“What Fashion Has Up Its Sleeves”

Fendi Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear
Photo by Daniele Oberrauch for Gorunway.com

There’s no question that a great sleeve can define a silhouette and make an outfit stand out. Undoubtedly, the Museum at FIT believes so. An upcoming exhibition at The Museum at FIT, “Statement Sleeves,” runs from December 6, 2023–May 19, 2024.

More than 60 styles from the museum’s permanent collection will highlight how sleeves can define a look — in both the past and present. According to a press release, visitors to the exhibition will see “the myriad ways in which designers have reinterpreted and remixed sleeves through variations in material, shape, embellishment and even functionality.” While one usually thinks of sleeves as a way to cover arms (for warmth, protection, and beautification), for many, sleeves serve another purpose.

C.Z. Guest on the cover of Quest

For decades, men and women have been nonchalantly tossing their sweaters around their shoulders and tying the sleeves “just so.” This fashion affectation became a signature of the late socialite and fashion icon C.Z. Guest, known for her aristocratic good looks and easy, breezy patrician fashion persona.

Angelica Huston and Halston,
Photograph by Berry Berenson Perkins

A man of great personal style, Halston often tied a black cashmere sweater around his shoulders. In an article written by the late fashion journalist Bernadine Morris for The New York Times on December 9, 1971, “Halston’s Revival Of Sweater Girl,” Bernadine noted that Halston’s spring collection is remembered as the one that brought back the cashmere sweater set.

According to Morris, what was most notable was what Halston did with the cardigan: he had his mannequins toss them over their shoulders “with the aplomb of Fred Astaire with his evening cape” or tied it around their waistlines by the sleeves.

Michael Kors Spring 2023 Ready-to-Wear
Photograph by Filippo Fior for Gorunway.com

One measure of Halston’s success is counting the number of women who copied his famous gesture and wore their cardigan sweaters knotted around their necks or waists. The gesture was not lost on Michael Kors, whose spring 2023 collection was an obvious homage to Halston. FYI, the sweater scarf, priced at $695, is currently available in black cashmere at michaelkors.com.

Giovanni Battaglia
Photograph by Christian Vierig for Getty Images

Coincidentally, in an article in 2022, US Weekly hailed the act of tying a sweater over the shoulders as “the look of the moment” and predicted it would be a “top trend for 2023.” As I watch the spring 2024 shows unfold, I notice several designers are putting their spin on sweater sleeves as a decorative element; warmth, practicality, and usefulness are beside the point.

Proenza Schouler Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear
Photograph Courtesy of Proenza Schouler

I first observed this at Proenza Schouler, who showed their fabulous collection on the second day of NYFW. Among the fabulous leathers, iridescent paillettes, and lightweight knitwear was a long lean halter dress with sleeves that tie at the bust, seen on the runway in both red and white.

Brandon Maxwell Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear
Photograph Courtesy of Brandon Maxwell

A similar idea repeats at Brandon Maxwell’s show just a few days later. Brandon’s luxuriously minimal collection included a long brown leather skirt decorated with tiny bows, shown with a gray cashmere sweater with sleeves that wrap around the bust and an oversized pullover made of thick ribbed off-white cashmere paired with a long off-white skirt.

Fendi Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear
Photograph by Daniele Oberrauch for Gorunway.com

On the first day of spring shows in Milan, Kim Jones’s lovely Fendi show highlighted a cool, easy, effortless vibe, played out in a pleasing color palette, mixing dusty pastels with tan and brown. Leather, sometimes in color blocks, and knitwear were the strong points. Included were several sweater sets with cardigan sleeves tied around the shoulder. There was also a pale yellow cashmere tank with sleeves in a more vivid yellow, tied at the bust.

Celine Fall 2013 Ready-to-Wear
Photo by mirrorme.me

Phoebe Philo, seemingly ‘there’ before everyone else, keeps popping into my mind, especially now. I thought of the time when Philo sent a grey trapeze coat with knotted sleeves down the runway of her highly acclaimed fall 2013 collection. The fashion industry swooned, but for many, the coat was a topic of discussion for different reasons.

Left, Geoffrey Beene, 2004, Right, Celine Fall 2013

Jeremy Lewis, creator of the now-defunct blog Garmento, noticed the striking similarities between the Celine coat and a coat designed by Geoffrey Beene in 2004. He posted a side-by-side comparison of the coats, which shows the two garments to be nearly identical, from their structure (trapeze) to their unique construction (sleeves knotted in the front) to their color (a pale grey).

While Celine declined to make a statement, many others were not surprised. A spokesman for the Geoffrey Beene Foundation commented that the late designer, who passed away in 2004, had “inspired designers over the past several years.” The coat in question, recreated by Céline in 2013, was a signature piece of Mr. Beene’s and a representation of his timeless pieces.

At the time, Karl Lagerfeld told WWD, “I must say I was a little shocked .” For me, it is just more proof that, in fashion, all roads lead back to Geoffrey Beene!

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Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.


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