Fitting a fit frame isn't always easy. While clothing designers and retailers have given more attention lately to finding solutions for their petite and plus-size customers, those women with an athletic build — who could be tall or short, more narrow or wide — have their own set of dressing challenges that certainly don't have a one-size-fits-all solution.
Rosy Hodge, a pro surfer, has "buff arms" that she tries to balance with colorful scarves, while fellow surfer Kassia Meador wears a lot of oversized tanks and T-shirts even though she's not sure they flatter her body type.
Rachel Roosevelt, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team, now wears mostly skirt suits to her job as a macroeconomics researcher, but nothing too short, considering her conservative career environment. She also stands 5 feet 10, and that has meant having to curl her legs in awkward positions under some conference tables.
"I'm still proud of my body, and my legs are the way they are because of the hours I've spent in the gym — even if they're not what is considered 'classic beauty' in other people's minds."
Working with many real women instead of only models on photo shoots, Adam Glassman, O, The Oprah Magazine's creative director, says he has noticed an increase in "the athletic type."
"It isn't just about athletes," Glassman says. "It has nothing to do with height. You tend to have broad shoulders and a broad back, and your arms are naturally toned or you work out — the tummy is the same thing. Perhaps you have not a lot of curves with a straight waistline and square hips, thighs muscular and built calves, and a smaller bust."
The magazine devoted several pages of its August issue offering guidance to this broad group, including Roosevelt and former college basketball player Zaklya Proctor and volleyball player Jessica Vertullo Maher.
"I think the fashion industry is stepping up to the plate in offering things for more sizes, but you still have to be willing to search," he says.
Most important, women — no matter their size and shape — should be looking for clothes that are comfortable and flattering with an end goal of creating a feminine shape. "We're not talking Jessica Rabbit, but you want the illusion of shoulders and hips in proportion with each other and your waist to be smaller than those."
Belts, Glassman adds, can be flattering to an athletic figure, although you might not end up wearing them on the natural waistline. "You need to find the right thickness: Is it the Michelle Obama thick Alaia belt vs. the half-inch belt?"
Mrs. Obama knows how to show off the results of her hard work in the gym, favoring the cinched waist emphasized by that black belt that she has worn around the world, as well as her famous sleeveless tops.
Halter and racerback necklines are a right many athletes have earned, and a V-neck tank top is their privilege, Glassman says, but short sleeves that hit at what is probably the thickest part of the upper arm will exaggerate the shoulder line and, most likely, make arms look thick instead of buff. (A full-length sleeve is probably okay, but a bracelet sleeve cut just above the wrist will make your arms look shorter, often a plus for very tall women, he says.)
Designer Adam Lippes says athletic women probably should wear dresses more often. Either a dress with a structured top and roomier skirt — perhaps with pleats — or a draped dress, perhaps made of fluid jersey, would both be good starting points, Lippes recommends.
Fabric choices are as important as silhouette, he adds, naming stretch linen, silk or crepe as typically flattering options.
Pants, Lippes acknowledges, are going to be harder to find. The good news is, he says, that once you find a brand that fits, the construction shouldn't change much from season to season.
Glassman suggests skipping the ultra-skinny jeans, which work against the effort to soften a look, and going with a wide-leg look instead.