Ask Allie: Wearing Sleeves

Is there an age when older women should NOT wear sleeveless/short sleeves?? I am almost 60 and I feel when I wear sleeveless tops, people see my jiggley arms and sagginess. Doesn’t that detract from the rest of me? It’s hard to find elbow length tops/tees/dresses that are stylish. I don’t want to look like a granny. Your thoughts??
The first place I gain weight is in my arms and I’ve gained weight lately and haven’t lost the baby weight and I think my arms are HUMONGOUS. I live in Florida and it’s too hot to go in long sleeves, is there a way to distract people from my arms?
I hate my arms, are there stylish options for women who have flabby arms but don’t want to roast in the summertime? I can’t find any, the stores are full of tanks and sleeveless blouses.
My daughter is getting married next spring and I am already looking for what to wear. It seems every formal dress is sleeveless or strapless. I am 65 and my arms are far too old to be exposed in such a manner, any suggestions?

First of all, I hate to break it to you but no one is noticing how big, soft, wrinkled, jiggly, or wriggly your arms are as much as you. Seriously, when was the last time you noticed and woman and thought that her arms were just not nice enough to be exposed in the manner they were? When did you think, “Boy that woman would have looked so much better if she just had sleeves on her blouse.” See this article I wrote on this very subject.

We women are our harshest critics – we see the crooked nose, that one eye is larger than the other, that our knees are knobby and yes, our arms are too big or soft to see the light of day. We will sacrifice comfort, pleasure, and life experiences because of the parts of our bodies that we find unappealing. What is unappealing is a woman who doesn’t live life to its fullest because she doesn’t appreciate her body.

So whether your knees are knobby, your nose crooked, your eyes different shapes, or your arms not like Michelle Obama’s, enjoy your life. Dance, laugh, and walk with confidence. People notice your attitude far faster than they do your body parts. See this article I wrote on this topic.

It’s hot out, and it will be far more attractive to bare your arms than to sweat and steam in extra fabric. However, if some fabric on your sleeves will give you the confidence to walk straighter and dance with more gusto at your daughter’s wedding, here are some suggestions.

Talbots creates clothing for women – clothes that skim curves without clinging, necklines that flatter without exposing too much, and dresses and tops with various sleeve lengths. I love this flutter-sleeve top which will let the breeze cool your arms without exposing too much; their surplice-wrap sash dress (on sale!) is the perfect dress to go from work to play with a quick change of shoes and accessories.

A reader mentioned CAbi in this article’s comments and I couldn’t agree more. Thanks to a friend who is a CAbi consultant, I have gotten to know this line pretty well and find that they too do a great job of dressing to flatter a woman’s curves and any areas of concern. While they already have their fall collection out, you can see from the line that they cut pieces to flatter; their Side Pocket Blouse cold be worn now and the oversized armholes will minimize upper arms nicely.

Lands’ End makes practical clothing with a touch of style. Right now is a great time to shop from them since most of their summer clothes are on sale. Tops like their Cotton Voile Polo, Pintuck Linen Tunic, and Lace Tee give arm coverage while being in fabrics that keep you cool during the hottest months of the year. This season they have so many utterly adorable dresses like their Shirred Linen Sheath and Sateen V-Back Fit and Flare Dress which are high on style but still have sleeves.

When I got married, my mom went to Nordstrom to buy her Mother of the Bride dress. She ended up with a bronze lace-overlay tank, bias-cut long skirt, and sheer jacket. This kept her looking stylish, covered her arms for photo opportunities, but she could take the jacket off when she hit the dance floor. I found a very similar set on their site by Damianou.

The Adrianna Papell Flutter Sleeve Tiered Chiffon Gown gets rave reviews from women who say it’s flattering and nicely covers the arms. The Patra Beaded Flutter Sleeve Mesh Gown would be gorgeous for a formal affair, and this set from Soulmates gives a very similar effect to the ensemble my mom wore to my wedding.

Do know that most Nordstrom stores do not have a large selection of such dresses, however they will have staff who know how to dress you to flatter your figure and can track down certain sizes and styles for you.

Now I ask you readers, where do you shop for dresses and tops that flatter the arms?  Do you feel comfortable exposing your arms in the summer, and if so what helps you have that confidence?

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  • Reminds me of the excellent article Sal of Already Pretty wrote for HuffPo on the “right to bare arms” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sally-mcgraw/positive-body-image_b_1665886.html
     
    I’m 43, my arm are batwings, so what? I like sleeveless tops. I’ve never been told by anyone that there’s a problem with this.  At the start of this summer, I wore a week of sleeveless outfits starting here – http://corpgoth.blogspot.com/2012/06/into-oven.html

    The only thing I’d recommend against is strapless, bec. that exposes so much upper-body skin, the style can make anyone but super-skinny gals look big on top. Unless it’s a very well-supported bustier top with a curved neckline, which will draw more attention to cleavage than the straight-across strapless styles that create an unattractive “line-backer” look, imnsho.

  • Reminds me of the excellent article Sal of Already Pretty wrote for HuffPo on the “right to bare arms” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sally-mcgraw/positive-body-image_b_1665886.html
     
    I’m 43, my arm are batwings, so what? I like sleeveless tops. I’ve never been told by anyone that there’s a problem with this.  At the start of this summer, I wore a week of sleeveless outfits starting here – http://corpgoth.blogspot.com/2012/06/into-oven.html

    The only thing I’d recommend against is strapless, bec. that exposes so much upper-body skin, the style can make anyone but super-skinny gals look big on top. Unless it’s a very well-supported bustier top with a curved neckline, which will draw more attention to cleavage than the straight-across strapless styles that create an unattractive “line-backer” look, imnsho.

  • Guest

    Seriously, when was the last time you noticed a woman and thought that
    her arms were just not nice enough to be exposed in the manner they
    were? When did you think, “Boy that woman would have looked so much better if she just had sleeves on her blouse.”

    My mother says and does this All. The. Time.  And I figure she’s not the only one.

  • Guest

    Seriously, when was the last time you noticed a woman and thought that
    her arms were just not nice enough to be exposed in the manner they
    were? When did you think, “Boy that woman would have looked so much better if she just had sleeves on her blouse.”

    My mother says and does this All. The. Time.  And I figure she’s not the only one.

  • Karen

    I have to scour every store known to man to find the right summer, sleeved tops.  I don’t wear sleeveless and I don’t wear cap sleeves.  I don’t even care much for normal short sleeves unless they’re loose. It is a HUGE complaint of mine that manufacturer’s don’t take into account that people might want to cover various areas of their body for various reasons – IN EVERY SEASON. 

    By the way, you have never seen a woman whose arms you don’t want to see because I have not LET you see them! 😉  They are awful (stretch marks, skin folds, blech…and I’m only a size 18.)

  • Karen

    I have to scour every store known to man to find the right summer, sleeved tops.  I don’t wear sleeveless and I don’t wear cap sleeves.  I don’t even care much for normal short sleeves unless they’re loose. It is a HUGE complaint of mine that manufacturer’s don’t take into account that people might want to cover various areas of their body for various reasons – IN EVERY SEASON. 

    By the way, you have never seen a woman whose arms you don’t want to see because I have not LET you see them! 😉  They are awful (stretch marks, skin folds, blech…and I’m only a size 18.)

  • I actually know someone who does it too, but she’s someone who hates her own arms so I think she’s on the lookout for that specific body part. I know I am always aware of a woman with large calves. You’re right, people do notice, but I think more people notice the person who is uncomfortable than the person in the sleeveless top. And just like wearing black or loose fabric, one can see the size of one’s arms whether or not they are shrouded in fabric. 🙂

  • I actually know someone who does it too, but she’s someone who hates her own arms so I think she’s on the lookout for that specific body part. I know I am always aware of a woman with large calves. You’re right, people do notice, but I think more people notice the person who is uncomfortable than the person in the sleeveless top. And just like wearing black or loose fabric, one can see the size of one’s arms whether or not they are shrouded in fabric. 🙂

  • Love Sal, and LOVE that you did that on your blog!! And agree on strapless – it’s something I would wear pre-Emerson but now you won’t catch me in it because it does make me look like a linebacker!

  • Love Sal, and LOVE that you did that on your blog!! And agree on strapless – it’s something I would wear pre-Emerson but now you won’t catch me in it because it does make me look like a linebacker!

  • I used to be very concerned about covering my upper arms, but then I got Ari Seth Cohen’s book Advanced Style. It shows lots of aged and bare arms – and I thought if they can do it so can I! So for the first time in years I’ve been showing my upper arms! Otherwise I’ve always worn cardigans, shrugs or bolero style cover ups on my sleeveless dresses and tops.

  • I used to be very concerned about covering my upper arms, but then I got Ari Seth Cohen’s book Advanced Style. It shows lots of aged and bare arms – and I thought if they can do it so can I! So for the first time in years I’ve been showing my upper arms! Otherwise I’ve always worn cardigans, shrugs or bolero style cover ups on my sleeveless dresses and tops.

  • Isn’t that book wonderful? So inspiring! Once I read it I took so many blogs off my Google Reader because I realized I wanted my OWN style like these women. And yes, they do rock sleeveless tops and all sorts of things that supposedly break supposed rules!

  • Isn’t that book wonderful? So inspiring! Once I read it I took so many blogs off my Google Reader because I realized I wanted my OWN style like these women. And yes, they do rock sleeveless tops and all sorts of things that supposedly break supposed rules!

  • It’s ironic that I just stumbled across this article (
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2178772/Bingo-wings-Vs-Louboutins-Half-British-women-trade-designer-shoes-arms-like-Cheryl-Cole-Kate-Middleton.html), where APPARENTLY arms are the first thing ‘a third’ of British women notice, on other women! I guess yes, your mother isn’t the only one, but seriously? 33%? I find it a little hard to believe!

  • It’s ironic that I just stumbled across this article (
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2178772/Bingo-wings-Vs-Louboutins-Half-British-women-trade-designer-shoes-arms-like-Cheryl-Cole-Kate-Middleton.html), where APPARENTLY arms are the first thing ‘a third’ of British women notice, on other women! I guess yes, your mother isn’t the only one, but seriously? 33%? I find it a little hard to believe!

  • Cynthia Washburn

    You know, I used to be one of those people who refused to wear sleeveless and was just uncomfortable. One of the things that I mentioned as a goal when I first started Weight Watchers was being able to wear sleeveless shirts and an older lady there said “oh honey, just wear them now, there are plenty of people out there wearing sleeveless who are way bigger than you”. And she was right – not only that, she was right about the fact that a lot of short sleeve shirts hit you in exactly the wrong place and make your arms look bigger. 

    Even now, after losing *a lot* of weight, my arms look great down at my sides, but I have the loose skin when I lift them up, but you know what? I DON’T CARE – I’m comfortable in the South Texas heat; I look fabulous; and if 33% of the women who see me want to waste their lives judging my arms – who cares? 

    Good lord, ladies – be kind to yourself and to each other. Women have enough crap in this world to deal with – do we really need other women denigrating us in public for daring to show our aging upper arms? 

  • Cynthia Washburn

    You know, I used to be one of those people who refused to wear sleeveless and was just uncomfortable. One of the things that I mentioned as a goal when I first started Weight Watchers was being able to wear sleeveless shirts and an older lady there said “oh honey, just wear them now, there are plenty of people out there wearing sleeveless who are way bigger than you”. And she was right – not only that, she was right about the fact that a lot of short sleeve shirts hit you in exactly the wrong place and make your arms look bigger. 

    Even now, after losing *a lot* of weight, my arms look great down at my sides, but I have the loose skin when I lift them up, but you know what? I DON’T CARE – I’m comfortable in the South Texas heat; I look fabulous; and if 33% of the women who see me want to waste their lives judging my arms – who cares? 

    Good lord, ladies – be kind to yourself and to each other. Women have enough crap in this world to deal with – do we really need other women denigrating us in public for daring to show our aging upper arms? 

  • Sonia

    LOL I’m ANOTHER woman that notices other women’s arms, though I can say I have noticed them as far back as when my own arms were super skinny!  Now that my arms are bigger but not bat wings yet, I still bare them, only now I am more self-conscious of the types of sleeves I wear to expose them and offset them with flattering collars, necklaces, earrings, etc.

  • Sonia

    LOL I’m ANOTHER woman that notices other women’s arms, though I can say I have noticed them as far back as when my own arms were super skinny!  Now that my arms are bigger but not bat wings yet, I still bare them, only now I am more self-conscious of the types of sleeves I wear to expose them and offset them with flattering collars, necklaces, earrings, etc.

  • I really like cotton or silk buttonfront shirts with short, 3/4, or rolled up sleeves for coverage while staying cool. I realize that this style of shirt works best on the small-breasted. I wear them under or over a sleeveless garment if I don’t want to bare my arms. If you’re busty, this style of shirt still works well OVER a sleeveless dress or top, unbuttoned, with the shirttails knotted.

  • Sonia

    I agree with you 100%!!

  • Sonia

    I agree with you 100%!!

  • Ihartsnow

    What a great post!  I have a friend who hates her arms and for years I kept telling her it was much sexier to show some skin than wear the 3/4 length sleeves she does.  Just this summer she has started doing just that, and she looks so good!  I like comfort so you’ll always see me in as little clothes as I can get away with, and that means bare arms in the summer.  However, I am loving all the flowy armed tops at Macy’s these days.  They are my go-to’s for pants, capris, and skirts.  Such bright patterns and fabrics, to.  I have also just rediscovered JCP and am on the verge of having a serious problem.  Who wouldn’t, when you can get a ton of cute stuff for nothing.  Their dress selection is massive.  Some of the fabrics are still a little cheapy but not all.

  • Ihartsnow

    What a great post!  I have a friend who hates her arms and for years I kept telling her it was much sexier to show some skin than wear the 3/4 length sleeves she does.  Just this summer she has started doing just that, and she looks so good!  I like comfort so you’ll always see me in as little clothes as I can get away with, and that means bare arms in the summer.  However, I am loving all the flowy armed tops at Macy’s these days.  They are my go-to’s for pants, capris, and skirts.  Such bright patterns and fabrics, to.  I have also just rediscovered JCP and am on the verge of having a serious problem.  Who wouldn’t, when you can get a ton of cute stuff for nothing.  Their dress selection is massive.  Some of the fabrics are still a little cheapy but not all.

  • Laura

    I have fleshy upper arms so I’ve thought about this issue a bit. I think what Allie said at the beginning is spot-on–no one is noticing your flaws nearly as much as you are! 

    I would also add that if you are concerned about flattering your arms, sometimes going sleeveless is more flattering than wearing sleeves, depending on what type of sleeve you’re talking about.  I have found that cap sleeves and short sleeves are the least flattering type of sleeves on me because they end right at that largest part of my arm and so they draw attention there.  Intstead I prefer to wear 3/4 length sleeves, which are very flattering because they end at the elbow, the narrowest part of my arm, or to go entirely sleeveless.  If you have a reasonably strong shoulder line, also try tops with a racerback-type profile, or with straps that are set closer to your neck than to your shoulder. That type of profile will make your shoulders looks larger/stronger, which can make your arms look smaller and/or more in porportion to the rest of your body.  This wouldn’t work for everyone, depending on your proportions, but is worth a try.

    Also, the more I experiment with fashion the more I’ve realized that you can really control what parts of your body people notice by where you put the focus/detail in your outfit.  If you don’t want people to stare at your arms, don’t put detail there.  So stay away from butterfly sleeves, draped sleeves, or sleeves with detail or trim.  All of these things will draw the eye to your arms.  Instead pick an outfit with simple sleeves or no sleeves and use a statement necklace, awesome shoes, a great belt, or whatever else to create a focal point to your outfit that isn’t on your arms.  Your eye will be drawn to the focal point you’ve created, rather than to your arms or whatever other part of your body isn’t your favorite.

  • Laura

    I have fleshy upper arms so I’ve thought about this issue a bit. I think what Allie said at the beginning is spot-on–no one is noticing your flaws nearly as much as you are! 

    I would also add that if you are concerned about flattering your arms, sometimes going sleeveless is more flattering than wearing sleeves, depending on what type of sleeve you’re talking about.  I have found that cap sleeves and short sleeves are the least flattering type of sleeves on me because they end right at that largest part of my arm and so they draw attention there.  Intstead I prefer to wear 3/4 length sleeves, which are very flattering because they end at the elbow, the narrowest part of my arm, or to go entirely sleeveless.  If you have a reasonably strong shoulder line, also try tops with a racerback-type profile, or with straps that are set closer to your neck than to your shoulder. That type of profile will make your shoulders looks larger/stronger, which can make your arms look smaller and/or more in porportion to the rest of your body.  This wouldn’t work for everyone, depending on your proportions, but is worth a try.

    Also, the more I experiment with fashion the more I’ve realized that you can really control what parts of your body people notice by where you put the focus/detail in your outfit.  If you don’t want people to stare at your arms, don’t put detail there.  So stay away from butterfly sleeves, draped sleeves, or sleeves with detail or trim.  All of these things will draw the eye to your arms.  Instead pick an outfit with simple sleeves or no sleeves and use a statement necklace, awesome shoes, a great belt, or whatever else to create a focal point to your outfit that isn’t on your arms.  Your eye will be drawn to the focal point you’ve created, rather than to your arms or whatever other part of your body isn’t your favorite.

  • Mary J

    What a relief to hear someone say I can still go sleeveless. I just turned 60, and have always felt that my arms were one of my better features. They are slim, still pretty toned, and I have nice shoulders. But what made me think I should retire the sleeveless dresses was that the skin on my elbows is getting crepey and loose. I really didn’t notice for years because it’s not a spot I look at very often. Right now, I’m on vacation, and it’s hot here (Virgin Islands). To heck with it — I’m going to go sleeveless for a few more years at least!