Q: I was at a wedding reception in a hotel ballroom where most of the women in sleeveless or strapless prom dresses (and no hosiery) were freezing— the a.c. is always cranked up too high at these places. I had a shawl, but it was a nuisance taking it on and off when I was on the dance floor. I am in my 60s and there are just too many sleeveless dresses in stores. I would love to find a way to modify party dresses. There must be a way to add some lacy sleeves and raise up the neck or cover up the back (like Kate Middleton’s wedding gown). —K.D., Charlotte, N.C.
A: Sleeveless and backless prom dresses have been confounding women of all ages—when designers began pushing winter sheath dresses without sleeves in recent years. Inexplicably, there’s just not enough variety of trendy dresses with sleeves, retailers and buyers agree—yet designers have been slow to heed the call for covered arms.
Toned “wedding arms”—are right up there with flat abs—as the hallmark of beauty for many women who can’t get enough of sleeveless. Meanwhile fleshier women have stayed warmer—and hidden—under shrug sweaters or pashmina wraps.
Indeed, Kate Middleton’s V-neck wedding gown covering her arms and back in elegant lace—as well as the stylish wardrobes of actresses Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda, just how great—and varied—sleeves can be. It’s not about zeroing in on one-designer; alert your personal shopper to be on the lookout when those great –looking frocks with sleeves (they come and go in a hurry!) hit the sales floor.
And learn the ways to modify sleeveless and strapless dresses. A skilled tailor/dressmaker knows how to fashion all kinds of cap sleeves and stretch, see-through “illusion” fabric to cover arms and backs. “Illusion sleeves are like pantyhose for your arms,” wedding gown guru Vera Wang once told me when she created a fabulous, illusion sleeved costume in all white, for Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan.
Scour the web for ideas on how to attach sleeves to all kinds of dresses. A black sheath dress looks chic with smoky black illusion sleeves. Lacy inserts can be added to cover the backs and fronts of strapless dresses. Consider sewing on cap sleeves in lace, tiered flutter sleeves or pleated puffy sleeves, in silk or nylon. Study the list of pictures on boards. weddingbee.com and on Pinterest.com (under: “adding sleeves”, where you will also see many tutorials aimed at home sewers and tailors.)