Imagine facing Samantha Cameron's recent situation: Being photographed standing next to Michelle Obama, the first lady of gorgeously sculpted upper arms.
The wife of the British prime minister selected a stunning lace gown for the recent White House state dinner that neatly encased her arms from elbow to shoulder.
Now, the photos suggest that Mrs. Cameron has not an extra ounce of flab on her. But she does provide a great lesson for any of us who don't care to display our upper arms: Sleeves can be chic.
Anyone who has shopped for a dress — particularly a formal or party one — lately may doubt this notion. The stores are awash with sleeveless frocks and tops.
But persistence pays off, provided you know what to look for.
• Generally, sleeves that end anywhere between the elbow and shoulder may only emphasize big or flabby arms. So always try before you buy, with the help of a three-way mirror.
• Best bets: sleeves that end at the elbow, forearm or wrist.
• Hardest to pull off: cap sleeves that cut off arms at their widest. The right sleeveless top, such as one cut to show off nice shoulder bones, can be far more flattering.
• Tight sleeves, particularly in light, shiny fabrics, will only emphasize what you're trying to de-emphasize. Don't go all shapeless and baggy, but make sure fabric doesn't ripple across your arms.
• You can buy foundation garments, undershirts in high-tech fabrics that firm your arms, but Florida in summer may be a little warm for this extra layer.
• Jackets, sweaters, shrugs or shawls will cover you up, and are handy in overly air-conditioned spaces. But pick something that works with the rest of your outfit. Otherwise everyone's just going to know that you're obsessed with your arms.
• Shop online. Brick-and-mortar stores, especially in Florida, are dominated by sleeveless, but you can find a better selection on your favorite store's website. We found great summery dresses on macys.com, kohls.com, jcpenney.com and loft.com, just to name a few. Tip: Look for your favorite brands to ensure sizing consistency.
• Emphasize your assets. So what if you don't have the arms of your dreams? Play up your smile with a new lipstick, show off your legs with great shoes. Pay attention to what others are saying and doing rather than to how your arms look. Chances are nobody cares as much as you do.
Charlotte Sutton, Times staff writer