In cooler weather it’s simple to disguise droopy arms. Wear sweaters, tops and jackets with long sleeves.
But once the weather heats up in Spring and Summer us older women need to make some style decisions if we have heavy or poorly-toned arms.
Here are the 17 essential style rules for flabby arms
- Get the silhouette right with a strong shoulder line
- Three-quarter sleeves always look good
- Avoid narrow sleeves
- Avoid clingy fabrics
- Short sleeves need to come to just above the elbow
- Straight short sleeves need to be cut wide
- Flutter sleeves add width and look feminine
- Avoid any elastic or drawstrings that will pinch your arm
- Roll long sleeves to just below the elbow if possible
- Sheer, lacey or sheer-plus-embroidery sleeves look and feel cool in summer
- Avoid off-the-shoulder styles after age 50 unless you have slim elegant shoulders
- Wear a cover-up over sleeveless and very short-sleeved tops
- Good cover-ups include shrugs, short boxy jackets and kimono styles
- Fine wraps and stoles are perfect for smart events, day or evening
- The crop cardigan is ideal if you are not too overweight
- Emphasize your face, neck and throat areas with statement jewelry
- Focus eyes down your centre with long layers or deeper necklines
As always the impression your outfit makes will depend a lot on the silhouette it creates.
If you have big arms you likely also carry extra fat on your back. You need to add structure to this rounded silhouette by drawing a good strong line across your shoulders. Make sure your top has a shoulder seam.
Because your upper arms curve outwards beyond your shoulder it’s easy to look frumpy. So ideally look for a top which emphasizes the shoulder width. A small gather at the shoulder gives a good sense of width and is very on trend right now.
But don’t go for a short puff sleeve – it needs to reach at least your elbow.
Unstructured shoulder lines, for example batwing sleeves, are better worn in winter when fabrics are thicker.
You can also emphasize the line across the shoulder by choosing a good neckline. A boat neck or slash neck or bardot neck are all wider than they are deep.
In the photo of the Phase Eight Cassidy top above note the strong wide shoulder line, three-quarter sleeves with plenty of room on the upper arm and the simple slash neck. The all-over large pattern distracts the eye from any one area, such as large arms, and the narrow jeans under this wide square top give a good sense of balance to the outfit.
The focus of your outfit
You don’t want people to notice your arms so make them focus somewhere else.
Jewelry and accessories can help do this. Statement earrings will draw the eye to your face. A knotted scarf will make people look at your face and neck area. A pendant or long necklace will emphasize your length not your width. A beautiful belt will start to draw the eye down which is good if your bust is not too large – otherwise it can make you look a bit like a lollipop.
If you have a good decolletage area then show it off to full advantage with a V neck or deep scoop neck. Consider adding a chain or two to catch the light and make sure people are looking right where you want them to look!
In the photo of the marksandspencer.com ivory cotton top above note the shoulder with gathers to add structure and width. The slightly puffed sleeve reaches the elbow.
Notice the gap between the elastic in the sleeve and the model’s arm. Even so, I would be cautious of this item if my elbows were overweight or my upper arms were very broad, as the model’s arm is tiny! This would be a good top to camouflage the jiggly arm but not the very heavy arm.
Notice the V neck, the buttons marking the centre of her silhouette and the feminine ruffle edge attracting the eye. This simple summer top will work over jeans, tucked in to a skirt, with a tank underneath if it’s too see-through, or even left more unbottoned over a fitted tee to encourage the eye to fix on the middle vertical of the outfit and not the arms.
Without a shadow of a doubt this length of sleeve is the best for mature arms. It looks good at any time of the year too.
A three-quarter sleeve stops just below your elbow so it covers the difficult upper arm but also covers the elbow which can sometimes carry extra fat if you’re heavy all over.
A little bare skin helps to elongate a short body and balance a heavy frame. As the sleeve ends at the narrowest part of your arm it gives an impression of a slimmer body.
The contrast between the sleeve and your skin helps draw the eye towards the waist and just below.
Don’t wear wrist jewelry as this confuses the look. Just stick with a three-quarter sleeve and a bare forearm and wrist.
In the photo of the Phase Eight red swing dress above note the elegant three-quarter sleeve and how it emphasizes the waist. The belt also leads the eye to the waist. The simple boat neck adds width to the shoulder line. This dress could be dressed up or down and worn year-round. I’d probably buy at least one more interesting belt to ring the changes and add a long chain or pendant to elongate the silhouette, as I’m not very tall.
How to wear long sleeves in warm weather
If you are a casual dresser then roll up or push up the sleeve to just below your elbow. Some casual tops have a slouchy effect sleeve where there’s a roll-tab button fastening to keep your sleeves up. This works well with jeans.
If you wear the sleeve to the wrist then choose the fabric carefully.
The same fabric as the dress can give the impression that you are afraid to show your arms. It can also be too warm once the sun comes out.
So choose a dress or top with sheer or semi-transparent sleeves. These are often available for more formal occasions such as weddings. But this year they are popular for more casual dressing too.
The trend towards lace, broderie anglaise and embroidery on sheer fabrics is still in full swing so make the most of these fabrics to choose a pretty sleeve that hides the contours of your mature arms yet remains delicate, feminine and cool.
The full sleeve of a peasant top will do the camouflage job perfectly. Just make sure you balance out the width this adds to your top by wearing a narrower bottom whether that’s a straighter skirt or a narrow cut pair of pants.
I’ve suggested a peasant top in my article on Boho style here.
In the photo above of the Phase Eight iris pleat dress note the sheer long blouson sleeves which disguise the upper arm contours but remain light and cool. The V neck and front fastening draw the eye down to the interesting skirt. The pleating gives the skirt movement without making it stick out so the silhouette is a slightly tapered inverted triangle – perfect for most of us hippy ladies!
The elbow length sleeve
I find this works very well when the weather is hot. Shirtdresses and shirts look smart with a half sleeve. This is the longest short sleeve there is.
Unless your elbows are puffy the elbow length sleeve covers any jiggle at the top of your arms.
Unfortunately for us, the half sleeve on dresses is often narrow and clingy. Even if you can get your arm into the sleeve it will feel tight and uncomfortable and show every dimple on your arms.
So always look carefully at the model wearing this style. She will have very slim arms so you need to be able to see a clear gap between arm and sleeve if you want it to fit you.
Some elbow-length sleeves end in a fluttery edge. These are usually cut very wide and are easy to wear in warm weather. The flutter cleverly conceals what your elbow looks like too. This is a really stylish feminine sleeve which can work for a casual look or a dressier event.
In the photo above of the Eileen Fisher linen top note the short sleeves come to the elbow and are cut wide. The square cut of this shirt-style top gives good structure to the upper body. It can be worn as a shacket over a white or black tank top. It will create a good silhouette over narrow pants (inverted triangle) or wide pants (rectangle). Linen is ideal for warm weather as is the airy cut of this top. So it’s perfect for women over 50 whose temperature can zoom upwards in a second.
The cap sleeve
In general you will not want to wear this. But it certainly strengthens the shoulder line.
I have flabby flesh on my arms that droops down when I lift them up. But I wore a cap sleeve dress to my daughter’s summer wedding. However, I had a fine wrap around me a lot of the time and I only took it off when I knew I could keep my arms close to my sides – e.g. clasping a glass of champagne in one hand and a small flat clutch bag in the other. Raising my arms would have been impossible so I felt pretty safe!
Cover-ups for sleeveless tops and dresses
For casual oufits the kimono, either short or long, is trending this year. Kimonos have very wide sleeves and hang straight down. Choose one in a lightweight fabric. It will be your new best friend this summer.
I’ve featured a kimono in my article on Boho style here.
Oversized shirts are in this year too. They have a more structured look than the kimono and work well with jeans. Most have long sleeves so you’ll need to roll those up to get the look you want. These shirts are sometimes called shackets. Horrible name but it describes this item’s function very well.
For smarter dos you can pop on a little jacket.
The bolero or shrug is popular for weddings and classy evening events. Keep it very short. Most have three-quarter sleeves. There is no front fastening and the two front edges look best when they hang straight and make those lovely parallel lines down your front we all adore.
Be careful to avoid the traditional shrug which has one small fastening at the neck. This makes the front edges splay out so you have a triangle across your top. This is not a good look. Besides, the neck fastening makes the shrug look like a bed jacket on anyone over the age of 30. No no no!
You can choose any lightweight summer jacket that stops around your waistline. Anything longer needs to be the kimono style or at least in very fine, if possible sheer, fabric.
A cropped cardigan which picks out a color in your dress or top can be a godsend for mature women in summer. Pop it on, take it off, roll it up and stick it in your bag depending on who is around to see those arms of yours.
Choose cotton or man-made fibre for summer to keep the fabric as cool and weightless as possible. Wool and cashmere work fine in colder months even if they add a little to your bulk.
The trouble is that these cardigans generally have quite tight sleeves. That’s OK if you’re not carrying too much weight on your arms but stick with the kimono or shacket if you’re overweight.
I find it’s the droopy flesh that’s my main problem rather than having very fat upper arms so I enjoy wearing cropped cardis. But if you have thick upper arms that would stretch the cardigan sleeves then it’s best to avoid them. None of us want to look like we have grown two fat sausages from our shoulders.
You can learn more about how to choose the right cardigan in my article on cardigans here.
In the photo of the Boden cotton crop cardigan above you can see the sleeves are a perfect three-quarter length. If your arms are a bit heavy push the sleeves up a bit more to break the countour lines of your arm. I often wear this style from Boden as they marry up the colours with their dresses.
Wear it open to get a good pair of parallel lines down the front or do up a few buttons to get a V neck to draw the eye to your mid point. Either way, nobody’s looking twice at your upper arms.
Can you show mature arms in public?
This is a question that gets very different answers from women.
Here in France women, and men, worry less about aging than in the UK and the US. Sure, women try hard to look as chic as they can but that doesn’t mean giving up on sunbathing or wearing a sleeveless cocktail frock.
It’s all about confidence in who you are. French people have a lot of this! When they are young they delight in their gamine sporty look. When they are older they take a great deal of care over dressing and make-up which tells the world – I am a mature and experienced female. They flirt. They expect attention. And they never, ever bundle their body up so it can’t be seen.
A tan helps.
So does being not too overweight even if your arms do lack tone and tend to jiggle.
But it’s really their self-esteem that carries them through.
And, you know, even if at first glance you think ‘I wouldn’t wear that swimsuit with those scraggy arms’ within a moment you never think about her arms again. It’s her stylish attitude that wins you over.
My own rule is I always have a cover-up to hand. But I don’t worry about showing my arms when I’m among people of a similar age. After all even slim people get arm jiggle by 60. If I’m somewhere like a wedding where there are lots of younger people I keep my arms at my sides but remove my cover-up when I’m in the sunshine or feeling warm.
I’m not trying to look young. And all older women have untoned upper arms or bingo wings (love that term!). So nobody expects me to look perfect. I just want to use the style rules and my personality to avoid highlighting my defects.
Smiling works a treat!
Enjoy your summer and get a tan on your shoulders this year. Honestly, it really is the best beauty booster there is. (And nobody needs know you just applied it that morning after your shower.)
The featured image at the top of this page is of the Boden Laurie linen dress.
By the way I’ve now published my 2021 Summer Capsule Wardrobe at 72. You’ll see what I’m wearing to mask the least good parts of my arms. Take a look and see what you think!
If you’ve found this article useful you might want to take a look at one of these now:
Want to learn more about dressing for your body type? Sign up for the newsletter and get early notification of my upcoming Style Course for Mature Women. Click here!
Looks like I am going to enjoy the newsletter and upcoming course
Hi Dinora. I send out a newsletter about every two to three weeks. Thanks for signing up. I’m currently just finishing my style course for mature women. It’s taking longer than I thought. But I hope you’ll find it useful. Keep safe. Joni x
Very interesting. I’m 76, and I not only have fat arms, but fat legs, even when I was thin. It’s so hard to dress, summer or winter. I would like to follow your comments
Hi Brenda. I hope some of my ideas will give you inspiration. Not being a standard size is difficult. Depending on your personality you could try wide and/or floaty layers including wrap scarves, lower-mid-calf dresses etc and use strong colors to direct the eye to your best areas eg face and neck or shoulder-line or straight panel down your centre etc. My personal belief is that sometimes we all try to detract attention from ourselves completely and settle for ‘nice neat navy’ . You could start with a really bright wide scarf to wrap around your shoulders. If you like the look then buy one or more each season until that becomes your ‘style’. Thanks for the comment. Joni x
I am 4’10’ I weigh 103-106 lbs. Petite. I have very flabby arms and have for most of my life, also have bigger thighs and dress conservatively, but like the normal 62 year old. I wear my grankids hand me downs. (boys jeans, shirts etc.) But like to dress up. Just retiring to part time work. Would your program work for me and are your recommendations buget friendly?
Please tell me why I should pick you to help me.
Hi Cathy. The Mature Style program guides you to make better choices when buying clothes and explains how to put the clothes you already have to best use. You are encouraged to think thriftily and there are no ‘buy this’ moments. You sound like you are a classic casual style type. The course covers this style as it is the most popular style for us ladies over 60. A life change such as partial retirement is a great time to sort out your closet and look forward to the future clutter-free. If you stick to the program and follow each step, not just skim through and think you’ll come back later, then you’ll end up with a useful wardrobe and very specific insights into what to go out and buy – either new or second-hand – to make that simple set of clothes perfect for your lifestyle. Some style courses for women send you a list of clothes to buy to put together a wardrobe. This program doesn’t do this. So how much you spend is up to you. As I sit here I am wearing some sale items bought year or more ago, a new vest and a scarf I paid less than a dollar for from a charity shop (is this a thrift store or a consignment store in US English?? somewhere that sells clothes second-hand). If you decide to take the Mature Style course why not do it together with a friend or one of your kids/grandkids. That way you can get a second opinion on choices you make. Joni x
Your article is helpful and interesting.
I don’t think the images used matched the article as they are all of thin younger people.
Hi Cynthia. It’s impossible to get useful images of older women unless they are thin models. So I have to use the images available and that’s why I spend time writing styling notes for every post I make. Glad you found the article useful, anyway. Joni x