I hate showing my arms. What can I wear in the heat? Ask The Kit
“I hate my arms. Their skin, tone and shape has changed. I really hate short sleeves — they never look good because they put a horizontal line on your arms. What is wrong with making summer tops with long sleeves, as long as the material is lightweight?” — Up in Arms
Most of us have bits and pieces of ourselves we don’t like, and arm loathing is a very common lament for women of every age. I sourced a bunch of styling tips to answer your question, I promise. But the real news is about taking inspiration from a new generation’s approach to body positivity.
Over the years, I’ve had an alarming number of conversations about problem arms with fashion stylist Susie Sheffman. She has confided that “very famous actresses” she and her colleagues have worked with on photo shoots fret about their arms, too, and she has developed all kinds of strategies for hiding them. But when I rang her up to solve this issue for our reader, our chat began with a different discussion.
“My arms are the bane of my existence,” she says. “But now I’m trying to embrace them.” Sheffman has eternally youthful energy but is in her early 60s and has a one-year-old grandson. “I remember I used to play with my grandmother’s soft arms. That memory is so cosy,” she says. “Now I’m a bubbe myself! It all makes more sense to me now.”
Plus, she adds, it’s inspiring to see how younger generations are dressing, shifting the way our eye sees proportion and, ultimately, how we decode what is fashionable. “Kudos to them: they aren’t hiding anything. They aren’t covering up their bums in leggings with long shirts, they aren’t hiding rolls under tents,” Sheffman says. “They are proud of their bodies. The rest of us in the older generation have a lot to learn from them.”
So: Our body hang-ups, they just aren’t modern! That is enough motivation to influence me to stop fussing. But it doesn’t mean you can’t be strategic with clothes. Seeking out pieces that hit you in just the right way isn’t cheating. There are trade tricks to draw the eye and minimize, and we are here to reveal them for you.
Sheffman hates short-sleeved shirts, too. “The worst is actually a wide short sleeve that comes to your elbow — it is the most aging,” she says. They bring to her mind men wearing short-sleeved shirts with a pocket protector.
She also recommends avoiding cap sleeves, which highlight the top of the arm and can give the illusion of the area being wider. Plus they can be infantilizing — just think of all those baby doll nap dresses last year. Instead, Sheffman suggests going for light long sleeves and rolling them up to a customized length. While an oversized silhouette is a great look, large sleeves rolled up can be bulky. Sheffman suggests folding the sleeve vertically, to taper the silhouette, before you roll it up horizontally to give a slimmer line to the arms. Safari-type sleeves, that have a buttoned loop to keep the sleeve rolled up, are a good option.
“You know who makes fantastic shirts is Xirena, at TNT right now,” she says. “They pre-roll their sleeves and they are tacked up so they hit you at exactly the right spot.”
Of course, the right sleeve spot to hit is different on everyone, which is why Sheffman strongly recommends taking tops for alterations. “I will say this until I’m dead in the ground: get everything fitted to you. I bought the Xirena shirt in a couple of colours and had them altered to roll up to just the right spot for me: just above the elbow.”
Another brand she likes is Starkx from Santa Monica, available in boutiques such as Canopy Blue and Over the Rainbow, and online. “They focus on light, relaxed cotton and waffle pieces,” Sheffman says, adding they offer lots of different sleeve options, so they clearly “are aware of the suffering” those of us with arm issues go through.
Drawing the eye to your face, neck and clavicle is a good way to pull focus from the arms. Peasant blouses are good for this, especially ones that almost come off the shoulder, or a low-cut neckline will take the emphasis off the arms. Similarly, “wear fabulously interesting bangles and bracelets,” Sheffman says. “It draws the eye down, toward something shiny.”
If you go for prints, go for a micro floral or polka-dot. “The smaller the print the smaller the area appears,” says Sheffman. But she admits that these rules, while they work, are a bit old-fashioned. So if you love big, bold patterns, buy and wear them with joy and pride, and use that energy to distract yourself from your arms.
If you’re going for long sleeves in the summer, make sure you choose natural fibres. Sheffman’s best bets are cotton, which can be waffled or crinkled, linen, flax, ramie, Tencel and bamboo. Breathability is a big plus for summer comfort and these fabrics also fall nicely. Polyester — which is what you find at a lot of the fast-fashion chains — is far less forgiving, as well as steamier in the summer.
Then there is the layering option. Though I can’t look at my closet full of kimonos and robes in the heat of the summer, there are times you want to wear a sleeveless piece and know you will be more comfortable if you add a layer on top, especially in air conditioning. Again, look for ultralight, natural fabrics. “Thin little cardigans are my go-to to complete an outfit and provide a layering option,” says Sheffman. “But you don’t want to wear anything strapless if you are arm-phobic, because then you are married to your coverup.”
When it comes to dresses, look for a fluttery sleeve in chiffon or silk, something that isn’t creating a sharp line, or fitting you too tightly for comfort. Ruffles, she says, add pretty softness to the whole look. “They can also perform camouflage duties and a neckline ruffle can often cover the part of arm you don’t love.”
Sheffman adds in another consideration for the alterationist: “You can close up bra-revealing armholes. If the armhole gapes, you can see way too much of your bra,” she says, pointing out that if you are worried about your arms, there is a high likelihood you are also worried about the overhang around the bra at the sides.
If you decide you want to change how your arms look, there are cosmetic procedures such as brachioplasty for that — go right ahead, no judgment, no shame. (We did a whole story about what brachioplasty is really like.)