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In fashion, the term “dolman” is used to refer to two radically different styles of garment. While the different usages of the word can lead to confusion, the type of dolman under discussion is usually readily apparent from context, or an examination of the garment in question. The word comes ultimately from a Turkish word, dolaman, meaning “robe.” The word and the style of a flowing robe were picked up by the Hungarians, who used dolmany. From there, the word spread into German, French, and eventually English.
The first type of dolman is loose, long, and flowing. It features trailing sleeves that are attached to a long jacket or tunic with a narrow opening in the front, and a row of buttons or frogs to hold it shut. These garments often resemble capes, since the sleeves blend in with the body of the clothing. The sleeves for this type of dolman have actually appeared in a number of styles, ranging from cape-like sleeves which were extremely loose with a great deal of extra fabric to sleeves which were form-fitting partway down the arm before opening to a wide bell.
This type of dolman was very popular in the late 1800s, when many women adopted styles with Oriental influences. The dolman typically flared at the bottom to accommodate the large skirts popular during that era, and the trailing sleeves were considered romantic, although not terribly practical. A variety of textiles were used to make dolmans, ranging from lightweight material such as that used in scarves to much heavier fabrics like brocade and velvet.
The term is also used to refer to a tunic worn by the Hussars, a type of European cavalry. In this context, a dolman is a snug, form-fitting garment which also buttons down the front. This dolman may also be long, but flaps are cut into the bottom so that it can be worn over a saddle. The sleeves fitted and caught at the wrist so that they will not infringe upon freedom of movement. Many designers have adopted the dolman to make stylish winter jackets.
Both styles of dolman are available for sale in department stores and boutiques. Many sewing stores also carry dolman patterns, allowing women to customize a dolman in a preferred fabric or shape. The loose, flowing dolman is relatively easy to make, since the excess fabric is forgiving of small mistakes. For a more form fitting dolman, however, more extensive sewing skills are required.