Bell sleeves are back — but the 70s-inspired style can be a tricky trend to pull off without looking like you just stepped out of a time machine. The key to making old trends new again is just that: make them look new. We turned to celebrity fashion stylist Kimmie Smith to give us the lowdown on this comeback classic.
"Designers have been playing with reclaiming this trend by creating flutter sleeves," Smith explains. This means the lower part of the sleeve carries the volume, as seen here on ZARA's embroidered blazer, rather than the whole arm being flared.
Choosing pieces with interesting textures and fabrics is a fashion must, and this blazer checks both of those boxes. Pair it with a simple, fitted shirt to let the blazer stand out.
Patterns and interesting details are also key. The checkered motif on this Madewell gingham blouse is part of its appeal, along with the lace-up sleeves, which give the classic style a fresh spin. For a layered look, wear a cropped cashmere sweater over the top. Cropped sweaters and cashmere are both on Smith's "do" list.
Bell sleeves aren't just for granola types with throwback taste. "They can be elegant as well as bohemian," says Smith. The Not Your Baby Jumpsuit from Free People from Free People captures that aesthetic perfectly. Jumpsuits can make your frame appear more shapely and the subtle ruching details here add just the right amount of structure, while the red color makes a bold statement. Plus, hello, pockets!
If you do have boho on the brain, the Scotch and Soda Poet Dress from Bloomingdale's has all the ruffles and cut-outs you'll need to fill that desire. For a slightly edgier style, simply incorporate a moto jacket. As Smith explains, it slims the arms and allows the arms to peep out the bottom for extra visual appeal.
There's something to be said about going all out with this trend from time to time. "It's best when you play with proportion," says Smith. While she does warn to be careful pairing it with other pieces that also have a lot of volume, it's all about finding your moments. Free People paired its Glorious Sleeves Pull-Over (and man, are those sleeves glorious) with a wide-leg pant. It was a risk, but it's one that paid off.
Lady in Lace
For those who still don't believe that bell sleeves are anything but a throwback to more psychedelic times, this could change your mind. They can easily slide on over to the glam category, seen here with J. Crew's Daisy Lace top, which is elegant, refined and perfect for both the office and date night.
Another perk to bell sleeves? As Smith points out, they're whimsical and feminine. Wear this Sacred Heart jacket from Free People and you'll feel like you stepped out of a fairy tale. The velvet texture and metal embellishments make it a perfect pair for your basic pieces when you don't actually want to look all that basic.
"You can accessorize with rings even though your fingers may not always be visible," she adds. Wanna talk shoes? She says a skinny stiletto heel or a moto boot are both great choices.
While there are definitely a lot of "dos" to bell sleeves, there is one major "don't": fall colors like rust, orange, and brown are no-nos. That's when your ensemble can start to seem more 70s-Halloween costume and less modern bombshell. Stick to a fresh color palette and new, interesting textures to avoid a complete '70s throwback.