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. 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.
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. ***
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 showing off 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.
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:
Everyday stretch pants and flowy pants, all colors
Check out Pac Sun for jeans designed for an athletic build. Many 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.
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 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.
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
MEET SYLVIA PETRO — THE BROKE, FIT SINGLE MOM: As an athlete of over 16 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.