Body Type

What to Wear if You Have Skinny-Fat Arms

Hi Deborah,

I’m 57, fine-boned, and have been pretty slim my whole life. Now, I’m gaining weight in my tummy, and my arms are getting toothpick thin and rather flabby. I’ve been lifting weights, but it isn’t helping much. What can I wear to downplay my old-lady arms? Thanks, Sharon

woman over 60 with skinny arms

Hi Sharon,

They say you can never be too rich or thin, but many, like yourself, would beg to differ, especially when your muscle tone is going downhill faster than a runaway train.

When your arms are skinny but also flabby, it’s called skinny fat. That’s when you don’t have enough muscle compared to your fat because we naturally lose muscle as we age. You can pump some weights to build up your arms, which can help a bit, but it’s hard to get them back to the arms of your youth.

So what’s the best way to dress for your skinny, flabby arms? Here are some tips.

1.    Wear Streamlined Sleeves

Sleeves are good when you have skinny-fat arms,  and you might think the bigger the sleeves, the better, but here’s the thing: your scrawny, saggy arms inside big, voluminous sleeves can make your arms look lost and more stick-like. (Imagine a little boy trying to fill out a man’s shirt, and you get the picture.) It’s even worse when the sleeves are so long that they go past the wrist, making it look like you are drowning.

Does this mean you can’t wear the new wider bell sleeves? Of course not. Wear a streamlined version of a bell-sleeved top, so there’s no bagginess, or go for blouses and shirts with slim (but not tight) sleeves that you actually have a chance of filling out. These are more proportional and look better on skinny arms and frames.

2.    Embrace Sleeve Details

Print, patterns, ties, bows, buttons, zippers, embroidery, and any other details that draw the sleeve’s eye creates the illusion of fullness. Ditto horizontal stripes. (Be careful with vertical ones, as they’ll make your arms seem skinnier than they are.) 

 bracelets for skinny wrists

3.   Step Away from the Big, Chunky Bracelets

You might love big, chunky bracelets, but their substantial size will make your arms look scrawny by comparison. While a bracelet is a good idea to help make arms look balanced,  as a general rule, the slimmer your arms and wrists, the finer your bracelet should be.

There are plenty of lovely ones to choose from, although a word of warning when it comes to selecting a bangle: even though bangles are thin, their stiff, structured shape on your tiny wrist can make them look more like a handcuff rather than a stylish accessory. You’re better off with a bracelet that’s not as stiff and moves with your wrist.

5.    Avoid Spaghetti Straps

Thin spaghetti straps will exaggerate slim shoulders and bony arms, making them frailer and stick-like. Thick straps distract the eye and make your arms appear less boney. Think about that if you are looking for sleeveless summer tops or evening wear. In general, you are best with a top that has a sleeve, be it: capped, short and flowy, 3/4 length, or long. Sleeves are your friend if you have skinny, flabby arms.

6.    Check the Armhole

If you’re a thin-armed gal, you may have had the experience of falling in love with a sleeveless top, only to find that the armholes gaped so much that by simply lifting your arms, everyone around you got to enjoy a lovely view of your bra, your belly button, and your C-section scar. Beware of armholes that are too big in jackets or tops, and instead look for ones that have smaller, higher armholes.

Are you battling skinny-fat arms? How do you dress to camouflage the problem?

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5 thoughts on “What to Wear if You Have Skinny-Fat Arms

  1. Pictures of fashion would be great for the skinny arms issue.
    Also, ideas on what to wear to church…pretty styles but wearing ease while teaching little children and living in a warm climate…’s hard to wear dresses and don’t want to wear jeans or T-shirts or jackets.

  2. I can relate. I am petite & have the same type of skinny fat arms. Any specific arm exercises that help the best?

  3. This is me! Last summer, at 60, I noticed my skinny arms were sagging! I now wear a sweater or top overall, my sleeveless or strappy tops and dresses. I’m lucky sweaters have always been my friend because I’m cold most of the time. This getting old stuff is tough!! Thank you for the suggestions on what to and not to wear.

  4. Excellent Post. I have long thin arms and will be 70 in May. I have narrow shoulders; sometimes, a Medium top swallows me, even some smalls. I usually wear a 6 to 8 on lids. However, for sleeveless tops, I have a time with them being too bulky under the sleeve. When I find something that fits right, I usually buy the primary colors, black, white, and tan……Frustrating, but it keeps me from too much clutter in the closet.

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