Age-Wise Style: Dresses with Sleeves

Photo: Getty Images (2); ImaxTree

InStyle’s Fashion Director Cindy Weber Cleary has been a fashion editor for the past 20+ years. Needless to say, she’s picked up some tricks along the way. Catch her column here each week for how-to tips and style secrets on her favorite, timeless styles.

Say it loud: Sleeves, please! I hear it over and over from my peers and pals when they are looking for a cocktail dress. If they find a dress with sleeves, it’s inevitably too short. If they find a dress that’s knee-length, it’s usually sleeveless or strapless. If they are lucky enough to find one that’s the right length and has sleeves, it’s often too low-cut! Sigh …

As a “fashion person,” I kind of know why this is. In the past, I personally have given the advice to "show some skin somewhere”—but recently I have come to the realization that many women don’t want to, myself included. It’s not just about figure issues. It’s about your lifestyle, where you are going, and, often, about skin tone. When I was in my 30s and 40s, I loved baring my neck and arms. Now, not so much. So instead I suggest showing off your assets by wearing a dress that is fitted somewhere in the silhouette if you don’t want to show bare skin.

I have to give a shout-out to a couple of designers. First, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, designers of Maison Valentino, since 2008. It almost seemed like they singlehandedly brought sleeves and modest necklines back to fashion’s forefront. They design for women of all ages, but never leave adult women out of the mix.

And then, there are two websites that I am aware of which allow you to search the dresses category by the filter “sleeves”: and There aren’t as many options as I would like to see, but I’d like to applaud their insight into what this relatively wealthy demographic (the 50+ designer customer) is looking for.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon shopping for a cocktail dress for myself. I need something that I can wear to upcoming work-related holiday parties that’s festive—yet classic enough that it won’t go out of style in a season. Here are some of my finds. I’m leaning towards the Erdem. I hope you find one you like too! Cheers!


From left: Erdem, $1,900,; Maison Martin Margiela, $1,444,; A.P.C. Atelier de Production et de Création, $810,


From left: J.Crew, $495,; Rag & Bone, $495,; Dolce & Gabbana, $1,577,

Runway inspiration (at top, from left): Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, and Valentino.

Related Articles