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The Sleeveless Professional: Body Types, Bare Arms, and Expectations

sleeveless-professional-2Is it professional to go sleeveless at the office — even if you don’t have perfect arms? When you want to bare your arms at your sleeveless-is-acceptable office, is it worth considering other people’s potential reactions if you don’t exactly have Michelle Obama arms to show off? Do people adjust their expectations of what’s “appropriate” when considering coworkers of different body types? Reader C wonders…

Some of the women in my department (including those who outrank me) wear sleeveless dresses and tops in the summer months, and I’d like to as well. However, from what I’ve seen, my arms are a lot flabbier and dimplier than those of the women who usually go sleeveless. I don’t want people to be grossed out (though I don’t think they should be and I am NOT ashamed of my body) but I was wondering if you think there are different attire expectations for different body types.

Hmmn.  We haven’t talked about going sleeveless at work in a while — in general we’ve noted that you should know your office when it comes to bare arms, and when we talked generally about what not to wear to work, many of you mentioned in the comments that sleeveless tops and dresses are acceptable at your office. I’m really, really curious to hear what readers say here.  (Pictured: Classiques Entier Colette Sleeveless Dress, available in green and black, marked down to $142 (from $235).  Here’s an awesome plus-size sleeveless sheath dress available in three colors, also on sale.)

For my $.02: I think that if sleeveless dresses are appropriate for some in the office, they are appropriate for everyone in the office — so listen to your own comfort level, and go ahead and wear them if you want to!  Note that in general, sleeveless tops and dresses are more professional when they have a thicker strap, a very high armhole (so there is no underarm… spillage, shall we say), and (obviously) no peekaboo issues with the bra.  The more formal the item of clothing (blouse vs. t-shirt, sheath dress vs. maxi), the more likely it is to be appropriate.  

As someone who has always had flabbier arms as well, though, I will note that sometimes a fake tan helps a bit, as does having a lightweight (cotton, linen) sweater or blazer to wear when you’re arriving places.  Even if you end up removing the sweater or blazer to be more comfortable, the initial impression is more formal.

Ladies, what are your thoughts on going sleeveless at the office?  If you have flabby arms, do you go sleeveless?  

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N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!

 

sleeveless professional

Comments

  1. Although I greatly admire Michelle Obama, I hold her responsible for the rest of us feeling bad about our upper arms.

    • THANKS, OBAMA.

    • :)

      Every now and again I wonder if there is a non-model/celebrity that walks the talk on “can this be done”?

      Yes it can. I know, she has better infrastructure and STAFF, unlike most of us. I see her as not only a First Lady, but as someone like me who has non-waif bones.

      pass me the weights. Mine need to improve.

  2. I have very toned, muscular arms, and I don’t go sleeveless at work. I don’t think it is professional (for anyone of any arm size, shape, etc) to be sleeveless in a business professional environment. You notice how Claire Underwood never went sleeveless unless it was an evening/gala event? Exactly. But as a secondary reason, which I don’t mean to be a humblebrag, is that I do think my arms are damn s*xy and that is not an adjective that I want associated with my appearance in the office. Same reason I don’t wear things that are short or too tight. Can I get away with it according to the societal standards that would “allow” me to wear these types of clothes at work because I have an “acceptable” body type? Yes. Do I want to wear them to work? No.

    And I’m super mad at J.Crew right now because their latest line of summer suiting dresses are ALL sleeveless. Grrrrr.

    • oh my god.

      • anon-oh-no :

        seriously! But to each her own.

        I literally did not know that “don’t go sleeveless” was a thing until I started reading this blog. Our arms are not [email protected] in any way possible.

    • The only thing about sleeveless dresses that bothers me is that men like to look at our breasts when we wear them. I once punched a fraternity pig from college who went one step further in our comparative lit class by dropping a quarter down my dress through my left sleeve into my bra when I raised my hand to answer a question, and saying “bingo”…as if he was playing some kind of slot machine! He never won with me and I did NOT return his quarter. Men are total pigs when it comes to female anatomy.

      • Cream Tea :

        To be fair, I don’t see down-the-dress-coin-tossing as a pressing issue in the workplace.

        • As an FYI, the frat guy could be, and should be, held accountable for this behavior – consult with your Title IX Coordinator on campus for your options.

          It sounds like you may have graduated, though most students should know that sexist behavior in the classroom that deters learning is something that students can be held accountable for. Colleges also hold groups accountable, so if your classmates were frat buddies, ALL of them would learn.

          There is plenty of room for humor on campuses. This, as unwelcome and unwanted behavior, should be addressed so your fellow students don’t head into the workplace thinking that this will fly. That’s how I see a connection here. No limitation on wearing a sleeveless ANYTHING to class.

    • What?!

    • Once upon a time ANKLES were deemed “too sexy” and mine are FIIIIINE. But I don’t cover them up because of how possible closet-Victorians may act. I dress them according to what I like that fits with my life and work :P

      Same goes for sleeveless.

    • Some of us are 50 plus and suffer from hot flashes. For us sleeveless saves us from melting down during a key presentation or worse. You never know what another person is experiencing so it wise not to hold people to your standard.

  3. Wait, WHAT?! Sure there are different “expectations” for people of various shapes and sizes, but there shouldn’t be. Nor should you conform to the idea that you’re too fat/thin/toned/untoned to do X. Dress YOUR body appropriately. Hard stop.

    If in your office you can wear sleeveless tops, everyone from a size 2 to size 20 should be able to. The fact that this is even a question makes me want to scream.

    • Anon for this :

      To preface this, I’m a curvy, perpetually 15-lbs overweight woman who loves her body. But, I have to go anon, because I think I will be attacked for this.

      I agree with the spirit of L’s answer, but I also think that — as with most standards for clothing in the workplace — there is a disconnect between what we should think, and what the general expectations are. A ton of standards for “professional” clothing are unfair to various body types. For example:
      * Button-down dress shirts. They just don’t look as neat on large-chested woman, but they are the gold-standard for business formal.
      * Skirt length. Women with thin thighs can wear shorter skirts. Period.
      * And sleeveless dresses. I put this more on skin quality than on whether your arms are toned or not. There is a woman in my office who has beautiful skin – smooth, tan, no dimples. Her arms are not toned at all, but they look great in sleeveless dresses. I don’t have smooth skin. I have red bumps all over my upper arms and little fat dimples. I won’t wear sleeveless dresses because my overall appearance just isn’t as neat.

      Do I think these double standards are fair? No. But we all agree that clean lines are important when dressing professionally. That’s why we all get things tailored. Clean lines don’t always extend to various body parts. It is awful and I’m all for the same standards applied to all body types, but that’s not how things actually work. As with most of these rules for workwear, it’s important to know how the rules are applied to different people.

      • Diana Barry :

        I agree with you that what the standards should be is not what they are, but I disagree on skirt length – too short is too short on anyone.

        I don’t wear sleeveless at the office because my office is freezing and because it seems less formal, and I also don’t wear sleeveless at work events because I don’t like the disconnect between women’s clothing and men’s clothing if women are wearing dresses and men are wearing suits.

      • Away Game :

        I disagree with these examples, although I do think there is clearly some – hopefuly silent – thinking that maybe Jane doesn’t have the body type to wear what she’s wearing, even when “it” fits and is appropriate for the office.

        The issue in the question is not what you have to wear, but what you want to wear. I may not think button front shirts look neat on me (they never stay tucked, not a bust issue), but I have other equally formal options and have never felt like I wasn’t as formal as a colleague who liked/wore button front shirts. Also, women with large busts who like those shirts and have shirts that fit properly should of course wear them if they want. I have never looked at a colleague and thought “gee, too bad her chest is so big, she otherwise could wear a button front shirt” – I don’t notice what people *aren’t* wearing. Some women will wear skirts but hate sheath dresses because of body shape issues – and I seriously doubt anyone ever wonders why Jane only wears skirts or pants and not sheaths.

        Short skirts are not appropriate in my office no matter what the wearer looks like; women with thin thighs may have more confidence in wearing them out at night/weekends but (if on my staff) I’d still send them home or at least warn them about their lack of appropriate professional appearance. Summer interns – I’m lookin’ at YOU.

        Sleeveless dresses aren’t considered formal enough in my shop either, but I certainly would not let thin/good skin women wear them but think less of those who (like me!) do not have shapely arms and good skin if that clothing were considered appropriate.

      • I would much rather work towards “normalizing” minor imperfections by working on my own expectations around arms, etc – things look “unprofessional” because we have a set of cultural beliefs which say that they are unprofessional, eg, women in pants prior to the eighties, but this is subject to change. On the one hand, you have to ask yourself where this leads – would we want to “normalize” people coming to work covered in dirt, or wearing swimsuits? But on the other, I think there’s space to say “we all have imperfect bodies, sometimes it’s really hot, and we should be able to feel neutral about seeing someone’s pudgy arms in a professional context”. I mean, if people can accept that I do not have carved cheekbones and am starting to have some eye wrinkles, surely they can accept that my arms are not perfect. (Also, no matter what my weight is at any given point, I have very wide shoulders and build muscle really easily – my arms are never “normal” because it’s not considered “normal” for women to have wide shoulders and significant muscle. I don’t think I should have to forgo sleevelessness because we have a cultural expectation that women all should have slender arms.)

        Honestly, I have a relative by marriage who is both a lovely person and a beautiful person and is also pretty big…and seeing her arms in the summers has basically normalized larger arms for me. They’re just arms. Some of us have the socially ideal arm; some of us don’t. But that doesn’t mean that non-ideal arms are actually unsightly.

  4. Anonymous :

    No. Nope nope nope. If sleeveless clothing is appropriate for women with muscular arms it is appropriate for women with un muscular arms. Full stop.

    And no, princess above, your arms are not distracting sexy. Promise.

    • Yay! I agree. NO matter what your arm’s look like, do NOT go sleeveless. IN my case I do NOT b/c it give’s Frank a chance to peek from the side at my boobie’s, so once he did this, I have alway’s worn dresses with sleeves, or, if I do have a sleeveless dress, I put on a turtelneck with sleeve’s so that he can see NOTHING from the side. FOOEY on Frank! He has a wife with boobie’s that he can stare at all night and weekend’s. Why does he insist on stareing at my boobie’s? He even stare’s at Lynn’s boobie’s and tuchus and Madeline’s boobies and her tuchus, and her tuchus is the size of my chair. He told the manageing partner that he has bad eyesite so he has to stare in order to focus. I think this is bull b/c he NEVER stare’s at Mason’s tuchus. Grandma Trudy think’s that if his wife took better care of him at night, he would be more relaxed and NOT feel the need to stare and ocasionaly grab at our tuchus and boobie’s. That is NOT right for the workplace, tho Frank alway’s pretend’s he is reaching for something when he grabb’s. FOOEY on that!

  5. Agreeing with all. Kat, the phrasing of this question is bu!!sh!t.

  6. I’d guess there are regional differences. In my mid-size law firm in a small northeastern city, sleeveless is not OK. Overall level of dress is business formal (when in court or meeting with clients) to business casual.

  7. DC Biglaw :

    Sleeveless is ok here as part of business casual attire; though I wouldn’t do it at an important or large internal meeting.

  8. Away Game :

    Dress codes – written and unwritten – apply to everyone and no, it doesn’t matter what your body looks like. At all. Another example: If your office doesn’t “require” pantyhose, and women generally don’t wear hose, then you don’t need to wear hose if you don’t want to – even if your legs are pale/bruised/scarred/vein-y/unattractive-in-your-own-head.

    The issue is do YOU feel confident and want to wear X-that-is-acceptable-in-your-office? If you do, you should absolutely rock X and FOOEY on anyone who thinks otherwise. (I suspect we are way more critical of ourselves than others and others likely won’t notice your arms at all.) OTOH, if you would spend the day feeling self conscious, have a blazer or cardigan or shawl around, because really, no reason for self-inflicted stress either.

  9. This will be an unpopular answer, but I have always thought that exposed skin is about number of inches exposed. Even though women with larger thighs SHOULDN’T have different expectations for skirt length, there are simply more square inches of skin exposed with short skirts on larger thighs, so the SKIN!! message to the office mate/observers’ eyes/brain is multiplied as compared with a short skirt on smaller thighs. Same with arms–expectations are exactly the same for differently-shaped women. However, the SKIN!! message goes by number of square inches exposed, so larger arms in sleeveless tops simply play as *more* exposed skin than do smaller arms.

    • Anonymous :

      So, a short thin person can wear a mini skirt then, while a tall heaver person is stuck with a midi-skirt?

      • Honestly – yes, to some extent. As a tall person, I just can’t wear short shorts or mini-skirts like my short friends can.

        • Pretty Primadonna :

          I actually agree with this. Adding another example, women who have straight up and down figures can wear very fitted clothes and not be perceived as looking “sexy” or “vavoom” as opposed to women who are shapely or “curvy” wearing the same outfit. Some figures can more easily get away with things than others.

          • Anonymous Poser :

            I do relate and agree with Pretty Primadonna’s example of of the same fit and style giving a very different impression on differently shaped women. I’m not sure how to apply it to the case at hand…

            And I do wonder what affordable brands of sheath dresses have armholes high enough to not flash bra (hope this isn’t too far off topic)…Any recommendations for a full-busted woman for whom Calvin Klein cap-sleeve sheath dresses work, otherwise?

        • As a tall lady with a large chest and very defined hourglass figure I definitely need to be more careful about what I wear. I cross the ‘Jessica Rabbit’ line very quickly. I’m also tall, so a short skirt plus heels on me, if it’s any shorter than the top of my kneecap and should theoretically be ‘appropriate’ just reads as LEGS.

    • This reads to me as ‘cover up if your fat, you have enough skin showing already’.

      • Hahaha. You hit the problem with the comment on the head.

        • Anonymous :

          I agree with the premise that the “SKIN!!!” message is a problem, but I don’t think it applies to just being fat. I’m underweight, and I think that also tends to give off the SKIN!! message. Like, if you can see my shoulder bone outlines, it seems naked-er than seeing a normal shoulder where it’s covered with muscle/fat

          • I think exposed skin always reads as sexual whether male or female. I always look to men’s professional attire and how it covers the skins and focuses the attentions on a man’s face and what he is saying as my guideline. If you look at men’s attire you notice that the button down shirt hides the collar bones and puts the focus on the face. The shirts tend to be long to cover the elbow and wrist bones. The jackets fit somewhat loosely hiding a man’s waist and his figure and they always cover the buttocks. The dress socks are dark and not see-through and the shoes are lace up oxfords or loafers. The only skin you see on a man in professional attire are his hands, face and a little bit of neck. This little bit of skin showing is what I try to achieve in order to focus the attention on my face and words and not on my body or skin. I detest front button down shirts on me because I am plus size with size 42 H bust. I wear sheets with short sleeves that cover my collar bones and button in the back. My jackets are at least a four button style from the that button above my breasts and the jacket falls to my fingertips hiding my shape and my bottom and focusing the attention on my face. A look similar to Mrs. Huges outing jackets on Downton Abbey.

    • No, not even a little bit “cover up if you’re fat.” Simply that when you see more skin, it reads like you’re seeing . . . more skin. More exposed reads like more exposure. You do you ladies, and fooey on the haters (and a miniskirt is NEVER appropriate for the office, or at least not for any office I’ve ever worked in, no matter what your size/shape). I just definitely notice when I see a lot of skin, and that to me is what reads as “exposure.” It doesn’t really matter if it’s vertical inches or horizontal inches, it just matters how much skin you’re actually seeing or showing.

      • “It doesn’t really matter if it’s vertical inches or horizontal inches”

        I’m really just trying to follow your logic. So, Size 16 wears a skirt one inch above her knee. Size 2 wears skirt one inch above her knee. By your logic, you read Size 16 as more inappropriate than Size 2 since Size 16 has more horizontal inches of skin exposed, which is a direct function of her being fatter than Size 2? Because that’s what I think I just read.

        • Anon….I think you are right and you are reading Also Kat’s comments correctly. However, I don’t think Also Kat means it that way (i.e. if you are heavier, you should cover up more to compensate for showing more skin). I think she really just means the more skin you show the less appropriate. Don’t know if I agree but I don’t think she means it that way.

          • Yep, this, KCC. Again I realized up front that my comment would read as controversial, but I genuinely don’t mean it in a judge-y way, and I DO genuinely think people should do whatever they want. I have the same “jessica rabbit” problem someone mentioned above, and I’ve learned this “more inches” thing because I fluctuate about 10lbs over the course of the year, and I notice that when I’m a little heavier, my skirts “read” a little shorter (not just because I’m filling them out more–they hit at the same spot on my leg, they just *look* more Jessica Rabbit). And when I’m at the lower weight end of my personal spectrum, that same skirt hitting at that same spot “reads” a little LESS short. I like to push the limits and work in a creative office, so my skirts are typically about 4 inches above my knee, so I tend to notice that the “more skin” thing reads based on square inches showing, regardless of WHERE they’re showing. To each her own and everyone’s mileage may vary, and frankly I am 100% supportive of women of any shape, size, age, color, whatever doing and wearing whatever they want. I’m just saying that the more skin you show, the more skin it looks like you’re showing. And that when there’s factually *more skin* on your legs or arms or wherever, that counts as more skin.

  10. Anonymous :

    I hope this isn’t a threadjack, but does anyone have arm workouts that will leave me toned, not bulky?

    • Well you’re not likely to get bulky unless you’re genetically built that way plus have adequate protein intake.
      Nevertheless, I recommend body-weight type exercises: push ups (do as many as you can w/ proper form, whether that be on your knees or toes, don’t try to increase the number if it means sacrificing form), tricep dips, planks, pull ups, yoga, etc.

      • Also what determines definition can be your individual fat/muscle distribution and general build. There’s a body fat percentage/fitness level for me where I have definition in abs/back/legs. But, despite working the arms equally as hard, I just won’t have cut arms.

        • Clementine :

          Yep!

          I’ve even had body composition tests done where the results came back as this: your legs are all muscle , you have a low end of average body fat amount on your hips, but the skin fold on your upper arms is basically in the ‘borderline obese’ range.

          • PinkKeyboard :

            This is me. My upper arms are literally as fat from the side as my waist. Well, when I’m not pregnant. Now my waist is quite large. No fun thin upper arm optical illusion though.

    • Must be Tuesday :

      Yoga is great for toning arms, especially if you do a lot of vinyasa, down dog, plank, chaturanga, and/or arm balances. If you want something fun and out of the ordinary for arm toning, try a pole dance class.

  11. This post scares me a little. I never think that much about what I wear. I wear what I think is appropriate and conservative for my office but I’ve never really thought about sleeveless only for great arms, short skirts for pretty legs, or anything like that. I don’t have a particularly nice figure but I wear whatever I “think” looks good on me. I now question if my choices are right. I wonder if others look at me and think “she’s too heavy for that skirt length” or “her arms aren’t tone enough for sleeveless”. Maybe I need to pay more attention to things.

    • Or you do not need to pay more attention to these things. If you what seems appropriate and looks good on you, you are way ahead of the game.

      • *if you wear what seams appropriate

      • +1

        I think there’s a fine line between “making sure you’re office-appropriate” and “spending too much time thinking about what’s office-appropriate.” And if you’re on the side of the former, stay there!

        At some point, we have to make our own decisions about what’s appropriate and go with it.

  12. Hmmm this is interesting. Personally, I believe that so long as the outfit is appropriate for your workplace, wear whatever you want to and are comfortable in. However, I also live in reality, where people make inappropriate comments at work regardless of whether you are wearing a work-appropriate outfit and there are double standards everywhere.

    In my office, the dress code is supposed to be business casual, but in reality that ranges from shiny sweatpants and Harley Davidson t-shirts/culottes and “fancy” flip flops to a shirt and tie/sheath dress and blazer (although the only person I have ever seen wear a tie in this building is my law school classmate who just took a job over in the UK and for what it’s worth neither of us have attorney on our business cards). I took my blazer off the other day because I was warm and was walking around in my sheath dress bare armed. I certainly was not under-dressed for my office by any means, but I will admit that I felt a little bare that way. I love my arms and think they look great, so it didn’t have anything to do with that. I just felt, well, bare. I do not like feeling bare in the office because I equate that in my mind with feeling bare socially, which means I am dressing in a non-professional way (more leg, more chest, more whatever) or I am actually wearing less clothes (bathing suit).

  13. I have worked at 4 Fortune 500 companies in the last 20 years in NYC and I have never had a dress code which permits sleeveless clothing. In fact, sleeveless is specifically prohibited. I’ve worked in business casual environments usually and even one where it was ok to wear jeans on Friday. I think sleeveless is horribly unprofessional even if you have perfect hairless tanned and toned arms.

    • Shopaholic :

      See I don’t understand this. I understand the concept generally that sleeveless is less professional than sleeves BUT how can sleeveless be professional if you have nice arms but not otherwise?

      • That’s not what I said … I pretty much said that even if you have perfect arms it is unprofessional.

        • anon-oh-no :

          I just cannot understand it what world a sleeveless dress or shell is unprofessional. obviously im not talking about spaghetti straps or a br@ hanging out, but come on.

    • You’re right, honestly. It’s just not professional. I think Diana Barry said something about it in relation to menswear, and I agree. Could you imagine a world where a man would wear a sleeveless garment in a work setting? Preposterous.

      • Anonymous :

        men generally don’t wear sleeveless garments though

        • Sure, which is why wearing sleeveless garments draws attention to the fact that you are a woman. I’m not saying we have to avoid femininity (or maybe I am?), but the less attention that I can draw to something 100% unrelated to my job performance, ie the fact that I happen to have female s3x organs, the better. I know this sounds radical, but I’m hoping the smart ladies on this blog will have something interesting and insightful to say in response. I’m willing to be talked off the ledge of my workplace gender atheism.

          • Anonymous :

            I have a 34G bra size. There is no doubt about my femininity in the office no matter what I wear, and sleeves or sleeveless isn’t going to make a difference.

            Do you feel the same way about wearing dresses and skirts?

            I don’t think the goal should be suppressing femininity, but instead, leaving women the option to be feminine, if that is who they are, or not, if that’s not who they are, and embrace more diversity in workplaces generally.

          • anonymous :

            This may be a generational/ time-specific thing. Once upon a time, styles for professional women trended mannish (with fewer skirts and dresses) for this reason, but things aren’t that way anymore. Maybe the debate about sleeves from this particular angle will share that fate.

          • Tattooine :

            This NYT article on FLOTUS’s unabashedly feminine wardrobe is pretty on point here:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/26/fashion/for-michelle-obama-girlie-clothes-that-lean-in.html?_r=0

            “In choosing to meet young women in clothes that, perhaps, make her look like them — or how they may want to look if they didn’t have to wear school uniforms — Mrs. Obama was implying: You can dress like a girl and dream about getting a Ph.D. (or a law degree, if we are being picayune), too.”

            I don’t particularly like the idea that women need to act/dress/think as much like men as they can to get ahead. It implies that male dominance and historical success is somehow related to their maleness and the socially acceptable way of representing that maleness, rather than to a patriarchal system incredibly stacked in their favor.

        • This is my thing. Why do women think it’s ok to be sleeveless or bare-legged, when men absolutely cannot do so in a professional environment? I have been in the working world for a long time, have seen a lot of changes, but I just don’t get this. Cover up the skin for the office.

          • Men can’t wear shorts to the office. Do you think women’s skirts must all be ankle-length?

  14. Pretty Primadonna :

    I only wear sleeveless dresses and blouses to work under cardigans or blazers. If alone in my office, sometimes I work sans cardi or blazer. This has more to do with sleeveless attire in a business setting being inappropriate than what my arms look like.

    • Yes, same here. I feel “underdressed” in sleeveless tops/dresses, always wear cardigan or jacket on top and feel overexposed if I, for example, go outside on a hot day and am too hot to put the jacket/sweater on right away. I had a perfectly-toned, tanned subordinate who used to wear sleeveless all summer and I didn’t like the level of formality that it gave off.

      • Pretty Primadonna :

        Oh! For me, outside of the office, sleeveless is fair game. I live in the south. It’s humid out there!

  15. I think you should wear what you are comfortable in and what is appropriate for your workplace, regardless of size. The fact that C had to ask this question leads me to believe she is not comfortable going sleeveless at work. If you are feeling uncomfortable or have doubts about what you’re wearing, you are not going to give off a confident and professional vibe.

    I rarely go sleeveless at work, unless the office is unbearably hot, I may take off my jacket or cardigan while I’m sitting at my desk, but put it back on if I have to walk around the office.

  16. This is very loaded. I think to the OP, wear what you’re comfortable wearing and if others go sleeveless and you’re okay going sleeveless, go for it, assuming all else is appropriate as Kat suggests.

    As for the rest of it, I think this is less a question of “can you” but “should you,” which is much more of a gray area. To take it out of weight/body shape, think about feet and open toed shoes. I can and do wear open toed pumps to work in the summer. But I also make a point of making sure that my feet are neatly groomed if I do (nails trimmed, heels sanded, nail color office-appropriate) and that my shoes are otherwise work shoes (no glittery thong sandals). I would guess no one notices my feet one way or the other this way and that is exactly the point!

    In terms of bare arms, bare legs, or how short a skirt you can wear, I think it becomes a similar judgment call – do you look and feel professional in what you are wearing? If yes, wear it; if no, wear something else.

    • Anonymous :

      I agree, it’s all about not looking super out-of-place. I think I’m too skinny/bony to show a lot of skin–it’s not just if you’re overweight.

  17. Calibrachoa :

    I never think about twice baring my fat, hairy, tattooed arms… outside the office, that is. I don’t feel I am on the same level as everyone else if the guys have long sleeves because it makes me feel exposed in a non-se*ual way. Clothing is modern day armour, and to me sleeveless in the office makes me feel vulnerable.

    Our dresscode specifically forbids sleeveless – last time I checked anyway – mainly due to the fact that we have a ton of junior employees often not even old enough to drink in the US and they tend to have a very loose idea of what is and is not appropriate.

    • This is definitely how I feel about it too! I like my business clothing to make me feel powerful (so I want to hide the skinny/non-muscular arms and legs)

  18. a true feminist :

    Why are people euphemizing, through novel spelling, words like “sex,” “sexual,” etc.? Those aren’t dirty words. I would like to request that posters not do that. If you are referring to sex, then please spell it correctly, i.e., “sex,” rather than s3x. The euphemistic way is childish, and it feels demeaning to women, as if we didn’t have the right to use those words. In fact, we have every right to discuss sex and sexuality without feeling ashamed or softening the impact of our words.

    • Because the comment filter used to not allow the spelling.

    • Other people have a right to their feelings about those words too so I think it’s best you drop this.

      ETA: What Liz said, too.

    • Because properly spelling those words causes your post to get delayed in moderation.

    • People are just making sure their posts aren’t moderated. Personally I can’t keep track of which sites monitor for which words.

    • Yeah lol- I’m not using 1337-speak as a euphemism because I’m afraid to spell the word, lol. It’s the moderation.

  19. The overall idea is always to look polished and professional. If you look polished and professional in sleeveless attire, go for it. If not, sure, you can wear sleeveless if the dress code allows it, but you’re probably not doing yourself any favors.

    It isn’t necessarily about how thin/toned you are. For example, I’ve had toned arms at the same time that I had a keratosis pilaris (tiny pink bumps/redness) flareup, and no way would I wear sleeveless to work then. However, currently, my arms are a little less toned, but smooth and KP-free, so I do wear sleeveless sometimes. (Although I’m the only female partner at a pretty casual law firm, so I basically wear what I want.)

  20. Diamond Lil :

    I don’t normally wear sleeveless tops/dresses in the office because it’s hard to find ones that don’t show bra underneath the arms (I’m a bit chesty, which doesn’t help with that). However, the custom qipao that I wear in the summer are sleeveless and because they have high necks and don’t show any cleavage, they read more formal and less exposed. I’ve never felt that I was inappropriately dressed for anything that didn’t require a suit.

  21. I think bigger women absolutely SHOULD be able to go sleeveless in an office that’s fine with that for other women. However, I don’t think we’re there at all yet, and I’d rather get promoted and then work on those rules.

    If you’re talking about a size 2 vs. a size 8, then go for it, I don’t think it matters. But as a fat woman (size 18), I wouldn’t even consider a sleeveless dress without a cardigan (that doesn’t come off!). Should my boss/coworkers judge me for revealing big fat arms? No, but of course they will, and I don’t want something as minor as my sleeves to hinder my career.

    When I have lunch with my boss, I wouldn’t order a burger, either, even when a size-4 coworker does. It’s a bummer that I even have to be aware of those messages I send, but I do want to minimize the negative things my boss thinks about me.

    I’m happy to eat a burger or even go sleeveless with friends and family. The office is just not the place where I’m going to push those boundaries.

    • Anon for this :

      +1 to get promoted and then work on the rules.

      On another note, this makes me sad. I’m a straight size 4 on top, 8 on bottom and my sister is a size 18-20. My sister works for a very judgmental woman. Sister has told me she’s seen boss stare at sister’s upper arms when sister wears short sleeves or has taken her blazer or cardigan off temporarily. I know it hurt sister’s feeling and it’s upsetting to me that my sweet sister knows she’s being judged by this woman. I could also totally see boss judging sister for her food choices.

      My sister has tried to lose weight several times and each time she has unfortunately gained it all back. Knowing that her own boss is judging her makes me want to go back into big-sis protector mode.

  22. Sleeveless is not appropriate where I work. One of my former bosses would occasionally wear a sleeveless dress or top and always got strange looks or comments behind her back. Same thing with heeled sandals.

  23. Perhaps it’s generational. I just turned 42 and I’m considered senior mgmt. ill be working for at least 20 more years. And FWIW, during my first job after undergrad in 1995, the dress code for women was skirt suit – no pants suits allowed. I kid you not. So this isn’t a “I dress mannish because I had to at the beginning of my career to fit in”.

    I dress professionally because I don’t want my appearance to detract from the quality of my work. I am always well groomed and look nice but I what I want is for people to notice ME not my clothing. That is style.

  24. Anonymous Associate :

    Whether a sleeveless item is appropriate for the office obviously depends on the item, and how you look when you put it on. It is common sense.

    I see a lot of commenters essentially saying that people of all body types look equally professional in the same pieces/types of clothing. That just doesn’t make any sense. There are things that thin people look bad in that work for plus size women and vice versa.

  25. Whose office is warm enough to go sleeveless? Not mine! I would freeze to death!

  26. Stormtrooper :

    Whether sleeveless in general is professional or not is also a regional thing. In Florida, I wear sleeveless all the time in the summer. I have a cardigan or jacket for the office, but if I’m walking to the courthouse in 104 degrees, I’m taking off the cardigan and probably throwing on flip flops. If I just got to the office after being outside, then I’m sleeveless until the AC results in the cardigan or jacket coming back on. This has nothing to do with weight and everything to do with not fainting from heat.

  27. As someone who has both been an employer and an employee my feeling is that sleeveless is NEVER EVER ok at work – EVER. Unless you cover it with a jacket, in which case it isn’t sleeveless. Men don’t go to work with entirely bare arms. It isn’t cute when women do it in the work place. Designers need to grow up and create attractive and appropriate clothes for women. Aside from work clothes, it is pathetic how ALL women’s clothing tends to avoid sleeves, even in the winter. I think this is a sign that designers our entirely out of touch or incompetent, as most women I know would prefer sleeves, and it is a sign that as consumers we are way to whipped and need to voice our opinions. However, you vote with your dollar, and if 90% of the options are sleeveless it is hard to vote as you wish. Bottom line, wear sleeves to work. END OF. It is NOT ok, no matter what articles claim it is ok, no matter what your arms look like. You are setting yourself up as childish, inappropriate, not to be taken seriously.

  28. I’ve worked on the trading floor and the ladies there were very liberal with their choice of work clothes, On a Friday a fellow associate wore a bright tangerine V neck sleeveless dress. I also saw a pregnant VP wearing a sleeveless bright green top with JEANS. I kid you not.

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