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Stylish Alternatives to Going Sleeveless

As the weather heats up, women have a number of smart ways to bare arms

By Susan Sommers

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Flutter sleeves on a Vince Camuto tunic
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Flutter sleeves, like these on a Vince Camuto tunic, flatter even the fullest arms.

Puff sleeves, like these on a Red Valentino blouse, make the arms look slimmer.
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The puff sleeves on this elegant Red Valentino blouse have the effect of making arms look long and slim.

An interesting neckline or front can draw attention away from arms.
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A short sleeve, as shown on this floral Issa dress, looks best when it’s not too tight and when the garment has an interesting neckline or front that draws attention away from arms.

A sheer cardigan, like this one by D. Exterior, hides imperfections.
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A sheer shrug, like this one from D. Exterior, lets you camouflage upper arms and stay cool.

Split sleeve dress by Jay Godfrey
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Now you see ’em, now you don’t: Arms look slimmest in split sleeves, as in this flirty kimono by Jay Godfrey.

Drapey sleeves in a floaty fabric on a Geometrics caftan dress
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Drapey short sleeves in a floaty fabric, like those on this Geometrics caftan dress, are a great way to cover upper arms.

Walter Voulaz shirt has sleeves with a ruffle detail
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On the hottest days, wear minimalist sleeves with a ruffle detail, like those on this Walter Voulaz fitted shirt. They can cloak the fleshiest parts of the arms.

Sleeves on this Armani Collezioni dress conceal more than they reveal
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Soft dolman sleeves that fall from a drapey shoulder line, like the ones on this Armani Collezioni Dress, conceal more than they reveal

Sheer, free-falling sleeves, like those on the Elie Tahari blouse
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Sheer, free-falling sleeves, as seen on this ethereal Elie Tahari blouse, provide cover without heaviness.

D. Exterior dress with sleeves that cover the elbow
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Sleeves that cover the elbow yet spotlight slim lower arms and wrists, like those on this D. Exterior graphic dress, are ultra-flattering.


Every year as summer approaches, boomer women split into two distinct camps: the revealers and the concealers. The super-self-confident (who either work out all winter or have genetically taut arms) dare to bare while others are loath to show even a small amount of loose or lax skin.
To the first group I say, Good for you. But this article is really for those who prefer keeping their upper arms a little under wraps.
Our decisions about clothing are based not just on what’s trendy but what makes us feel comfortable and attractive. There are many sleeve options available these day, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding styles that can make your arms look long and lean or camouflage any problem areas.
To maximize comfort, consider layering a light wrap over a sleeveless top, allowing you to “strip down” if you get too warm yet cover up when that feels more appropriate. And if you do opt for sleeves, you probably want to steer clear of heavy or warm ones. Light, loose or translucent sleeves are the norm in many hot-weather countries, like kurtas in India and caftans in Morocco and Tunisia.

(MORE: The Best Cheap-Chic Meccas for All Ages)
Here are a few suggestions for covering up gracefully:

  • A loose-knit cardigan or wrap shawl can provide artful yet cool camouflage over bare arms.
  • A ruffle that flares out to cover the upper arms or a drapey neckline with dolman sleeves that extend down toward the elbow provide “shoulder interest" and take the focus away from the arms. 
  • Loose long or three-quarter-length sleeves can be just as cool as going sleeveless and, for many of us, are much more flattering. Look for them in sheer or translucent fabrics.
  • Fluttery short sleeves and split longer ones play peek-a-boo with your arms, and the latter are a terrific way to hide less-than-taut upper arms.

Style consultant Susan Sommers is founder of Dresszing, a company that helps people harness the power of their visual presentation, including wardrobe, to feel more confident and be more successful. She is the author of two best-sellers, French Chic and Italian Chic.

Susan Sommers Read More
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