Updated: Clothing for Muscular Women – 4 Simple Rules

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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 narrow waist uniformly. I usually laugh at this. 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. Follow the rules below, and you’ll be able to do the same!

Me and my ripped clothing.

We all know that muscular women look great naked, but finding the right clothing to flatter our physiques can be tricky. Some styles can make us look blocky. This is because clothing is designed for the masses: skinny, average, or plus-sized people. Below are four guidelines to make shopping for clothing simple. Remember, the secret is in shapes — the cut of the top, dress, or pants you wish to buy.

*** This page updates regularly to keep up with changing trends. ***

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

Look for tops that compliment your build. The neckline should not broaden your upper body. It should be fitted, flowy, or the neckline should be cut in a way the shows off your muscles and does not smooth over them. This broadens the body. Also, avoid stripes that go across the body. Horizontal stripes create the illusion of broadness.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

 

A peek-a-boo neckline works great for muscular shoulders –
Click to buy or browse @ Amazon

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 close to your neck. This will create the illusion of a longer torso and make your muscles pop!

 

Muscles will pop in this sweater – click to enlarge
This neckline reveals the shoulders while forcing the eye downward, avoiding a blocky appearance.
Sexy V Neck Halter Spaghetti Strap Backless Cami Tank Top

 

Fit for Life Tanks and Shirts
Athletic tees for the functional and calisthenic athlete, yogi, or gymnast
Women’s Casual Off Shoulder Tops Short Sleeve T Shirts Loose Fit Blouses Tops

If you have nice glutes, a form-fitting long dress or short dress/skirt is good. I recommend not going too short. Short skirts/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.

Click to enlarge

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

 

Womens’ Casual Loose High Waist Stretchy Skinny Slim Long Pants (8 Colors)

 

Stretchable skinny jeans

Slim Athletic Fit in Blue Fade Barbell Apparel Stretch Pants

Everyday stretch pants and flowy pants, all colors

Daily Ritual Women’s Skinny Stretch Jegging
Womens’ Straight Leg Dress Pants – Stretch Slim Fit Pull On Style
Stretchable faux leather pants
The Ultimate Jeggings!

Airy and light.

 

Check out Pac Sun for jeans designed for an athletic build. Most of my jeans and shorts are from the Bullhead line at Pac Sun.

Sports tops, tanks, and pants

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


Yoga Spaghetti Strap Racerback Tank Top With Built-in Bra

Sexy Yoga Knotted Tie Back Tank
Mesh Bra With Criss Cross Adjustable Straps

Sporty pants are the easiest to buy because they’re already stretchable.

 

Compression Leggings/Yoga Pants/Running Tights-Flexible Compression Workout Leggings
Women Yoga Fitness Leggings Running Gym Stretch Sports Pants
Womens’ Skinny Stretchy Yoga Pants Active Workout Leggings Tights

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 farther from the center of the body often creates a blocky appearance. For bottoms, stay away from restricting materials. Tight clothing with limited stretchability or elasticity that 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.

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.

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

MEET SYLVIA PETRO — THE BROKE, FIT SINGLE MOM: As an athlete of over 15 years, and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created this site to aid not only broke single parents to a life of fitness, but anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the road to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; informing readers about mastering both of those building blocks is my goal.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachel says:

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

    1. Sylvia says:

      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.

    2. Lcee says:

      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.

      1. Sylvia says:

        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: http://amzn.to/2nNccaa
        Roll Tab Sleeve Tunic: http://amzn.to/2EdXwLw
        Drop-Shoulder Single Breasted Shirt: http://amzn.to/2EcD79y
        Cardigan Blouse: http://amzn.to/2nOphAa
        Tight sleeve option: http://amzn.to/2H21TXK

      2. Julie panaro says:

        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!

        1. Sylvia says:

          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!

  2. Ash says:

    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.

    1. Sylvia says:

      What else would you like to have covered in the article?

  3. Meg says:

    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

    1. Sylvia says:

      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.

  4. Wendy says:

    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.

    1. Sylvia says:

      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.

  5. Leigh says:

    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.

    1. Sylvia says:

      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.

  6. Ana says:

    Thank you for this article!!

    1. Sylvia says:

      I’m glad you found it useful, Ana.

  7. Lina says:

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

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