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Cold Shoulders, Split Sleeves and the Church of England | Manolo for the Big Girl

Cold Shoulders, Split Sleeves and the Church of England

Happy Friday, gang, how’s tricks?

Today is the hap happiest day of the year, or at least of recent memory because the loud and mysterious construction that’s been going on the past few days somewhere in my general environ has blissfully stopped. Three days straight of BANG…BANG…(silence to lull you into a false sense of relief)…BANG!!! They only stop from 2:00 to 2:45 which is when the local private school gets on their Hendrix-at-Woodstock loudspeaker and calls out random combinations of numbers and colors for a half hour.

They call the numbers in this infuriating monotone that prohibits any insight as to what Yellow 23, Red 16, Yellow 31 etc might actually mean. I’m guessing each combo stands for a student, but WHY? What are they DOING and MUST they sound their barbarically amplified yawp over the rooftop of Villa Plumcake when I’m trying to execute some quality hammock napping? Kids ruin everything fun.

Anyhoodle, as I was puttering around the kitchen making grapefruit marmalade (because apparently I do that now) I saw several stylish women walk past my window, all wearing either split-sleeved or cold-shouldered tops.


(click photos for links)

Now, my first memory of the cold-shoulder top was a big fuss over Hillary Clinton wearing a Donna Karan dress with the shoulders cut out in 1993 and friends, I have spent the past 40 minutes looking for pictures of that dress and just cannot find anything better than this.

Immediately a surge of shoulderless shirts crashed into the local malls and I believe I either owned one or tried one on and, looking at my 14 year-old self in the mirror went “Nope. This is not for me.”

The cold shoulder is the cousin of the split sleeve and I am sensing a comeback of both.

I can’t say I’m happy about it since it’s been my experience that split sleeves on a woman are Indicative Of Things.


The handful of women I know socially who’ve worn them in the past few years always end up being trouble for me, or at least trouble my soul. One of the offenders failed to wear the appropriate undergarments to her husband’s ordination into the Episcopal Priesthood. I’m STILL traumatized. WTF? Did she get hit on the head with the anvil of sartorial stupidity and wake up thinking she was Unitarian or something? This is the Church of England, put on a damn bra.

And yet, I’m prepared to admit my unpleasant experiences wrt: split sleeves might be stopping me from appreciating what can technically, maybe, be a good look for a big girl. I’m too young to have worn them the last time they really came around, in the 1970’s and I have seen them executed well a few times –mostly in cotton lawn– on a big girl or two, though it’s entirely possible for it to be a fluke.

What’s your opinion on split sleeves? Cold shoulders? Am I missing out or should I trust my considerable gut and let this trend pass me by? Put it in the comments and have a great weekend!

19 Responses to “Cold Shoulders, Split Sleeves and the Church of England”

  1. txbunny February 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    I remember Barbara (the one and only) in a cold shoulder dress by Donna Karen. I think it was the same one Hillary wore. Anyway, I think it is a great look for an apple when done “chic” – fitted shoulder, fitted sleeve, in one color. Otherwise it is just random holes and busy.

    I think the split sleeve is more versatile when done in a romantic style in a 3/4 to full length sleeve. I totally agree about cotton lawn or something with drape.

    I’m not sure I’m bored with my current palm beach socialite wardrobe to go there.

  2. harri p. February 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    They’re bad and wrong.

  3. Ellen W. February 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    I had a “cold shoulder” one-piece outfit that I can’t call a dress because it was shorts with a ruffly skirt + the top instead of just a skirt. And it was melon and chartruce striped. It was so late 80s/early 90s you’d think it listened to New Kids on the Block. I loved that outfit more than anything else I had ever worn up until then.* And that’s enough of that style for one lifetime.

    *I have to take that back, I loved my Miss Piggy swimsuit more.

  4. Margo A February 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    For those of us of a Certain Age who have developed the tragically yet hilariously named “Bingo Wings”, split sleeves are a Godsend in hot weather.

  5. Jeni February 17, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    I HATE HATE HATE cold shoulder dresses/tops. I just don’t get the look and I find them ugly (sorry cold shoulder lovers).

    I am on the fence about the split sleeve…I am very self conscious of my arms, they are out of proportion with my body size (thank you BOTH sides of my family!). I do NOT do sleeveless/tank tops/cap sleeves/etc and rarely even do elbow length sleeves preferring to stick to 3/4 or full length. That gets hot in the summer though and I could see split sleeves as offering the cover I want but still allow for some ventilation. That being said I am only referring to the sleeves that are closed at the top AND the bottom. Those completely open sleeves that flutter around like damn butterfly wings every time you move? No thank you.

  6. Debs February 17, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    Cold-shoulder tops remind me of the whole eighties power-dressing Donna Karan jersey thing which to me looked like disco clothes for a woman of a certain age. So, no thanks. And if you put the top with jeans it looks half disco and trying a bit hard for daytime.

    I only do tailored on top so the split sleeve floaty stuff makes me look like.
    a linebacker in drag, but could be pretty on the non very broad shouldered.

  7. Leigh Ann February 17, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    I don’t like the cold shoulder tops much. The green one is okay I guess, but I don’t do sleeveless or short sleeves, so I wouldn’t buy it. I really dislike the pink one. (What’s the point of it? It confuses me!) Also, I don’t think it’s that flattering to the model. The shoulder cut outs just draw attention away from her face. I kind of like the split sleeves, though. I’m like Jeni: I’m self conscious about my upper arms. But I can see myself wearing a split sleeve top, and floating around and feeling all romantic and semi-fluttery. It could be a good look for those of us who don’t like our arms but would like to show a decorous amount of skin.

  8. Gina February 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    When I see cold shoulder tops, all I can think of is the clothing section of a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog. So, no. No cold shoulders. Ever.

  9. Lisa from SoCal February 17, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

    I am personally against where I have to wonder/worry about where my bra strap is. I’m old, I only have so many days left, and I’d rather not spend those days worrying about whether I’m showing bra strap. I know it’s not the end of the world if it shows, but I think it looks sloppy and I h8 it when it shows. So those blouses up top I am not down with.

    The dress—you can’t even tell there’s a split sleeve, so…there’s nothing to offend there. I’m hazarding that I rather like the blue top to the right of the dress–particularly paired with the long necklace. It may be because I dig that color blue for any and all reasons.

  10. Arabella February 18, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    I’m not really fond of the cold-shoulder thing on anyone. It looks a little like something you’d find on a superhero costume, and not in a good way. The split-sleeves, though, can be really soft and romantic if done properly. (Sadly, like many trendy things, they’re done very badly a lot of the time…) I think the soft, drape-y, swag kind can make a blouse or dress look elegant and feminine without exposing too much skin, and can with a wide scoop neck they can be a good compromise for someone who wants to look strapless but wouldn’t be comfortable without a bra. (Strapless bras do diddly on me. I can’t imagine how hilariously useless they are on someone even bustier.) Done properly, the short shoulder seams look even narrower than they really are, as if they’re coming together strictly for artistic purposes which have nothing to do about covering support garment straps, and everything to do with making the neckline look sculptural. And actually, if the proportions are right it can make wide shoulders look narrower — careful color banding is a common trick used by magicians on their prop cabinets to make them look like they’re much narrower than they really are and couldn’t possibly hold the assistant lady, etc. etc.

    So, in summary, find a clothier who doesn’t screw it up and you can wear pretty much anything you want. :)

  11. Frances February 18, 2012 at 5:17 am #

    I’m not a fan because they look exactly like what happens when my slave child-crafted tops get caught on vicious door knobs and rip apart. I’m not paying money for that.

  12. ZaftigWendy February 18, 2012 at 6:05 am #

    I like ’em. Of course, my opinion is tempered by the fact that I live in an area that is HOT with a capital HELL 3/4 of the year, so anything with ventilation AND enough fabric to hide my bra straps is a win.

    They walk the line between flirty and covered. They are definitely casual. And I think a bit more feminine than a completely sleeveless top.

    So, yes to a place where casual attire is okay, no to wearing them at church, to a board meeting, or in court.

  13. ChaChaHeels February 18, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    I’ve never seen them to be flattering to anyone, and all they signify to me is cheap construction.

  14. Rebekka February 18, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    Split sleeves – meh. Cold shoulders – no, no, no.

  15. qbertina February 18, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    The trouble is there’s no way to look insouciant in it. It always, always looks overthought. Nix.

  16. Constance February 18, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    I’m apparently in the minority here, but I love the cold shoulder look. It’s a way to show skin and be suggestive without overdoing the cleavage (which looks bovine on me). I am an apple, with narrow shoulders, and it seems to balance me by drawing attention up. However, I only wear this look for parties/clubwear OR casual wear. Professionally, it’s a no-no — too suggestive, at least for une femme d’une age certaine, comme moi.

  17. barbara February 19, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    No on the cold shoulders; just no. They always look cheap. And they make me think of the 80s.

    I think the flutter sleeves can be (but often aren’t) done well, and I think they make sense for warm climates. Especially humid climates where thankfully i don’t live!

  18. Robyn February 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Cold shoulders are always a mistake. Without exception. Even in the 80’s.

    Split sleeves should be at least elbow length and in a fabric with a little body.

  19. dcsurfergirl February 19, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    It can be a cute option for a casual summer top or club wear. Just make sure the top fits well and your bra isn’t showing.