A dolman sleeve is narrow at the wrist and wide at the point where the arm attaches to the garment. This style is used on women's garments, often on sweaters or dresses. The sleeve is cut as a part of the torso of the garment, eliminating the need for stitching under the arms. Sleeves in this style can be anywhere from slightly over-sized to stretching all the way down to the waist.
The term 'dolman' is a Turkish word meaning 'robe.' It is named for a loose-fitting garment that was similar to the cassocks commonly worn by Catholic priests. It was worn in the Middle East and Turkey during the Middle Ages. This style was copied by Europeans in the 16th century, and used as a military jacket.
Dolman sleeves were originally popular because they were simpler to sew than set-in sleeves. This is the type of sleeve found on most modern garments — the sleeve is attached by stitching to the body of the clothing. A dolman sleeve required no extra stitches, and prior to the invention of any automatic sewing machinery, this was a significant time-saver.
When a garment with a dolman sleeve is worn, the sleeves have the effect of sloping at the shoulders. This, in turn, minimizes the appearance of the waistline. These sleeves also add a sense of movement to a garment, as they will bunch and flow as the wearer moves.
This style of sleeve has seen several periods of popularity in recent history. In the early part of the 20th century, it was lauded as an exotic fashion from the East. During the 1940s, post-depression culture spawned a desire for decadence and elegance, and the dolman sleeve was considered one of the most fashionable choices a woman could make.
In the 1980's, the dolman sleeve had a resurgence in fashion culture, and was known as the batwing sleeve. This was due to the shape made when the arms were held out to the sides of the body. The style was popular in both formal dress and sportswear.
Dolman sleeves are still manufactured — mostly on sweaters, tunics, and other shirts. Originally, a true dolman sleeve was required to come to the wrist, but many current styles include three-quarter length or t-shirt length sleeves as well. Some outerwear with dolman sleeves does not taper at all. Dolman-sleeved garments are typically made of light, flowing material rather than heavy cotton or wool.