One of my favorite memories is little two year old Lissy perched on the couch looking through clothing catalogs that arrived in the mail. You'd ponder each page and then declare "Cute shirt!" or "I like DAT". You've had a distinct fashion sense since you were itty-bitty, and I love seeing you express your own personality and creativity through your clothing choices. I'm writing you this letter today because this is something I refuse to talk to you about while you're young. Our body image can be marred for life by childhood impressions.
As you have probably discovered by now, you inherited meaty, shapeless limbs from both sides of our family. Whether our women are size 6 or 16, we have large arms and legs for our size. Even when we work out, we get very little definition in those areas. Most American clothing brands have terrible cuts and shapes for this body type. Even the popular fashion shows on T.V. seem not to be aware that big, shapeless upper arms and legs drastically affect fashion choices. I'm often left wearing clothing that is far older and more conservative than my taste.
Enter Brit fashion. The Brits are great at the art of re-directing the eye. I've finally learned why I can't find a skirt, dress, or pant profile that works with my shape, no matter what size I am. Short legs and a high waist require very specific style choices, or you end up with a bum the size of the Disney parking lot. Ditto meaty upper arms. The Fashion Rules from a popular Brit show gave me a whole arsenal of ideas to help downsize that problem area. The idea isn't to just cover the problem, it's to redirect the eye.
A basic rule of portrait photography is that skin draws the eye. When you control where skin shows, you control where the eye goes!
Break up the large, rectangular,expanse of fabric at the top 1/3 of your body.
- Look for deep vee, square, or sweetheart necklines. Avoid turtlenecks, jewel neck, boatnecks, or high necklines which create an enormous expanse of fabric. Take as much care of your decollete as you do your face. Layer a tank or cami if needed for modesty.
- Wear bolder earrings and longer, bolder necklaces or scarves.
- Halter tops with wide straps that fasten behind the neck to create a strong diagonal line are the only sleeveless tops that will work if your arms are a larger size than your body. I prefer not to wear strappy or sleeveless styles at all now that I'm over 40.
- An asymmetrical short sleeve hem created by pleats, gathers, or ruching is more pleasing than a straight horizontal hem. Avoid sleeve hems that fall right at your bust line.
Keep your waist well defined.
- Wear excellent undergarments that lift your bust.
- Look for sleeves that end right at your waist or well past your hip. Depending on the length of your arms and the height of your waist, that will vary. If you're being photographed, long sleeves are almost always the best choice.
- Look for sleeves with interesting details at the cuff. A ruffle or trumpet cuff is particularly flattering. Watch out for a-line sleeves that visually widen the upper arm.
- A jacket, shirt, or cardi layer is an excellent choice to cover the upper arms and reduce visual bulk on your upper half, but keep the waistline distinct, especially in the back of the garment. Avoid having the bottom hem fall across the widest part of your hips and bum -- always check the fit in a full-length mirror.
- If you choose to wear a suit jacket, look for sleeves with a feminine, unboxy silhouette, a narrow lapel, and a distinct waistline.
- Tops with vertical seaming, darts, and a nipped in waist are imperative. Boxy shirt, dress, or jacket styles that fall straight from under the arm to the hip make you look like a refrigerator.
- Shoulder pads usually don't work, but sometimes they give a better line visually if the shirt or suit has a closer, tailored fit.
Choose sleeves and jewelry that give the illusion of a properly proportioned arm.
- A shorter sleeve can work if it's full enough to leave a visible gap between the cuff and your arm. Most knits can be steamed and blocked to add fullness.
- Avoid wide, boxy cuffs that end at the widest part of your hip.
- While it seems a bit counter-intuitive, delicate bracelets are more slimming than cuff-style. If you wear a watch, choose a delicate style that fits above your wrist bone.
- Avoid very large or small prints. A medium print or stripe can be very flattering.
- Look for fabric with structure or enough fullness. Avoid thin, clingy materials.
- A vest (when in style) works if the armholes are cut in to create a curve and the bottom hem accentuates the waistline. Avoid puffy vests like the plague.
- Shoulder seams that curve into the body of the garment or cut in at a diagonal are much more flattering than straight horizontal seams. Dropped shoulders are an exquisitely awful choice.
- A flutter sleeve can work if it's made from a soft, fluid material. Beware of crisp cottons or denims that create an illusion of bigger arms.
- Never, ever wear a top with sleeves that are snug or have a strangulating band/elastic at the hem.
- Ask a friend for a second opinion on a shirt with puffed or full sleeves. Sometimes they look wonderful and sometimes they're horrid. As a general rule, chiffons, silks and softer fabrics are slimming, woven cottons and linens are not.
The best? Try to buy tops that incorporate at least two of the design ideas above, and remember that a smile and sparkling eyes are always your best accessories.
Arms were made for hugging,