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My kingdom for some sleeves

Why are most formal gowns strapless or sleeveless? Also, why have I never noticed this before?

This is probably a fashion mystery that a simple Midwestern girl like myself will never solve. Just like how I’ve never figured out why fancy watches are never digital. Just try buying a digital watch that is not a sports watch! I searched over a year ago and found maybe three styles.

I’ve got some weddings to attend at the end of May and the beginning of June for my cousin and my aunt. Don’t worry, they’re not marrying each other! I will need something to wear to these events, obviously. I’m not a nudist. I’d usually go for some sort of pants and blouse combo, but I thought it’d be fun to actually get a formal dress because I feel so good about myself lately. I also haven’t shopped for a nice, formal gown since… well, since ever. I skipped the prom because I felt uncomfortable at large social events and still do for the most part, though I’m improving. I was a bridesmaid about three years ago, but that dress was picked out for me and actually had sleeves. Other than that I’ve only worn more casual, afternoon-type dresses.

I can’t actually go shopping for the dress until the beginning of May since I’ll hopefully lose another 20 pounds or so in that time. However, my mother works at a bridal store and brought home the spring catalogue for me to browse. The first thing I noticed while looking through all these pictures of skinny chicks in pastels is that no one had on sleeves! I thought to myself, “Self, this is obviously just because this store is targeting skinny girls. They don’t realize that fat girls hate their flabby upper arms.”

So I searched online for plus size dresses and I was surprised to discover that this is not just a skinny girl thing. Most of the dresses at the plus-size stores are strapless or sleeveless too. Aack! What is going on here? It looks like a popular option is to get a wrap to drape around your arms, but that seems encumbering. I can just see myself fidgeting with it all night long or accidentally dipping the end in the toilet.

This makes me see how limited fashion choices for older people are who might not want to show a lot of skin. Or what if you have some sort of scar or birthmark or lots of freckles or a huge mutant mole on your shoulders that you don’t want to put on display? You’re kind of screwed. When did sleeves go out of fashion? They were fine in the Renaissance.

I’m mulling over my options here and I think it comes down to searching high and low for a dress with sleeves that I may only sort of like or finding a dress that I love that displays my chicken wing arms. I’m leaning toward the latter (that’s the second one). I should probably just get the fuck over my arms. I bet no one at these events is going to be as concerned about them as I am. As long as I keep my arms to my side, the flab’s not that bad. So unless we break into the Macarena or the Hokie Pokie or something, the flab shouldn’t smack any small children in the eye. I’ve also got three months to try and tone them up a bit, which is certainly doable. And damn it, I want a pretty dress! *stomps feet*

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little miss ess • February 16, 2006 at 10:38 am

Maybe you could have something made? Have you ever seen vintage patterns for those fab party gowns that people used to wear in the 50’s? Lots of those have a full sleeve, or 3/4 sleeves with beautiful necklines that let a gal of size show off her best assets. If you could find a pattern or even a picture of something you like, you could go to some old-school seamstress and get something made just for you, and it probably wouldn’t cost much more than something you’d buy through a bridal shop.


Julie • February 16, 2006 at 11:12 am

What about something like this?


Not sure if this particular one appeals to you, but the concept (dress with little jacket) I think is a nice one. (I’m the same way about my upper arms.)


Eh... not so much • February 16, 2006 at 11:47 am

I know how you feel: my matron of honor couldn’t find a dress that covered her arms. She ended up buying the wonderful red dress in this photo (http://tinyurl.com/ckhht ) but also ordered a little sheer jacket because she was self-conscious about her arms too. But as you see, she only wore it a tiny tiny bit. She looked SO BEAUTIFUL!!!


scone • February 16, 2006 at 11:58 am

Talbots has some stuff, as long as you stay away from that “mother of the bride” thing they do. They have a wrap dress in several colors that’s pretty nice. Saks 5th Ave. also has some stuff, and it’s not always expensive.

OTOH, the total cost of the outfit could be ka-ching. And you’ll probably drop several sizes from here, so whatever you buy now, might not be wearable later. So maybe a wrap sweater or shawl of some sort? Even shoes may end up too big. (Hint: mules and slides usually fit even after your feet shrink.) And have you thought of your bag, and maybe hose? Do you need to wear some sort of head covering?

So…. I’m not saying don’t splash out on this, just be aware, you might spend a bit and still not get much wear out of the outfit. IIWY I’d splurge on accessories: necklaces, earrings, bag, wrap, etc.– that stuff will always come in handy, no matter how much smaller you get, and it’s more versatile than a dress.


Elizabeth • February 16, 2006 at 12:11 pm

We got my bridesmaids dresses from Aria, and they were awesome. They have two dresses with sleeves under “Dresses” and then some really niced long sleeved tops you can pair with whatever bottoms you want, here, in the separates area. Tons of colors and really nice fabric too.


The only downside is you can’t try them on unless you live in LA (although they do have a try on program for a fee), but they do make them to your measurements, so that’s nice.


M, the fat girl • February 16, 2006 at 12:56 pm

I think sleeves on fully-formal dresses can be fine, but usually the styles of sleeved-dresses that you find in those pastelly-satiny-formal dress-catalogs are terribly matronly (the jacket option is often ditto). I think you have several options:

1) Get over your arms. This is a great option!

2) Get a wrap, and pin it in place.

3) Look outside the “WEDDING!” realm of formalwear. I recommend http://www.zaftique.com


Manny • February 16, 2006 at 12:56 pm

First off, time to update the stats on the right side of the page.

Second, if you want a big selection of stuff that covers your arms, come to Brooklyn, NY. In the Jewish section, there are plenty of options because Orthodox Jewish law mandates that a woman must cover her elbows, so all the outfits in the Jewish stores do just that. E-mail me for specific stores.


Amy • February 16, 2006 at 12:57 pm

there are lots of fancy capelets (sp?) or half cardigans, ranging in glitteryness if you find a nice sleeveless dress. i usually find them a little glitz for me, but that’s what formal is right? they’re in style right now and would serve the purpose without falling in to toilets or anything else.


M. • February 16, 2006 at 1:40 pm

Isn’t your mom a seamstress? Couldn’t you ask her to attach some sleeves to a store-bought dress? Or, better yet, make you a dress?

Oh, and what about eBay?

If not, really, get over the arms, I’m sure nobody will notice.


Christine • February 16, 2006 at 3:36 pm

Are the weddings going to be formal (black tie, that is)? If not, you might feel a bit overdressed (as in, underdressed) in an evening-gown-type dress. Or are you looking for something that’s more like a cocktail dress? Or are they evening weddings?

But a wrap or shawl isn’t as cumbersome as you might think, and it’ll continue to be useful as you change size, so don’t dismiss it as a cover-up option.


FirmingUp • February 16, 2006 at 4:40 pm

The advice others have given you is great, but here’s another take on it: I know you exercise on the treadmill, but do you work out your arms at all?

I too have been horribly self-conscious about my fat, flabby upper arms all my life. I finally joined the YMCA and started working out mid-January. In one short month I’m amazed at the improvement in my arms. At this rate I’ll feel okay about going sleeveless by summertime. (BTW, the rest of my body is trimming up wonderfully, too. I’ve also been on a sound eating plan since January, but have never experienced results like this with healthy eating alone.) I should mention that I’m 55, and it’s much harder for anything to firm up at my age. I just wish someone had convinced me when I was younger of the incredible results a bit of weight training can produce.

You’re young and you have lots of time to see some significant arm firming by June. Just make sure you get a short training session so you don’t go too gung ho and get tendonitis!


ChunkaMunka • February 17, 2006 at 12:38 am

Do you sew? Do you know someone that can?


I know it’s not a dress, but you could size it to fit you exactly, and pick out the fabric.


ChunkaMunka • February 17, 2006 at 12:45 am

Oh wait, I’m dumb. Those aren’t sleeves, it is a wrap. Doh.

Well, that’s okay though, I prolly shouldn’t suggests patterns/dresses without actually knowing what you like/what to look for LOL


Kirsten • February 17, 2006 at 4:06 am

You have voiced a question I have been asking for years – ever since I had to spend £100 (big money in 1996) on The Only Dress With Sleeves in the World in order to have something to wear to my sixth-year dance. I’m getting my wedding dress made for exactly this reason – not only do I not like my upper arms, but I don’t really want to do strapless in church.

The official explanation is that a sleeveless dress is easier to tailor so that it’ll be a good fit on lots of people. And given the times I’ve found tailored shirts in “my size” to be too tight over the arms, this might be true.

Some larger girls, I’ve noticed, do have slender arms. So it may be that there’s a core of people who consider their arms to be among their better features, and I can see that if you did have pretty upper arms, you’d want to show them off. (I’ve just had a look at your progress photos, by the way, and I think your arms are considerably slenderer than mine are, so you could very likely carry off a sleeveless dress. I don’t know what’s up with mine – everything else has improved, why won’t they?)

I can’t give you a good answer to the question of what to do about it, except to say that if your mom is a seamstress, I’d be asking her for advice…


Kim • February 17, 2006 at 4:09 am

I have lost a 122 pounds and I need to lose about 25 more. No matter how much I lose my arms look like crap. I lift weights to help with flabbage but unfortunately you can only do so much with the extra skin waving under my arm that was previously filled with fat so now I have pumped up my arms…what a choice I have… granny arms or hercules arms…either one stinks. Blah! I feel your pain with dress shopping…I finally found a dress with a jacket that looks okay…LS Ayres for $7.00 on clearance whoo hoo


hopefulloser • February 17, 2006 at 10:07 am

OMG, your last few posts had me rollin’! you’re my fav. I look forward to the pictures of you in your dress lookin’ fabulous!


sharla • February 17, 2006 at 1:06 pm

Who cares what others think, Go and enjoy yourself. The only person you have to please is yourself and we are our own worst enimies.


scone • February 17, 2006 at 1:38 pm

Here’s another idea for you to consider: a kimono jacket. That look is very fashionable right now, and if you have a Chinatown or Japantown in your area your might score a pretty silk embroidered one. I’m thinking really fancy, like “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Some of the embroidered ones even have symbols of marital happiness and fidelity on them– how appropriate is that? Good conversation piece.

Pair the kimono with a simple skirt or trouser, formal shoes, fancy bag, earrings, and put up your hair. The kimono will always fit, and when you aren’t using it you can hang it on the wall as an art object!


M, the fat girl • February 17, 2006 at 2:23 pm

Kim, I understand. I’ve lost about half what you have, and already my arms are like bags hanging from me.

Frankly, some days I think I’d seriously consider brachioplasty if time & toning prove ineffective. It makes me feel like a hypocrite because of how hard I generally try to push myself toward self-acceptance.


M, the fat girl • February 17, 2006 at 2:36 pm

P.S. Pastaqueen: I’d love to see you try this (it’s so much more acceptable now to wear black to a wedding!), or this, or this (if you’re willing to wear red—I certainly am, but lots of people are afraid of the boldness), or this, or this, or this—so many options!—this is great, and this one too—the point is that you should really look through Zaftique’s dresses, I think they’re really versatile formal selections, and mostly under $100.


Chris (Diary of a Fatman) • February 17, 2006 at 3:24 pm

Since I’m a guy, I don’t think I can help you with the whole dress thing. Most of the weddings I’ve seen have had the same types of dresses; you’re either sleeveless or wearing big poofy sleeves that look like hot air balloons hovering around your shoulders.

I saw your site while cruising around on Technorati and just wanted to say you’re pretty damn funny.

Good luck with the weight loss…I know how much of a bitch it is.


Dee • February 17, 2006 at 7:15 pm

I’m sure you’ll find a great dress and look beautiful ;D

I’m glad Chris said something about the humour! Because I was sitting here laughing so much @ the aunt/cousin midwestern wedding and the arm flap slapping some flowergirl in the face while you were dancing… then everyone else was serious.

I’m still laughing at it though LOL… but you will find your dress you’ve got lots of time too ;D


Annie • February 19, 2006 at 8:29 pm

Ok.. i’ve gone from 394 to 194lbs.. have exactly the same problem except i was looking for a wedding dress.. what did i do?.. i found the PERFECT and i mean PERFECT dress except that it was sleeveless (off the shoulder little cap sleeves which left the flabby arms totally visible).. i cried in the dressing room bemoaning my flappage and wishing it had sleeves when my sister suggested we just add them… yeah right.. add sleeves (rolling eyes) but she was right! we matched the fabric and had a seamstress add 3/4 length sleeves to cover that flabby elbow fat.. they did such a fabulous job no one could tell the sleeves were added on. my advice? find the perfect dress and design your own sleeves! BTW the off the shoulder look allowed me to show off beautiful shoulders WITH COLLARBONES VISIBLE!! ME?? COLLARBONES!!!!


Cristy • February 21, 2006 at 12:34 pm

Hey, I just wanted to chime in with some not terribly good dress finding advice, but hopefully helpful praise, and say that you will be beautiful no matter what, dude. No one is going to be looking at your arms, which I’m sure are fine. Everyone, especially the people who haven’t seen you in a while, is going to be looking at you (minus 136 pounds for those who haven’t seen you recently) in a pretty dress and hair/makeup, and saying to each other “Oh my gosh, did you see her? Wow, she looks great!” Absolutely NO ONE is going to say “Yeah, she may have worked her ass off, and looks fabulous, but she really needs some sleeves!” You’ll be great in whatever you wear, trust me.


juliamazal • February 22, 2006 at 1:48 am

I think M and Elizabeth have some great options there.

While you may get more wear out of one of the zaftique dresses (’cause you can dress them down too w/ boots for autumn – i.e.

that one), I think this one is super classy and can be glittered up with dangly earrings or JackieO’d with pearls.

I guess it depends too if you want to dance & what style you’d feel best in.

Ok, ok, I’m done. (And I DO agree with all the peeps here saying, “don’t worry about it”, but as a thin-but-not-fit girl who’s always been self-conscious re: my flabby arms, I relate to your search for sleeves!)


SOS • March 2, 2006 at 9:44 pm

I thought you might like this.

They have others with sleeves as well.



Israel Daniels • December 12, 2006 at 1:18 am

Classical singer Russell Watson postpones his forthcoming UK tour after undergoing brain surgery…


Kari • March 12, 2007 at 6:45 pm

I know this post is a year old, but you may still find these sites useful:


This is a favorite of mine:



Kimberly • August 17, 2009 at 2:07 pm

God my arms are like the most awful things right now and all the cute things I want to buy don’t have any freaking sleeves! WTH?

I am getting a part time job to afford a total body lift and you know what I want done first? My arms! I totally understand where you were coming from now. I hates them! I really, really hates them!


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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