how to dress when you have narrow shoulders

by Sylvia

Best tops for narrow shoulders

I recently received a request from Clarissa. She writes: “Hi, I love your site! But I miss one thing: could you post some style advice for narrow shoulders? I have an hour glass body shape but narrow shoulders … Thank you”.  It’s indeed a topic I have not discussed yet, so let’s do that today.

The ideal shoulder line is almost equal to your hips as in the hourglass figure. Not too square and broad and not too narrow and sloping. But if you don’t have it naturally (most of us don’t) then we can always create the illusion of this ideal with our clothes.

dresses for narrow shoulders

1. Miu Miu 2. Etro 3. Donna Karan 4. Alex Evenings

With narrow shoulders your main aim is to broaden the look of the shoulders. There are several ways to do this:

  • Make sure that your shoulder seams are at the right place and fit perfectly, which means that the seam extends just past your natural shoulder. This may be tricky as one size down may be too tight and one size up may be too big for your shoulders. In that case there is no other good solution, but a good tailor.
  • Choose an off the shoulder top or dress
  • Puffy sleeves also work really well
  • Boat and square necks give a widening effect too
  • On shirts, the bigger the collar, the better!
  • Cap sleeves also work well like this dress I featured earlier
  • A wide v-neck also leads the eye to the side which has a broadening effect
  • Have accents on the shoulders
  • Any horizontally placed details on your shoulder and neckline will also widen
  • Use shoulder pads to widen shoulders (subtly of course)
  • Opt for wider straps instead of smaller ones (avoid halter tops altogether)
  • You can scrunch your sleeves a bit and blouse up your upper arm area, which draws attention up and away
  • Although raglan sleeves are usually advised for broad shoulders, they can also work well for narrow shoulders, since you don’t have to worry that the seem is at the correct place of your shoulder.
  • A trench coat with epaulettes is also great to add volume to the shoulders.

great tops for narrow shoulders

1. Lauren Ralph Lauren 2. Striped tops 3. Lamade 4. Max Studio

A bit more about shoulder padding

  • Look for natural rounded shoulder pads
  • Choose them in skin colour
  • Make sure they are not too thick. You want them to widen your shoulders, not make them bigger
  • You can just wear them underneath your bra and pull them as far wide as necessary to balance your hip
  • Make sure your shoulders pads are not visible through your fabric

Here are some current looks that you can shop

 These are just some of my ideas. If you have narrow shoulders, let me know what works for you!

 This article contains affiliate links

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tracey

I have narrow shoulders. I wore shoulder pads constantly in the 80s – even under t-shirts. Thankfully I got over that addiction. I avoid halter tops (as you noted). I also avoid mandarin type collars and key holes as they close me in and make my shoulders look more narrow. In addition to your tips I also look for scoop neck shirts.


2 Sylvia

Yes of course Tracey. I forgot to add the scoop neck shirts to my list. Thank you so much for the feedback!


3 Greetje

I have the opposite… broad shoulders. So I will give this article a miss. But one of my colleagues is interested and although she is not 40 yet (haha) she will pay a visit.


4 Sylvia

Thanks for referring her Greetje!


5 Nomi

I love the Donna Karan dress and want to look into getting it, but your link for that is the same as the Alex evening dress. Where’s the DK? thanks.


6 Sylvia

Hi Nomi. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve updated the link now.


7 Playing With Scarves

Hi Sylvia!
These are great tips. Yet I think a V neck top (with long sleeves) is flattering too on women with large shoulders; it creates a nice vertical effect.
Enjoy the lovely new store you wrote about. Lucky you! Singapore is a dream city for women who love shopping. I so hope to go to Singapore again…..


8 Sylvia

You are right Anne. I had added the wide v-neck to the list already but v-necks in general are great for women with narrow shoulders. When you ever do visit Singapore again, be sure to say hi.


9 Playing With Scarves

I will for sure, Sylvia! Thanks 🙂 Enjoy your day!


10 Janet Calderwood

Excuse me, but wide boat necks fall right off of narrow shoulders. On an older woman it looks ridiculous. That’s terrible advice.


11 Sylvia

I think that depends on the cut of that particular top. I certainly don’t think that older women look ridiculous in boat necks.


12 Kathleen

Agree, and I think cowl necks look bad too. I have narrow shoulders, and have never found a cowl neck that fits correctly.


13 Erin

Thank you for this Sylvia. I am wondering if other ladies with narrow shoulders also have smaller busts, like I do. When I was younger I found that a padded bra helped ‘pull out’ the neckline of my garment forward. This helped me in two ways. It kept the garment from falling off my shoulders and also of course improved the balance of my figure. Well heck with those big uncomfortable things now. I’m into comfort. So I’ll just have to spend the time finding the right bra and the right garments. Would love feedback from you and other ladies. THANKS so much.


14 Melisa

I have very narrow sloping shoulders and it’s so hard to find tops that fit at the shoulder without being too tight across my bust and pear hips. Contrary to your advice, raglan tops are the kiss of death in a garment for me. I have never found one that didn’t make me look extremely frumpy. Scoop necks look best on me. Like another commenter, I find that boat necks don’t work at all because they literally fall off of you, exposing your bra and being very uncomfortable, too. Though possibly if your shoulders are narrow but don’t slope they could work. I know younger girls don’t mind if their bras show but most 40+ ladies do. Saddle shoulder tops can work but are hard to find. Large cowl necks on sweaters are good. Wearing a light jacket and not just a top is a big improvement but not usually do-able in my hot climate.

May I make a suggestion? It would be very helpful if you allowed post dates to show. I’ve seen many posts here that say things like “such and such is very popular this season” but I can’t tell what season the posts were made in. Other than that, I’m loving the site. Very helpful information here.


15 Ginger Berman

Hi Sylvia,

Great suggestions! Can you recommend a brand of shoulder pads such as the ones you describe for narrow shoulders? I’d like to order some.



16 Sylvia

Hi Ginger, Ruth here. I tend to use the haberdashers in the town I live in as it is an excellent shop and they offer great advice if needed. The shoulder pad you need depends what you want to use them for.

Nude is often better than white as it doesn’t show through lighter fabrics. There are straight edge ones that work best for boosting the shoulders of a set in sleeve jacket, when someone has sloping shoulders. Otherwise there are more rounded ones that work better on softer fabric like blouses or thicker tshirt type tops and balance out a sloping shoulder. Some you sew in permanently and others you can attach temporarily to your bra strap, or with Velcro.


17 Karen

Wide necklines do not work with narrow shoulders. There is no way to keep bra straps from being exposed. Even scoop necked clothes are problematic. One of the biggest problem buying clothes is that 90% have wide open necklines. Very frustrating.


18 Ahra

When was this post made? I don’t see a date. Seems important for a fashion blog! 🙂

Would you ever be able to show pictures of a woman with narrow shoulders, like a demonstration of your suggestions, or a ‘do/dont do’ or ‘before/after’ kind of thing? All the models shown have wide shoulders so the clothes pictured look extremely different than they would on those of us who want this advice!


19 Sylvia

We have all types of women showcased in the what you wore section of the site. Unfortunately, we don’t have the budget to feature specific models for individual articles.


20 Tina Fetter

I disagree. I think halter tops look better than regular straps on narrow shoulders. Halter top brings attention to the outfit and not the shoulders. Regular straps show how close they are to your neck.
Compare the difference.


21 Kate

I have narrow, sloping shoulders and look fantastic in halter necks but can not wear wide necklines at all (as others have mentioned). I find cowl jumpers can work and jackets look great – but again, I can’t always wear them as I live in a warm climate. Frills on the shoulder also look pretty ridiculous on me, but that might be because I’m petite all over and frills are just too fussy.


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