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In Fashion, what is a Drop Shoulder?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 21, 2024
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In fashion, a drop shoulder is a seam line that hangs down from the shoulders to form a sleeve. Fitted shirts and tops have sleeves that start with shoulder seams, but in the drop-sleeved look this is never the case. The dropped shoulder lines on garments may result in short or long sleeves depending on how the fabric is cut. The drop shoulder sleeves may be left in one piece or fabric may be added on to create a two-piece sleeve.

For instance, the lantern sleeve has a very short drop shoulder upper part and a wider lower section of fabric added on to it. The resulting look is a two-piece boxy sleeve that is still usually quite short in length. Sleeves typically found on medieval-style costumes are an example of two-piece dropped shoulder looks that are very long. The shoulder seam is usually only slightly dropped from the natural line of the shoulders, while the sleeve width is narrow and elegantly tapered. A horizontal seam close to the elbow starts off a second, narrowly tapered sleeve section that is gently gathered so the fabric flows out onto the hands.

A basic one-piece drop shoulder look is considered the easiest when sewing or knitting. A simple square of fabric or knitted work only needs to be sewn at the upper shoulders and sides to create a top with a naturally dropped sleeve. Since the look is plain, it works best with textured knits and patterned fabrics. The natural dropped shoulder look is known as a dolman or batwing sleeve when it tapers to the wrist.

The drop shoulder sleeve is especially popular in men's, women's and children's casual tops. Sweatshirts, sweaters and T-shirts often have dropped shoulders to complement their loose, comfortable fit. The off-shoulder style can be part of a ladies' summer or evening wear look in which the shoulders of a halter or spaghetti strap top are dropped down to leave the shoulder bare.

Dropped shoulder kimono sleeves are extremely wide. This drop sleeve type can be found on bathrobes as well as women's silk tops. A drop shoulder, kimono-sleeve silk top with a self-tie belt can look elegant with trousers and high-heeled sandals.

Dropped shoulder styles are flattering to most figure types. They can balance out a pear-shaped body that is narrower on top and wider in the hips. Longer drop shoulder sleeves can also hide thick or flabby arms. Full, proportionate and slim body types can all be flattered by dropped shoulder seams, but care should be taken to choose the most flattering sleeve width depending on each individual's height and personal sense of style.

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Discussion Comments
By strawCake — On May 17, 2012

I'm not surprised that medieval-style clothing had a drop shoulder. As the article said, it is the easiest kind of sleeve to knit or sew. In the medieval times, people made all of their own clothes, so it stands to reason that they would choose the easiest type of sleeve to make!

My mom sews, and from what she tells me, some of the other sleeve types are very time consuming. Especially a cap sleeve, which is actually bigger than the armhole. You have to ease it in and gather it in places, and you definitely don't need to do this when you have a drop shoulder. Everything just matches up!

By sunnySkys — On May 17, 2012

@starrynight - I agree that a drop shoulder top isn't flattering for everyone. However, I happen to look pretty good in them, so I have a lot of kimono sleeve tops and dresses.

Kimono sleeves were very popular for a few years, so I stocked up while I could find them! They seem to come in and out of style every few years, so I didn't know if I would be able to find kimono sleeve the next season.

However, it does seem like plain drop shoulder tops are always available, so I guess you're in luck if you like that style.

By starrynight — On May 16, 2012

I'm a knitter, but I've never made a drop shoulder top. I must admit, I completely hate the look. And it looks awful on me! It might be easy to make, but it definitely isn't worth taking the time to make something I will never, ever wear.

Instead of going the easy route with a drop shoulder design, I made a raglan sweater for my first sweater. Yes, it was a bit more complicated than just making some rectangles. However, it was well worth it to create a flatter sweater that I now wear all the time!

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