Beauty,  Clothing,  Sportswear

Clothing for Muscular Women – 4 Simple Rules

I was inspired to write this article after having an emotional experience with clothes. I have a history of ripping pants, long-sleeved shirts, and never finding jeans that fit my quads, calves, and waist uniformly. This sort of problem can be nice to have. It’s kind of a source of pride: knowing I’ve grown enough muscle to burst out of clothes made for average girls and having an athletic build that is not the societal norm. But around 2010, when my mom bought me a dress that made me look like a bulky mini hulk, I thought my muscles were too unfeminine to look appropriate in a dress. I had athletically induced fashion disorder or AIFD (coined by myself). It was not until I learned that shapes (or the cut of an item of clothing) were my problem, not my body. I’ve since been able to wear dresses, skinny jeans, long-sleeved shirts — anything I wish.

We all know muscular women look great naked, but finding the right clothing to flatter our physiques can be tricky. Some styles can artificially broaden our bodies and make us look blocky. This is because most clothing is designed for the masses: skinny, average, or plus-sized people. The guidelines below can help make clothes shopping for a muscular build simple.

*** This page updates regularly to keep up with changing trends. The links below are connected to affiliate commission accounts. All clothing featured are handpicked to match the recommendations in this post. ***

Square necklines with thick straps are a no-no.

Quick Neckline Tip: Almost any variation of a square neckline can serve to broaden the body in an unflattering way, as well as thick straps or straps that rest far from the neck area. Any of those designs tend to give the illusion of broadness or exaggerate an already broad upper body. In addition to the basic neckline guidelines below, loose-fitting t-shirts (ex: exposed shoulder – see image below) and tight-fitting (see image below) also flatter an athletic, feminine build, as well as elastic, close-fitting long-sleeved tops. With any style of top or dress, be sure to follow the neckline guidelines below, and read on for tips on pants and gym wear.

 

Spaghetti Strap
You’d think based on the rules above that this design is totally safe,
and it might be depending on your muscularity. What to be aware of
with spaghetti straps is the placement of the straps. The closer the straps
are to the neck, the more slimming the neckline is.
Halter Strap
This is the epitome of a V-neck design and it’s lovely.
The straps sitting close to the neck and exposed shoulders lean-down
the upper body and flatter muscularity and athleticism.
Strapless
A strapless design generally eliminates the neckline issue: there
is no fabric in the way of the shoulders or neck area
that can create the illusion of broadness. However, be choosy with
the design of the waist. High waistlines and accents, like
mid-waist-height belts, can create a broadened appearance.
Scoop
The round sloping in this design makes this otherwise body-widening
neckline more flattering for a muscular chest and arm area.
Halter
Exposed shoulders: check; straps close to the neck: check. This
combination is excellent for showcasing an athletic upper body.
Stray for designs with straps
that are so wide that they cover more than just your
upper traps. Wide straps that stretch from the neck to the
shoulders broaden the neck area.
High Halter
This neckline would be body-widening if the fabric did not hug
the neck area so closely and rise above the clavicle. By traveling up from
the chest to the neck, the design creates the illusion of length.
Asymmetric
Without the exposure of one full shoulder and arm, this design would
appear to broaden the upper body. Be selective with this neckline,
particularly with the heaviness and fabric of the strap that rests on the
shoulder and where the fabric wraps around the body on the strapless
side. The lower on the body the area under the armpit is on the strapless
side, the more slimming this design is, and the lighter and more flowy
the fabric, the better. This will further soften your athletic beauty.
Illusion
Without the semi-transparency of the fabric in the upper chest area,
this design could easily widen the body. Here the transparency of the
fabric showcases the beauty of your shape, rather than an expansion of
fabric across the chest that can be uncomplimentary and body-broadening.
Grecian
This can be one of the most flattering necklines on an athletic upper body.
You get the accents of bare shoulders and the slimming effect
around the neck area. There are variations of this design,
of course, so select options with slim straps and delicate fabrics, versus clunky
straps and heavy fabrics.
Puff/Lantern Sleeve
It’s always good to have options. When selected carefully, this sleeve
option can be attractive while granting you that extra room for your shoulders
and arms. To make this design as flattering as possible, only select large or
long puff sleeve when they are lightweight and/or sheer. This will avoid widening
your appearance. Also select options that puff out slightly, particularly with short puff sleeves. As you’ll see in the below images, there are fashion-forward options to choose from.

 

Rule 1. Accentuate your shoulders and arms with form-fitting, shoulder-flattering, and/or sloping necklines

Rule 2. Not so tight — look for breezy and/or halter-style tops, instead of skin-tight styles

For work or a professional style, flowy tops flatter a muscular or athletic upper body. My biceps are 12 ½ inches, and this rule has never failed me when looking for work clothes. Sleeveless tops with a square-shaped neckline broaden the upper body, whereas sleeveless tops with haltered necklines have a narrowing effect on the upper body, while highlighting shoulder and trap muscles. The solution: eliminate and/or avoid square-shaped necklines from your wardrobe. Extra tip: Avoid horizontal stripes, as this design definitely creates an illusion of broadness across the body.

What to Wear

Professional Wear


Amazon – Women Chiffon Blouse V Neck Office Work Blouse for Women Dress Shirts Tops for Summer
Amazon – Women’s Polka Dots Roll Tab Long Sleeve Blouse Shirt
lantern sleeve dress top, a friendly style for women with athletic arms
SHEIN – Polka Dot Shirred Frill Cuff Blouse

 

Puff Sleeve work blouse for women with athletic arms
Puff Sleeve work blouse for women with athletic arms

 

Casual Wear/Clubwear


casual top for muscular women
Amazon – Women’s Geometric V-Neck Halter Top
Knit halter tank
Neck Sleeveless Shirts Color Block Blouses Loose Cute Camis Top

Asymmetric, close-fitted top for women with developed shoulders
SHEIN – Asymmetric Cutout Neck Ribbed T-shirt
Spaghetti strap tank for an athletic body
AliExpress – Women’s Tank Crop Tops Skirt Outfits Two Piece Bodycon Bandage party Mini Dress

Cold Shoulder Long Sleeve Flowy top for fit women
Cold Shoulder Long Sleeve Top for Women Choker Neck Blouse Shirts Crossed V-Neck Bell Sleeve Top

Rule 3. Feel free to dress up. Don’t be afraid of (stretchy) long sleeves, and you can’t go wrong with strapless

Stick with V-necks and straps that rest close to the neck. This creates the illusion of a longer torso and makes muscles pop!

Muscles will pop in this sweater – Amazon

Amazon – This neckline reveals the shoulders while forcing the eye downward, avoiding a blocky appearance

Shop SHEIN.com For The Latest Fashion Trends!

For well-developed glutes, a form-fitting dress can look beautiful and impressive. A skirt or dress that falls just above the knee can look just as flattering. I don’t recommend going too short or too tight. Short and/or tight skirts and dresses can be cute on a skinny girl, but a muscular girl is often more of an eyeful and may draw more attention than desired. The choice is up to you.

Dresses/Skirts


Amazon – SheIn Women’s Strappy Backless Summer Evening Party Maxi Dress
ShSurplice Wrap Mini Dress for athletic body
SheIn Women’s Surplice Wrap Long Sleeve Pearls Beaded Solid Mini Dress with Belt

Amazon – Women’s Mock Neck Long Mesh Sleeve Zipper Back Sheath Dress

AliExpress – Fashion Women’s Bodycon Shoulder Straps High-Waist Overall Skirt Suspender Skirt

 

Casual Slit Wrap Asymmetrical Elastic High Waist Maxi Draped Skirt

Rule 4. When it comes to pants, accentuate your shapely legs and look for fitted, stretchable styles; also try roomy styles

Bottoms


Amazon – Women’s Casual Loose High-Waist Stretchy Skinny Slim Long Pants

The best-fitting work pants I’ve ever purchased:

No Nonsense Women’s Twill Leggings

 

Amazon – The Ultimate Jeggings!

 

Simplee Women’s Elegant Striped Split High-Waisted Belted Flowy Wide Leg Pants

Sports Tops and Bottoms


Triangle-shaped tops with straps are close to your neck and not directly on your shoulders flatter muscular traps and shoulders. Racerbacks also flatter an athletic upper body. TriangleShape_twitter

A woman like no other
On ebay
Amazon - Yoga Spaghetti Strap Racerback Tank Top With Built-in Bra
Amazon – Yoga Spaghetti Strap Racerback Tank Top With Built-in Bra
Womens Cross Backless Workout Tops
Women’s Racerback Tank Top

 

Exercise pants are easy to buy because they’re already stretchable! Bodysuits also often have built-in stretchability.

View butt-enhancing leggings on amazon
Amazon – High-waisted, glute-enhancing leggings

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Barbell Apparel Women’s Adore Pocket Leggings & Knit Cap Bundle
Amazon – High-Waisted Seamless Leggings for Women Tummy Control Workout Gym Butt Lifting Tights Mesh Yoga Pants

 

Amazon – Boy-cut jogger pants

 

Summary of what NOT to wear:

For tops and blouses, stay away from wide straps that sit directly on your shoulders. Wide straps or the placement of straps far from the center of the body often create a blocky appearance. For bottoms, stay away from restricting materials. Tight clothing with limited stretchability or elasticity restrict healthy blood circulation — something a fit woman should care about. Unless your skinny jeans are stretchable, consider staying clear of them. Take the above four simple rules and rule the clothing aisles and your closet. If you have some tips of your own, please share them with me. Fit women and girls have to help each other on our respective fitness journeys.

Square
Some clues are all in the name, and this neckline says, “stay away.”
A square neckline will only serve to broaden the upper body in an unflattering way.
Sabrina
This neckline should be an obvious no-go because of how much it creates
the illusion of broadness, even on the slim upper body depicted in the graphic.
Queen Anne
Wow, look at those straps. This design would broaden anyone’s build and does
little to flatter the chest area.
Off-shoulder
This design, like the V-neck is an exception to the previous design necklines.
Depending on your muscularity and the shape of your shoulders, this design can be
flattering. Defined, shredded (low body fat) arms would go well with this neckline,
versus a less-defined, but buff build. So if you have a muscular upper body, you can
probably pull this neckline off best after a shredding, competition, or summer
slim-down cycle (if you subscribe to any of those), rather than off season, for example.
Jewel
These straps are too wide. Despite its name, believe me, this neckline would not
be a jewel in your wardrobe if you have an athletic upper body.
Cowl
These straps are too wide and broad and rest on an area of the shoulders that will
only serve to unflatteringly broaden the upper body.
Bateau
This neckline has both thick straps arching out on the shoulders and a square frame
from the neck downward. This shape can widen the body’s
appearance. However, the inward arching of the armscyes can possibly flatter the
shoulder area, so if you like this neckline, I’d suggest trying it.
Wide or Thick-strap V-neck
Although the V-neckline is often flattering for an athletic upper body, where the straps
on a neckline rest and the wideness of the straps can create a slimming or a
broadening effect. The closer the straps
are to your neck and the thinner they are, the more slimming the neckline will be.

Clothing shape -- don't work well with muscles

I want your feedback. How can this article be improved?

Some of the above images take you to Amazon.com for purchase. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. I also earn commissions as a member of the Ascend, Acorns, Google, and CommissionJunction networks. All products advertised align with the philosophies of this website.

 

Article initially published on May 4, 2015 - Updated and republished on May 4, 2018

As an athlete for over 19 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created brokesinglemomfitness.com, now LLAFIT.com, to aid anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site. LLAFIT - Lifelong Affordable Fitness

50 Comments

  • Rachel

    Wonderful article, thank you! My legs are growing due to ,uncle growth and am struggling at finding dress pants. Any suggestions?

    • Sylvia

      Thanks for reading the article. I hope it helps you with shopping. For dress pants, it’s about a roomy but flattering fit, or, if your job is more casual, stretchy and fitted pants can work well.

    • Lcee

      I’ve found that Anne Taylor and Loft make some stretchy dress pants. if you can get away with it at work, black denim also works really nicely. I also just got a pair of Mavi jeans that are crazy stretchy and Lucky Lolita fit is my go to fit. I’m having an issue finding dress shirts that fit my arms and don’t make me feel like I’m going to rip the back if cross my arms in front, so I end up wearing oversized shirts that are pretty unflattering. If someone can start making fitted shirts that are stretchy in the arms, I’m all in.

      • Sylvia

        Hi Rachel, thanks for the tip on Anne Taylor and Loft! As far as finding dress shirts that fit your arms, if you need the shirts for work, I find looking for tops that are designed to be loose-fitting work best. And, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to show some muscle with a tighter sleeve. Some examples are below.
        Off Shoulder Batwing Sleeve: https://amzn.to/2nNccaa
        Roll Tab Sleeve Tunic: https://amzn.to/2EdXwLw
        Drop-Shoulder Single Breasted Shirt: https://amzn.to/2EcD79y
        Cardigan Blouse: https://amzn.to/2nOphAa
        Tight sleeve option: https://amzn.to/2H21TXK

      • Julie panaro

        Great article! As a lawyer, I’ve had to stick to strictly business attire, and found Brooks Brothers has fitted dress shirts that are cut a bit slimmer in the body, but the shoulders and upper back are more generous. I wear a size 10 to for my upper back, but, try a few on and see if they work for you. You go with the last spread!

        • Sylvia

          Thanks for the Brooks Brothers suggestion, Julie, and I’m happy the article helped you. Wow, a lawyer and an athlete. That’s awesome. What sport are you in?

          I’ll look up some items from Brooks Brothers, including the fitted dress shirts, and see about uploading them to this article!

  • Ash

    Thank you! its so good to see ANYONE approach this topic realistically. I need more info tho, I’m terrible at fashion, and with muscle to boot i find I’m looking at pictures of me like WTF!!! its annoying because you work so hard to look hot and you should be able to wear whatever you like! lol 100% agree with short skirts, and add to the bucket, short jump suits, cut at the weirdest level it can look like your thighs are hulk like 🙁 Im going to start researching lots.

  • Meg

    I am a 19 year old girl and have a
    Breakdown every time I go shopping as getting clothes to fit and not rip over my lats Is impossible. My mom sent me this link. Reassuring to know I’m not on this journey alone. The search for work clothes continues. Thanks for your help x

    • Sylvia

      Hi, Meg. I’m so happy I could help, and it’s awesome that your mother researched this issue for you. Just remember that everyone has issues finding the best clothing styles for their body. I learned this from watching What Not to Wear when I was a teen, like you. : ) Never feel bad about your athletic build. Just find what shapes work best for you, and from then on, shopping will be a lot easier. Online shopping really helps with narrowing down styles and shapes.

      • Jenny wren

        Hey Sylvia. Confused about V necks and spaghetti straps ” stick to v necks, ” and “v necks are a no no”… What did you mean thanks !

        • Sylvia

          Thank you, Jenny, for your question. I’ll have to add more detail to my article to prevent other readers from getting confused. The V-neck shape itself is not unflattering, but V-necks with wide straps can create a body-widening effect. In the bottom image of my article that has various women posing, you’ll notice the woman in the orange, sleeveless v-neck dress. Her straps are very wide. The V-neck shape, added with the wide straps, and a muscular build can have triple the body-widening effect. V-necks with narrow or thin straps can work just fine.

          Spaghetti straps can pose an issue when the cut of the top itself is square-shaped, as opposed to V-shaped or scooped. A square neckline can create a widening effect, whether you’re wearing spaghetti straps or even a strapless dress. Here’s a prime example: https://tinyurl.com/yb2yjutv

      • Janet

        Thank you for this article. My daughter hates shopping bc of her build especially dress clothes. Seems clothes are made for the stick figures. This helped us to know what to look for when out shopping.

  • Wendy

    Thank you so much for your article. I don’t fit any of my clothes anymore and it’s frustrating trying to buy new clothes that do fit. I love my muscle but I really miss being able to just put on something and have it look good, especially formal wear. I really hope with the growing popularity of lifting for women that there will be more brands that cater to that body shape.

    • Sylvia

      Wendy, I’m glad my article helped, and I hope the message I got across is that there are many fit girls like you who look awesome because of your athleticism, but the clothing industry ignores our demographic. Luckily, however, we do still have options. As long as you pay attention to what shapes work best for you, you’ll have endless clothing combinations that you can work with.

  • Leigh

    Thanks for writing this article, I’m 17 and recently I’ve been struggling with my body image. I’m fairly muscular (I do rock climbing) and still figuring out how to dress so that it flatters it. I want to look athletic but still not draw attention to my curves, which is a difficult balance. If I wear loose stuff I look big, if I wear tight stuff I look really curvy and stuffed in. I don’t want to look either of those things.

    It’s so difficult to buy clothes that actually flatter me.
    I love racerback tops but unfortunately in winter that’s not really an option.

    • Sylvia

      I’d first like to congratulate you on being fit at 17! Keep it up, because if you stay fit from a young age, you’ll stay looking young; particularly if you continue maintaining and/or building muscle. As for body image issues, I understand. Muscular girls are more rare than girls with average builds. But don’t worry, those average girls want your athletic build. They just don’t want to do the work. Body image issues are also normal when you’re young, even throughout your twenties. Clothing styles can really help. I hope my overall tips helped.

      As for what to wear in the winter, sweaters can be easy. The material goes over the arms and shoulders in a way that typically does not create a widening effect. Unless you buy a sweater that is too big. I like sweaters that fit my arms snuggly, but many sweaters also have a little extra room for the arms, which helps for a muscular build. I’ve seen many muscular women in fitted sweaters and they look awesome. The main thing to do is follow the general shape guidelines in this article, and I know you’ll find more clothing options.

  • Lina

    Thank you for sharing! I have huge muscular arms that look very unfeminine in some dresses and skirts. This was very helpful!

  • Ivette

    I love this. As a relatively early-stage mtf transgender woman, shopping for tops is the hardest thing in the world to do because of all the muscle (I used to be a competitive powerlifter as a male‍♀️). This article made shopping for clothes so much easier, pleasant, fun, and most of all, useful!❤️

    • Sylvia

      I’m so happy my article helped you as you transition. If you discover any tips to add to the article, please let me know. The more tips, the better for all.

  • Ericka Torain

    Thanks. I am a mom of a 12 yr old gymnast who is just trying to figure it all out and I have trouble fitting her. This is helpful.

    • Sylvia

      Hi Ericka, it seems like you’re really supporting your daughter in her sport and with the athletic body it has given her. I hope my tips flatter her build and make shopping easier for her. After a while, knowing what shapes flatter her best will be second nature.

  • social sunday

    Great writing! You have a flair for informational writing. Your content has impressed me beyond words. I have a lot of admiration for your writing. Thank you for all your valuable input on this topic.

  • Laura

    This is a great rundown! I’m a crossfitting mom who’s always had a muscular build – it’s gotten harder than ever to find clothes that are worth wearing out in public. 🙁 I’ll try your jeans suggestions, that’s always the hardest for me. I have a pair each from Gap and Old Navy in their “curvy” fits, which seem fine when I first put them on. The nice stretchy fabric fits over my legs – but it’s so stretch that the waist just slides right down. Bummer. I would suggest checking out tops from Old Navy. They carry most of their tops in “tall” online, and while the fit is hit or miss, I’ve had good luck getting shirts from them. The “tall” designation gives a little more width through the shoulders, as well as some extra length in the sleeve and torso, without fitting like a bag.

    • Sylvia

      Hi Laura, I hope my jeans tips do help you. I found that jeggings work best for me, from my calves to my waist. Some jeggings aren’t perfect, however, and still leave extra space in the hip area. The best thing to do is stick with a brand and style once you find a right fit, as you have done with Old Navy and Gap pants. I’ll definitely track down some pants from those stores and update my article with your tip!

  • Aj Dadulla

    I always struggle with buying dresses, so I was looking for guidelines and stumble upon your post. I always end up with getting stretchy pants (Freddy’s) or a maxi dress with long boots.

    • Sylvia

      Hi Aj Dadulla, thanks for your comment. Stretchy pants are a godsend for muscular and/or shapely legs. Maxi dresses are awesome too. Perhaps I can find a good example to include in this post.

  • Jessie

    What a great resource! Thank you! The one thing that I ask is would you PLEASE use pics of models who actually have muscles for the casual clothes.

    • Sylvia

      Hi Jessie, I wish I could find more photos of fit women wearing the clothing options posted. However, clothing manufacturers use their own models. Perhaps we all can share some images of our own on this post. I’ll look into finding a way to do that for everyone’s benefit.

  • Monique

    Thank you for this article! After I started training for a half marathon this year, I suddenly found that most of my pants didn’t fit me anymore. I appreciated your clothing recommendations for the athletic body shape. A good reminder that increased body mass can be a good thing!

    • Sylvia

      Thank you, Monique. I’m always working on improving this article. If you have any successful clothing purchases after following my tips, you’re welcome to send a picture and I’ll feature you.

  • Janet

    Would like to know what style on bottom looks best for thicker teens “booty” and thighs. Full skirts like flare seem to “blow” up everyone backside.

    • Sylvia

      For pants, stretchable, roomy styles are best in my experience. For skirts, nothing too short or too tight — mid thigh should be the shortest. Flowy, bodycon, or stretchy styles usually do the trick. For dresses, follow the same principles from above, but, if your daughter has an athletic upper body, also watch out for the neckline; be sure it is NOT widening, e.g., thick straps, straps that rest toward the outside of the shoulders, and square-shaped necklines.

  • Naomi

    That is awesome! I’ve always had “big” arms even before working out, and the “mini she hulk” hit the nail on the head. Seriously thank you for the fashion advice!

  • Phoebe

    This is the best article I have read so far because it addresses a need that have bothered me for a long time. I have an athletic upper body (broad shoulders and very pronounced muscles) even though I don’t workout and my major concern is getting outfits that will not make my “Muscular” physique so obvious.

    These tips will go a long way.

    Thank you

  • Daisy

    Thank you for publishing such a helpful article. I am a transgender woman who has not quite came out yet. I have however obtained various articles of women’s clothing and have real difficulty with my wide muscular shoulders and lats ripping garments. If I buy larger sizes to accommodate my broad shoulders, the clothing hangs over and drowns the rest of my body and looks unflattering. I appreciate that my body is biologically male unfortunately, but your article really resonates and I identity with the issues you raise. Thank you so much for sharing your insight and clothing experiences as a woman with muscles.

    • Sylvia

      Hi Daisy,
      It sounds like we’ve experienced the exact same issue in the upper body area with garments. I’m glad my post has been helpful to you, and please comment again if you find a garment that fits you well based on my tips. I’m always updating this post, so look out for fresh tips in the near future.

  • Kelly Judge

    I found the article extremely helpful and want more of these! Here are my stats and perhaps there are others with the same challenges… could you give suggestions for the flowing combinations to athletic build? I am short (5,4). I have very long legs and very short torso which exaserbates my very wide shoulders. My arms are so big sometimes I can’t even put my arms through arm holes. If I do, the next problem is my lats. There is an uncomfortable pull in almost every top or jacket I wear. Sometimes I need help to get the top off! I find high waisted pants make my torso look even more stubby! I have strong quads bc my sport is singles figure skating. My body (and long powerful legs) are perfect for the sport but my off ice look often makes me appear fat.

    • Sylvia

      Hi Kelly,

      I’m glad you found this post to be helpful. I feel your pain. The arms and especially the lats are neglected in women’s clothing styles. Particularly the need for an athletic cut for tops and blouses. Feeling fat because of the size of your legs, I understand that too. Have you tried pants with elastic in them, like those featured in the post? Also check out this post for more suggestions on pants for athletic legs: https://brokesinglemomfitness.com/perfect-pants-for-muscular-girls/

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