What are Kabuki Sleeves?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 January 2020
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Kabuki sleeves are wide, flowing sleeves which can be of any length, although they are often short. They are most commonly used in women's fashion, often in a combination with a loose, flowing top or dress. Most commonly, kabuki sleeves are used on a blouse. As a general rule, garments with kabuki sleeves are intended to evoke Japanese fashion aesthetics, as exemplified by the kimono, a major garment in Japanese culture.

The style comes from kabuki theatre, a Japanese art form which evolved from the highly stylized Noh theatre. The performance art first appeared in the 1600s, and is traditionally thought of as a people's theatre, since it is intended to appeal to the lower classes. Kabuki performances often have bright, colorful costumes along with song, dance, and physical performance. Many of the actors wear garments with wide sleeves which show off their hands and wrists so that audience members can clearly understand their gestures.

Kabuki costumes evolved from the kimono, a long wide sleeved robe which was at one point widely worn in Japan. As is the case with many stage costumes, the sleeves on kabuki kimono were often exaggerated for the benefit of the performance. Unlike formal kimono sleeves, however, kabuki sleeves would be kept relatively short and manageable so that actors did not trip on them. Kabuki sleeves are one of the many aspects of Japanese culture which have been integrated into the West.


Many plus sized garment manufacturers use kabuki sleeves on their products, since they flow loosely and comfortably over larger arms. Using kabuki sleeves also helps to obscure the upper arms, which makes some overweight women feel more comfortable. Generally, these kabuki sleeves extend approximately three quarters of the way down the arm. On garments designed for more slender women, kabuki sleeves may be much shorter, sometimes taking a very abbreviated form and ending very close to the shoulder.

Many department stores and boutiques sell garments with kabuki sleeves, depending on how fashionable they are at any given moment. It is also possible to make clothing with kabuki sleeves at home, using sewing patterns and a fabric of choice. Making garments at home allows sewers to customize their clothing, making small tweaks to the pattern so that it is individualized. If you have a favorite top with kabuki sleeves which you want to replicate, you can carefully cut it apart to make a pattern.


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Post 3

I think kabuki sleeves can be very pretty and flattering, and other are not as flattering. I personally love lose-fitting and flowing sleeves. I am actually medium-sized, but I absolutely do not like when clothes are tight in the arm, it feels very restrictive and uncomfortable.

I love kabuki sleeves that go either to the elbow or above the elbow. I think unless you have long arms, this makes your arms look really short and stumpy.

I love the flowing, silky type kabuki sleeves. They look so elegant and fashionable. I especially love when the kabuki sleeves are loose and flowing, and the rest of the shirt is fairly tight and form-fitting.

There are also quite a

few kabuki sleeves on sweater shirts that make them more unique and fashionable. I at least have to have one sweater shirt with kabuki sleeves to wear all fall long. They even look good with a tight long-sleeve shirt underneath. Kabuki sleeves are so much more comfortable and easy to move in that regular sleeves are.
Post 2

@indemnifyme - I can see how a smaller lady would look a little silly in kabuki sleeves. However, I have a few larger friends that absolutely love anything with a kabuki or a kimono sleeve.

As the article said, the loose sleeve is comfortable is you have larger arms. Also, those type of sleeves do look flattering on a larger lady. It seems like they kind of accentuate the positive and minimize the negative, if you will.

Post 1

I'm fairly slender, and I tried on a top with kabuki sleeves awhile back. It looked awful on me! I was practically swimming in fabric! It pretty much obscured my figure and made my torso look sort of blob-like.

I just say no to kabuki sleeves!

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