How to Downplay Broad Shoulders

One of my friends sent me a great Fashion Friday suggestion — she says, “what about those of us with broad shoulders?”

I can relate to this conundrum. I have square shoulders and a short neck, and in recent years I’ve been paying more attention to how my necklines flatter (or don’t).

For instance, I used to love halter tops until a good friend told me that she didn’t think I look as good in them as I think I do. (Now THAT is a good friend, people.) (I haven’t worn a halter top since.)

Evidently a halter top emphasizes broad shoulders. For those of us with a broader shoulders, we are better off with open necklines — scoop necks and V-necks, particularly. I also feel like cap sleeves, as well as the style of sleeve that comes JUST TO THE EDGE of the shoulder, are a bad look for me. They seem to widen the shoulders as well.

(So if you have narrow, slopey shoulders, you can learn from this post too. Halter tops and cap sleeves are your friends!)

And another thing? NO SHOULDER PADS.

I look back at pictures of myself in the eighties and CRINGE. The shoulder pads are SUCH a bad look for people with broad shoulders. Unless, of course, you WANT to look like a linebacker.

danny aiken

Beyond that, I decided that this topic required a little bit of research so I consulted my trusty friend Google.

As always, the goal in dressing ANY body type is to create balance and shift the emphasis to your most attractive body parts.

Here are some “tricks of the trade” to help downplay broad shoulders:

1. Just say no to shoulder pads.

As I said.

2. Raglan sleeves help downplay the broad shoulders because they soften sharp edges.

how to dress broad shoulders

3. Also, a dolman sleeve achieves the same effect.

how to dress broad shoulders

4. Vertical stripes downplay the appearance of full shoulders.

5. Wear dark on top and light on the bottom to help visually balance out a wider upper body and narrower lower body.

how to dress broad shoulders

6. Stay away from boat necks and wide necklines that visually widen the shoulder area. Instead, opt for a narrow V-neck or scoop neckline to elongate the neck and draw the eye inwards. Then add a necklace or some special earrings to attract attention away from the shoulders.

dressing for broad shoulders

7. One article actually recommends halter tops, so go figure. Perhaps it depends on how it is cut.

8. No big collars. In fact, collarless shirts are best. (Funny, I’ve never liked collared shirts on me, but I didn’t know why.)

9. No turtlenecks. Ha. I know turtlenecks don’t flatter me but sometimes I’m too cold to resist the temptation.

I think this is also why I don’t care for myself in scarves – unless they are very thin ones. I usually opt for a necklace instead.

Do you have any tricks for dressing broad shoulders? Share in the comments!

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34 Responses

  1. I have no idea what you mean by Raglan sleeves but I’m going to guess that’s something like a flutter sleeve which is by far my favorite cut. Thankfully LOFT has lots of those lately. I also very much agree on the dolman sleeve, those kind of shirts are so flattering on almost everyone!

    1. I went back and added a pic. A raglan sleeve is like baseball shirts – when the shoulder seams aren’t vertical, but rather on the diagonal.

  2. I have man shoulders and “big guns,” as my husband calls them. I’m trying to mix up my workout routine so I can still be wicked strong & retain my girlish figure (snort)– less pushups, more ballet DVDs and Pilates classes. Thanks for the fashion tips during the interim 🙂

  3. Is it wrong this is kind of depressing? I feel like I’m pretty much down to 3 styles boring, boring and plain ol wrong.

    1. Eh. I don’t feel that way. But then I’m happy to wear a tank top and a hoodie every day. HA!

      Maybe I did too many don’ts and not enough dos. 🙂

  4. I have broad shoulder and I swear by halter tops. It is by far the most flattering summertime look for me. I have a medium-long neck and what my husband calls a ‘swimmer’s’ back. I don’t swim much, but I am built a certain way and why fight it?

    I avoid sleeveless tops that come right to the outside of the shoulder, but a tank with a v-neck where the sleeves are several inches in from the outside of my shoulder work well.

  5. I’ve heard halters are good for broad shoulders, but you have to be careful if you have a large chest (I’m not sure that you do). I don’t have broad shoulders, but it’s interesting to see that a lot of how to reduce the bust line is the same.

  6. Even though I’m heavy I have really narrow shoulders and these tips are right on because all of the things you don’t like (like cap sleeves) are some of my favorite things to wear. Except for turtle necks. I don’t want anything on my neck.

  7. Ok I came back because I was grumpy this morning and was stressed about what in the sam hill I am going to wear to this confirmation of my son’s coming up and I feel like there are so many don’ts I can’t wrap my head around a do. Are you tired of me stewing about a freakin dress yet? Yeah me too. I did order one from Athleta today. Amen.

    So I have broad slopey shoulders; oh the luck. What do you think about THAT…..What kind of style fits my dilemma best do you think? Also I am not a huge fan of sleeveless and I kinda thought cap sleeves were my answer, but alas, maybe not?

    So, the picture of that cute top in between 6&7, is she a do or a don’t for broad shoulders?

    1. You know, it IS hard. I’m looking at the Banana Republic cardigans page right now, and as I scan down, I’m like NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, maybe, NO, YESSSSS! Only one would REALLY work for me.

      I think the more you learn about what looks good, the pickier you get – which is a good thing. I remember Tim Gunn would say, “Can you do better?” I’ve started to use that motto when I’m shopping. Plenty of things are OKAY, but hold out for the ones that are GREAT. Ya know?

      Now, dresses are HARD. So sometimes you have to settle. That’s why I try to shop for them when I don’t have a specific occasion.

      That top was a DO by the way, b/c of the V-neck and the way the shoulders of the shirt are set toward the inside of your shoulders – I find that flattering. But the ruffle is probably a DON’T for busty girls. SIGH…

      1. I am so glad I am not alone on the cardigan front. I found a cardigan at Nordstrom and once it arrived I bought 2 more in different because it was perfect for me. And I’m glad I did because it sold out so fast it made my head spin.

        I hear ya on the picky front. It’s overwhelming. Now that I have a basic wardrobe that I LOVE LOVE LOVE I am able to hold out for GREAT things.

        Yeah, I am wishing I had not waited. But then again, I have no need for a “dressy” dress most of my life, so the one I bought I can dress up or dress down. I hope. HAAHAH I am on the hunt for a shrug at the moment but after reading these don’ts, I won’t getting the one I was thinking I would. 😀

        Ok good cuz I thought if that is a “don’t”, I’m really sunk. And since I just got my new “girls” from the Nodstrom, I am likely to scream BRING ON THE RUFFLES. But then I realized I’m not much of a ruffle kind of girl.

        THANK YOU for all your help! I am on edge a bit with all of upcoming events I have to figure out how to look decent for (I am going to Beth Moore in May!!).

  8. I went shopping all day today in a “real” city with “real” stores armed with your tips, I see what you mean about the “just over the cap” sleeve vs a full cap sleeve – yes I agree (I had no idea there were 2 different styles but I totally agree!).

    And the ruffles – you are right. I am surprised about this. Blech.

    I did, however, find quite a few very nice pieces and I even found some nice sleeveless pieces I am more than just a little thrilled about. I normally do no like to bare my arms but these styles really do flatter sleeveless. Who knew! Thanks JL! I love all you do to help keep the frump outta mah life.

    1. YES! that is CAbi and I just tried on a bunch of pieces from their spring line yesterday – so much cute stuff!

  9. what does one do if they don’t wear sleeveless or anything below the collarbone with broad shoulders? Just long sleeved or 3/4 sleeved v-neck with t-shirt underneath? Any other ideas?

    1. I am the same, I wear mostly 3/4 sleeves some long but most of my tops are round neck with set in sleeves; I have a few V-necks (yes with a rounded neck top underneath). I like the dolman sleeve and have a few but they all have round necks. Ugh. Looks like I need a closet plunge. Truthfully, I just need a honest friend to say, “it looks good, or it needs to go!!!” My son told me one day when he came up behind me in a department store and said, “your built like a football player”. What a nice compliment. 🙁

  10. Thank you for great advice! Finally I know why I don’t like shirts since high school. I have wide shoulder, and think Cape looks good on me, but better on narrow shoulders.

  11. I just want to say that I really enjoy reading this post. Awhile back, I found out what to wear for my sporty body: flat chest, broad shoulder, no waist and no hip. I think we can still keep our camis by wearing a dark cardigan on the outside.

  12. Thank you so much! I do gymnastics so I have really muscular shoulders and whenever I would look in the mirror I felt fat. I could never decide what it was so I got working on my abs! Still nothing then I realized it was my shoulders and I needed to learn how to dress them properly! I have a long neck though but this really helped!!!

  13. You commented on the “shoulder pads” of the 80’s, OMG when I was 18 in 1988 someone told me that I should ditch the shoulder pads because they made me look like a football player, I wasn’t wearing any! That was so humiliating, I am hourglass shaped with square shoulders that are larger than my wide hips, in 2011 I lost most of my body fat due to an illness and I was still wide, I still weighed 130 lbs and I am 5ft5 so you can just imagine how large my bones are, finding clothes is a real pain in the butt, I like to look feminine but I can’t wear girly sleeves like I love like flutter sleeves, I hate low cut shirts, I can’t stand collars, raglan sleeves look gross on me, right now I’ve put on a few pounds, I hate that I look more feminine when I’m chubby! Can’t win, in 1995 when I was pregnant my doctor laughed and said, wow, you are going to have big babies, I had a big boy, he is proud to have my shoulders instead of his fathers, LOL My second husband is a large boned man, people joke that if we were younger and had babies that they would be football players, ha ha, anyways to all the large boned ladies like myself, remember this, when you have babies, you have strong babies, but be warned, those shoulders are very hard on the way out, my poor Mom is a petite lady, I was her hardest birth, my son was no pic nic either, ha ha, I pity the mother of his future children…..yeeg

  14. I think your friend is a putz. REAL friends don’t care what you wear and tearing down your self esteem isn’t something a real friend does.

    If you felt good wearing halter tops you SHOULD have kept wearing them. The nonsense of telling women how to dress to look good is just that nonsense.

    If you feel good, you look good.

  15. I so know what you mean about shoulder pads. There have been one or two times I’ve tried on a suit jacket and it’s always looked horrible on me. I get hand-me-downs from friends and family. I’m only 17 so kinda young for that business formal look anyway :).

    I was wondering if flutter sleeves were okay for broad shoulders? I think they’re really cute but I’ve never had the chance to try one on so I’d like to know in case I ever decided to get one.

    1. I wear them on occasion (I have rather broad shoulders but I’m well balanced over all – meaning I’m not a carrot body type, I’m more of an hourglass) and I think they do tend to broaden the shoulders but they can work if they aren’t too voluminous. Also if you balance them out with the bottom of the outfit.

  16. “…I don’t care for myself in scarves – unless they are very thin ones.” <– Same! I just discovered a few days ago that I can pull off wearing a bandana in a triangle. I let it drape down and crook it off to the side. The asymmetry breaks up the expanse of upper chest area nicely. I loved the look so much that now I'm making myself more neck scarves to wear that way.

    I love the look of chunky knit scarves, but for us short-necked, broad-shoulders girls, we'll just end up looking like an injured linebacker in a neck brace…lol.

    I'd really like to make or buy a cape coat, since I live in SoCal and don't need the extra warmth of sleeves for most of "winter," as it rarely falls below 50 degrees. I want to pick the most flattering collar style, as well as fit. Being under 5'2", it's also gonna be tricky to come up with something that doesn't have me drowning in fabric.

    It's probably going to warm up soon, so I suppose cape season will be over, but it's nice to think about in advance. I could also make a cape in a lighterweight material, so that's something to consider.

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