There’s a sure-fire route to elegance when you’re looking for a dress, and that is to choose a long-sleeved design. Strappy little numbers and bustier dresses are probably more glam than glamorous, and show you’re ready to party, which is why they’re Christmas party and prom favourites.
But the covered shoulders and hidden elbows of the long-sleeve dress have an altogether more subdued, sophisticated and toned-down appearance, perfect for the swanky business do, a chatty dinner party or a country wedding.
Once you’ve settled on leaving your shoulders to the imaginations of the relevant section of humanity, the real work starts. Like any good clothes shopper, you’ll take inspiration (and possibly even a frock or two) from fashion’s rich history; that means do a little research in your local vintage clothing store - and don’t forget that there are some excellent online ones too.
On locating the long-sleeved dresses you’ll realise that it’s not a look that will inevitably succeed. There’s a certain chintzy, frumpy vibe about some of the sleeved dresses, and without paying too much attention you could well end up with the Barbara Cartland or Grayson Perry look, or you might look like you’ve just left the parish meeting in Midsomer – and that can’t end well.
To stay sexy and exquisitely feminine, let the natural shape of your arms, not the stiffness of the material, determine the shape of the sleeves. That’s why dress sleeves are often made of a much lighter material that the body of the dress, perhaps as light as a sheer fabric such as chiffon or lace.
While it would be nice to achieve a perfect fit, it would be difficult to achieve, especially prêt a porter, so the lightness of the fabric keeps the contours looking as natural as possible. A beautiful feature of even the most fitted sleeve is a subtle flaring towards the wrists. It has the most alluring effect of echoing the skirt of the dress and adds superb balance and poise to the overall shape.
Next we’re on to colouring and patterns. Quite probably, you’ll be looking for a little black dress, and it’s viewed as being a wardrobe staple for good reason. It can be accessorised to your heart’s content or left dark and simple to draw the eye to your face.
But further to this, once a noticeable pattern or stark colour has been established in a dress, it can easily become “too much” when applied to the sleeves, giving the appearance of an overflowing vase.
Needless to say, good design and tailoring will be all over this problem and allow all manner of wonderful shades to paint your figure, but remember that a dress can look a lot sleeker on the hanger than when it’s worn, and it’s easy to concentrate too much on the hips, waist and bust in the changing room mirror.