What Does It Mean to Be Sleeved out?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Within the world of tattoo enthusiasts, being "sleeved out" means getting tattoos – one large tattoo or many smaller ones – that cover one’s entire arm. When the entire arm from the shoulder to the wrist is covered with tattoos, that person is known to be sleeved out, a reference to the size of the tattoo being similar to that of a shirt sleeve. Being sleeved out can also refer to leg tattoos that cover the entire length of the leg, but more often the term is reserved for arm tattoos.

Being sleeved out can present many problems for the wearer, particularly in regards to the job market. Many companies and organizations have taken to banning sleeve tattoos, or any other types of tattoos that will show while wearing normal work apparel. For example, many branches of the Armed Forces have banned sleeved tattoos, making it impossible for those with full sleeves to enroll in certain sectors of the Armed Forces.


The practice has become extremely popular in the United States, however. Being sleeved out takes an immense investment of time and energy to plan the theme of the sleeve – if there is one, and most individuals with full sleeves do prefer some sort of unifying theme. In addition, sleeves can take weeks, months, or even years to complete, as collaboration with the tattoo artist is necessary – as is a significant amount of chair time to get the actual work done. Variations of the sleeve tattoo include half-sleeves or quarter sleeves, both of which also require an individual’s prolonged commitment to the project.

Getting one’s arm sleeved out can become an extremely personal investment of time and talent, and the final product can end up being an expression of art and personality if done correctly. The phenomenon is becoming popular enough that fashion designers are beginning to base clothing off of sleeve tattoos and even add many similar designs to their shirts. However, the pitfalls of full sleeve tattoos are extremely evident, as with other types of tattoos, because they cannot be removed and require a lifelong commitment. In addition, maintenance of sleeved out tattoos can become tricky: tattoos are sensitive to sun exposure and can fade or bleed after prolonged contact with UV rays, and so individuals with full sleeve tattoos must find ways to protect their tattoos from damaging elements.


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