Like saddlebags, flabby upper arms are the bane of women alone. Unless a man is truly obese, his arms are much better defined than those of a women. To add to the challenge, a woman need not even be overweight to have an upper arm issue. More so, speaking from personal experience, a woman can be athletic and be perfectly capable of doing forty push ups without breaking a sweat, and still fail to achieve that perfect definition flaunted by Jennifer Aniston and Madonna. Well then, most of us cannot afford five hours a day with a personal trainer carrying out an exercise program designed for us, but that does not mean that we cannot look elegant and refined - big arms and all.
The first step to disguising larger upper arms is picking the right sleeve. Anything tight, clingly and in second-skin fabric is out. So is anything too delicate (like spaghetti straps) because it would make your arms look enormous by comparison. Forego t-shirts with tight cap sleeves in favor of short sleeve tops with fluttery "butterfly" sleeves that hit you around the top third of your upper arm - just under the bicep.
Three-quarter sleeves are your friends, as long as the fabric is not so thin as to cling to and exaggerate every bit of jiggle. Sleeves like that zero in on the most refined portion of your arm - the lower half of the forearm and the delicate wrist, thus distracting from the heftier upper arm.
Tops and dresses in soft fluttery fabrics with bell sleeves and fluted sleeves are definitely in, especially when combined with small fabric patterns. The small pattern obscures where you end and your sleeve begins, so who is to know? And those beautiful old-fashioned sleeves still showcase your lovely feminine wrists.
Just because you have to cover up your arms, does not mean that you must dress like a nun from a very strict order. Large upper arms can be further disguised by choosing the right neckline.
The jury is still out on whether women with large upper arms should wear strapless. So many of us with the upper arm problem happen to have lovely shoulders and want to show them off. If you decide to go strapless - choose very carefully. It has to be perfect. If there is any hint of pinching, extra skin pushing out, or any indication that you might spend the evening tugging your dress up - leave it.
Opt for a low-cut off-shoulder style with loose sleeves instead. This would allow you to show off your beautiful back and shoulders and that stunning cleavage.
The long sleeves that are slashed all the way up to the shoulder are coming back and combined with an off-shoulder neckline they could be supremely sexy, giving a glimpse of skin, but not unveiling the entire truth.
V-necks and low-cut ballet necks should definitely be considered - they elongate the neck and pull the entire torso together into a more elegant form, thus distracting attention from the arms. A portrait collar is definitely a possibility, but take time to try it on first to make sure that this neckline works with your neck. A visually shortened neck will make it look as if your head is sinking into your shoulders, thus making you appear bigger and bulkier on top - not at all helpful when you have larger upper arms.
Avoid sheaths. The first and last person to look good in a sheath was Jackie Kennedy. The rest of us have to just put the sheath down and back away slowly. Sheaths have too-small arm holes that will exaggerate your already problematic upper arms. Sheaths have rounded necklines that will stunt your neck and make you rectangular on top. Sheaths have no waist to speak of, which will rob you of any shape whatsoever and who needs that? Just... don't ... wear them.
Opt for fabrics and styles that skim rather than cling. That is not to say that you must stick to wearing those horrid shapeless tent-like garments - not at all! Find pieces that emphasize your waist (like wraparound tops and dresses or those with nipped-in waist and larger skirt). Well-defined feminine hourglass form combined with three-quarter sleeves gives an appearance of sexy sophistication - how much better can it get?
It may seem a small thing, but the jewelry you wear may actually impact your overall look. First and foremost, determine whether you are big-boned or small-boned. It is a mistake to think that one's weight or overall body type has anything to do with one's bone structure. There are plenty of skinny women who have large bones and plenty of voluptuous women who are delicately-boned. The structure and size of your bones can be determined by looking at your wrists and ankles - do they appear delicate and small compared to the rest of the limb, or are they about the same diameter?
If you are big-boned, you can get away with large chunky pieces, but do not overdo it. For example, you can combine an off-shoulder neckline with three-quarter sleeves and a bold necklace to emphasize your shoulders and cleavage, thus distracting from your upper arms. Similarly, fun chandelier earrings would do the trick - as long as they work with the shape and length of your neck. They will elongate and pull the eye up, making everything underneath (including your upper arms and torso) look longer and leaner.
Finely-boned women should forgo anything heavy or too bold, opting instead for more interesting filigree pieces. The earrings can still be long and give that elegant swan neck, but they need to be delicate - in the form of slender chains or one long delicate filigree piece.
Same principle applies to the necklaces. If you are delicate-boned, chances are you have stunning collarbones, so cover up your upper arms, but open up those sexy shoulders and enhance the effect with an exquisite filigree necklace. Emphasize your fine wrists with thin bracelets - this will push the three-quarter sleeve effect further and, again, distract from your upper arms.
All in all...
Create a look for yourself. Combine your clothes and accessories in unexpected ways, try them on in front of a full length mirror and see what the overall effect is. Do you look chunky? Shapeless? Bulky? Then it has to go - and it does not matter how much it may have cost you. On the other hand, if an outfit makes you look sexy, feminine, shapely, saucy, elegant, hold onto it for dear life and get more of the same in different colors that flatter you. No imperfection, including large upper arms, is insurmountable, if handled the right way.
Images courtesy of Chadwick's of Boston, Soft Surroundings, Coldwater Creek, Gaelsong