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The Museum at FIT spotlighting statement sleeves in 2024

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Thierry Mugler, silver metallic lamé dress, fall 1979. Gift of Clarins Fragrance Group/Thierry Mugler Perfume. Credits: Museum at FIT 'Statement Sleeves'

The Museum at FIT in New York is asking “What is a statement sleeve?” with its 2024 exhibition featuring nearly 80 fashion pieces from its permanent collection.

Opening on January 24, ‘Statement Sleeves’ will feature the works of designers such as Balenciaga, Tom Ford, Schiaparelli, Vivienne Westwood and Thierry Mugler, exploring how sleeves serve as a vital mode of self-expression, reflecting gestures, movements, and specific fashion eras.

The exhibition, curated by Colleen Hill, curator of costume and accessories, will be organised thematically or by complementary aesthetics rather than chronology, explained The Museum at FIT in a statement.

The opening section, 'Fundamental Forms' will provide visitors with an overview of common sleeve shapes such as the bell, bishop, and raglan. Each piece will be made from black fabric to allow visitors to focus on the shape of the sleeve. Highlights will include a blouse in silk faille with puffed sleeves demonstrating the leg-of-mutton style fashionable in the 1890s and a man's robe from the 1920s, made from stripes of silk and velvet, featuring kimono-inspired sleeves.

Next up will be ‘Opening Statements’ exploring how some decades had a particular affinity for elaborate sleeves, with garments on display from the 1890s, 1930s, and the 1980s. Highlights include a 1980 dress by Madame Grès with oversized, draped sleeves alongside a spring 2022 dress by LaQuan Smith that combines draping and a puffed sleeve to create a contemporary silhouette.

Madame Grès, navy blue silk taffeta evening gown, circa 1980. Gift of Mrs. Mildred Hilson. Credits: Museum at FIT 'Statement Sleeves'

'Puffs and Folds' delves into innovative new shapes, including a 1920s brown silk evening set by Milgrim, featuring straight sleeves inset with puffs of red patterned fabric, while ‘Pleats and Ruffles,’ will showcase a 1920s blue velvet coat sold in New York by Mae and Hattie Green with sleeves gathered into wide tucks that dramatically extend from under a broad collar.

This will be followed up by eye-catching styles in the 'Embellishment and Adornment' section, including a fall 1968 couture dress by Marc Bohan for Dior, featuring sleeves densely embroidered with feathers, sequins, and beads.

While ‘Performance and Purpose’ explores the functionality and adaptability of sleeves, contrasting a late 19th-century coat designed to restrict arm movement with a contemporary design by Lucy Jones creating specially shaped and detachable sleeves intended for wheelchair users and people of diverse abilities.

The exhibition continues with 'Sheer and Split' sleeves, displaying an 1830 gown made from cream silk satin with short, puffed sleeves enveloped by full over-sleeves in sheer chiffon and a spring 2011 ensemble in orange and fuchsia silk, designed by Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton with full sleeves split down the length of the arm and gathered into a cuff.

‘Statement Sleeves’ concludes with 'Asymmetrical and Mismatched,' offering playful designs, including Stephen Burrows' colourful creations with contrasting sleeves and a suit by Christian Francis Roth from fall 1990 featuring one sleeve made from green wool embellished with the word 'Rothola'.

The exhibit will run from January 24 to August 25, 2024.

Museum at FIT