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. And these designs often leave baggy or ill-fitting material in areas where athletic women are leaner than other women. Clothing designed for the masses can also create a boxy effect on an athletic woman, when she does not need it. These are just a couple of the issues athletic women run into when searching for flattering clothing. 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. ***
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.
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.
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.
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.
The round sloping in this design makes this otherwise body-widening
neckline more flattering for a muscular chest and arm area.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
Rule 4. When it comes to pants, accentuate your shapely legs and look for fitted, stretchable styles; also try roomy styles
The best-fitting work pants I’ve ever purchased:
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.
Exercise pants are easy to buy because they’re already stretchable! Bodysuits also often have built-in stretchability.
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 restricts 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.
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.
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.
Wow, look at those straps. This design would broaden anyone’s build and does
little to flatter the chest area.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I want your feedback. How can this article be improved?
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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