sleeve, fuller at the bottom than the top, and gathered into a cuff, similar to some Church Bishops sleeves - hence the name.

Bishop Sleeves have been in use intermittently since the 6th century in the Byzantine era and were common during the 1830s to 1860’s.

double puff bishop sleeve
Civil War couple - Bishop Sleeves with smocking
They were also featured in the 30s and 40s from suit jackets to silky nightgowns.

A lovely peasant blouse by Vogue, circ 1943.  I always love peasant style tops, but it's those full bishop sleeves that really make this pattern.
Vogue 9872; ca. 1943; Blouse. Gathered tuck-in blouse.
New deep drawstring neck-line adjusts fullness front and back.
Full bishop sleeves, or very short puff sleeves
Vintage 30s Hollywood Claire Dodd Balloon Bishop Shirred Sleeve Blouse Tunic Top Jacket REPRO Sewing Pattern 982 B34

Vintage 30s Hollywood Claire Dodd Balloon 

Bishop Shirred Sleeve Blouse Sewing Pattern 982 B34

1940 | Deep Plum color Wool Crepe Bishop Sleeve Short Jacket by Lilli Ann

1940's Lilli Ann Film Noir Dramatic Bishop Sleeve Jacket

The style became popular again in the mid-60s and was popular on dresses and blouses and later became an important part of the hippy look.

They were often paired with a puffed shoulder like in the Biba example below, or with a simple set in sleeve.
It can also be broken up half way down the arm with a seam to create more emphasis on the shape.

biba dress


Bishop Sleeve on Left
The "hippy" look joined bishop sleeves with peasant blouses in light cotton or linen which made them soft and added to the ethereal nature look.

"Chicks up front"
Esquire Magazine
They continued to be popular into the 70's and 80's in Lycra and polyesters which suited the softness of the style

70s Vogue Paris original Pattern 2444 Guy Laroche Dreamy Evening Gown Plunging To The Waist Neckline Full Bishop Sleeves Slim Underdress Bias Over Dress Beautiful Design

70s Vogue Paris original Pattern 2444 Guy Laroche Dreamy Evening Gown Plunging To The Waist Neckline Full Bishop Sleeves Slim Underdress Bias Over Dress Beautiful Design

 Bishop sleeves balance out a silhouette and make the shoulders look smaller in comparison

1960s fashion.

The Carnabetian Army: Dolly in a Box Marianne Faithful
Marianne Faithfull
The cuff can be as simple as elastic, decorative smocking, a bias casing, or a full buttoned cuff with placket

Teenagers dancing, 1960's.
The girl on the left with metallic shift - placket Sleeve with 3 button cuff
Britt Ekland
Britt Ekland - Luce cuffs
Apply Boutique
Jenny Boyd at the Apple Boutique

Fashion illust 1969
Fashion Illustration showing cuffed sleeve with decorative trim

Left - Bias band cuff, Right - Buttoned cuff
Pattie Boyd
Pattie Boyd. Sleeve with Elasticized cuff

Colleen Corby, 1960s.
Coleen Corby - Sleeve with banded cuff
They can be constructed in most fabrics from velvet to cotton, but look especially idyllic in soft fabrics like chiffon, silk or a light jersey - as it allows the sleeve to billow over the wrist and move freely.

Penelope Tree
Penelope Tree - Smock in textured velvet
Cilla Black & Bobby Willis.

Cilla Black on her wedding day to Bobby Willis. Cilla is wearing crimson velvet with puffed bishop sleeves

couture5692.JPG (535×790)
A red crepe dress showing its Cosack inspiration by Jean Patou, Vogue Pattern Book April-May 1969

The pattern for bishop sleeves can be a single piece or a 2 part piece. This 2 part piece allows the back part of the sleeve to be longer than the front. When the arm is hanging straight down, the sleeve will be obviously longer at the back and the cuff will be pulled up slightly at the front. This is done so that when the elbow is bent, the cuff becomes straight and doesn't restrict movement in the elbow.

And now a tutorial for a basic Bishop sleeve with bias case

Start by cutting the sleeve and cuff from the fashion fabric

Run a basting stitch along the bottom edge of the sleeve and pull to gather

Take your cuff and iron in the two long edges (Ignore the short edge crease...)

Pin the bias onto the sleeve - pulling it around so that it all fits on

Sew the first layer of the casing

Fold it over and sew the bias closed

Stitch the inside of the sleeve to close


You can also do the sleeve in reverse to keep the seams neater - Arm seam first, then attach the cuff.

Are you a fan of the bishop sleeve? Do you have a favourite garment which features this type of sleeve?

Cat xo


  1. Hello, dear Catherine! You astound me with your knowledge of a subject about which I admit I know very little. You make learning fun and interesting as evidenced by this educational post.

    In 2007 I spent the entire year watching hundreds of movies from the 30s and 40s and remember seeing many screen sirens wearing clothes that included the Bishop Sleeve. It's a fabulous look and, as I gathered from your essay, one that never goes out of style for too long if at all. I certainly remember the peasant blouses and Bishop Sleeve variations that made up the hippie look of the late 60s and early 70s. My favorite pictures here are Marianne in her dolly box, the uncanny pose of Coleen Corby and Cilla Black looking absolutely smashing on her wedding day!

    Thank you for a very informative post, dear Catherine. I hope to see you over at my space tomorrow (Saturday) when I will accept the blog award you generously bestowed on me and answer your questions and Lucy's.

    1. No worries Shady! I really enjoyed researching for it. I'd really like to see some of the hollywood movies from those years, but they are hard to come by unless you have pay tv.
      Ill pop buy your blog soon!

    2. It sounds odd today, but in the 70s I owned a men's wide-collared red shirt with Bishop's sleeves and and 3 buttin cuffs. I can't say 'd wear it today, but back then I thought I looked sharp. Sometimes I wore a sleeveless seater/jumper over the shirt. I was huge and well built in the 70s, which may (or may not) have helped.

  2. Great post. I made Tilly's Mathilde blouse which has a similar sleeve. I was really unsure of all that volume at first but you get used to it.

    1. Oh i love her blouse! I have narrowed down sleeves in the past, but lately, the fuller the better

  3. I've yet to make anything with a bishop sleeve but I do have a couple of dresses (all from Topshop I think) which have them and they are fun to wear. This post has actually reminded me how much I like them, I'll have to go through my pattern stash to see if I have anything with a bishop sleeve now (my sewing to do list is getting longer by the day!).

    I found the tutorial really informative too, you explain things very well! x

    1. I'm glad you liked it! I'm really starting to like writing tutorials :)

  4. Another good tutorial Cat .
    I have only one dress with Bishop sleeves , a 60's cocktail mini dress with black sheer sleeves .But i wear it only for important events : a bit too classy .

    1. that does sound very nice and classy. Is it similar to Megan's dress from mad men?

  5. I loved reading this post! I am a big fan of bishop sleeves and have a few dresses with them, some with the elasticized cuff, and one other with a buttoned cuff - my favourite. I agree that they look particularly beautiful in soft fabrics like chiffon. One of the ones I have is a green chiffon 60s style mini dress with ruffles at the bottom. Though I would really like to have a stain blouse with bishop sleeves. I've been hoping one would pop up in a second hand store for me for years.

    1. Wow that green dress sounds so pretty - do you have a photo on your blog?
      Have you tried etsy for a satin shirt?

  6. Thank you Catherine for this fashion history post. I hope to read more of these in the future. The Bishop sleeve was/is smashing!

  7. Thanks for such a great post and tutorial! I loved the history behind it. I definitely want to try this :)

    1. You definitely should! They're pretty fun to wear

  8. I have a few patterns with these sleeves :) I've actually just made a blouse with a similar sleeve (though it's a modern pattern!). Great information on the history of it!

    1. Hi Jen! Thanks for coming over, i love your blog! xo

  9. Ahhhhh! Now I want to make a dress with bishop sleeves! I just might. I'll be crediting you for inspiration, lady!

    1. Well they were big in the 70s! and from what i gather, this is your favourite decade? I hope im not wrong there.
      Thanks lovely!

  10. wow this looks absolutely IMPOSSIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm a Muslim woman looking to make a long dress (abaya) with sleeves like this!! I have no clue what template I could use for the long dress because I guess it's not so you have any tips on which dress pattern i could use that would be similar to an abaya?! Great sewing by the way! excellent.

    1. oh how exciting! I do love this type of sleeve, their so feminine and actually very easy to make. There are lots of patterns out there that feature this kind of sleeve and its really easy to modify an existing straight sleeve to make it this style - here is a link to Tilly's tutorial on how to modify a normal sleeve. her's is 3/4 sleeve but the idea is the same

      Good Luck!

  11. This is incredible, thank you so much! I'm doing this as part of my practical work in textiles for School, and I was so nervous about making a bishop sleeve. Tried a prototype of the sleeve using your instructions, worked out perfectly, thank you so much! Keep going with your amazing blog!

    1. Well im glad i was able to help and i hope you get a good mark! good luck!

  12. ahhh so THAT"S what they're called-bishop sleeves? Thank you so much, I have been wondering for so long what this sort of sleeve was called, I thought it was called 'gathered sleeves' but I failed textiles in high school (at an all-girls Catholic school in Hobart where it was seen as an important subject!) so I'm completely useless, and because of my uselessness when it comes to sewing I don't even know what to google for when trying to find out the names of things! Your blog has taught me so much and as a huge fan of 60s-70s fashion (just see my blog for example) I really need to brush up my general knowledge in the textiles field. I owe a debt of gratitude to you for teaching me many things and making me overcome my aversion to what my rebelllious younger self thought was too girly a subject, and which I now solemnly regret..sigh..if only I had have paid attention in class back then I could make my own and my children's clothes instead of forking out the big $ for them now in the shops. Thank you Catherine, <3 Cindy


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