Reader Request: Flattering Strong Shoulders and a Shorter Neck

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Bubu e-mailed me this question:

I realize ever more that almost all models have narrow shoulders and long necks — but many of us mortals don’t. It doesn’t bother me, per se, but makes it harder to visualize how things will work on me — often things that look flowy or edgy on a model-type or in a catalog just look boxy and stuffy on me, e.g., most blazers, turtlenecks, necklaces, scarves, etc. I have worked hard to improve my posture and pull my shoulders down so they don’t rise up to my ears, which helps significantly, but any more tips/advice to flattering looks and things to avoid?

I can definitely relate to this. I have a relatively average length neck, and find that lots of model-y looks are doofy on me, too. Especially the massive, chunky scarf look, as shown in the photo up top. Oh my gosh, I look as if a python is trying to eat my upper half. I’ve been told I have broad shoulders, but actually think I have full upper arms which gives the impression of broad shoulders … either way, I know that certain looks can crowd the neck and shoulder area. Here are some tips that come to mind for flattering strong shoulders and a shorter neck:

Avoid built-in strong shoulders

This is a borderline no-brainer but it always helps to start with the basics! Choose blazers sans shoulder pads, minus any princess-y poofs, and preferably with more rounded shoulders than squared-off ones. Pair them with V or scoop necklines to elongate your neck line and balance out the natural shoulder-enhancing properties of any blazer. Wearing turtlenecks or crew necks with blazers will make your neck and shoulder area appear shortened and crowded. (I know the mere thought of turtlenecks in June is making many of you perspire, but just trying to cover all my bases, here.)

Go for thinner scarves

Again, fairly obvious. But just to be clear, thick weaves AND enormous sizes in scarves will add bulk to your shoulder area. Tie them using methods that remove bulk like the twisted rope and the pretzel. Infinity scarves – unless fairly thin – will probably do the python-eating-your-head thing. They also give you less control over how the scarf sits.

Wide strap tanks and dresses with deep necklines

Spaghetti straps look great on nubile teens, but they do me no favors. My shoulders and neck are best flattered by wide straps and V or scoop necklines. If you’ve got a strong set of shoulders skinny straps can look teeny on the expanse of your shoulder span – which is fantastic if you want to emphasize your shoulders, less so if you’d like to downplay them. Wider straps create balance and a deep neckline elongates your neck visually.

Thinner and longer necklaces

Not always thin, and not always long … but a truly chunky necklace may add bulk and appear to shorten the distance between your shoulders and head. And a short necklace with further shorten your neck. Longer strands draw the eye up and down, and thinner ones allow your neck some breathing room.

Deploy empire waists with care

Since a shorter neck and broad shoulders can create the impression of compressed upper body, adding an exaggeratedly high waistline might make it look like an attribute hogpile in your top half. No need to wear dropwaists to counteract this, but natural waist styles may create more balance than high/empire ones.

As always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style ‘rules’ are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

Anyone else out there have the strong shoulder / short neck combo? Do you, too, feel like many stylish looks that work on models crowd your features? Other tips to share?

Image courtesy Sincerely Jules, showing a look that is tough for women with broad shoulders and shorter necks to pull off.

Originally posted 2013-06-03 06:36:04.

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19 Responses to “Reader Request: Flattering Strong Shoulders and a Shorter Neck”

  1. Adrienne

    You forgot the other issue aside from broad shoulders, short neck, add large bust. I have the triple issue. If I eliminate scarves, chunky necklaces, interesting shoulders details, and empire waistlines, that eliminates most of the stylish clothing that has been on the market for the past five years. So I could ignore my issues and wear these styles and be happy but not figure flattered OR not wear them and wear v-neck wide strapped t-shirts with some sort of interesting bottom half;print skirt, cuffed cargoes, or interesting shoes… What else am I missing.

  2. Hayley

    I also have broad shoulders and a short neck. I’ve found all the above tips helpful, and I also avoid halter-type straps. Or lately, there’s been those trendy collared sleeveless shirts but I avoid those because they are cut at a point on the shoulder that I feel makes my shoulders look even broader and if they’re buttoned up, that makes the neck look shorter.

  3. Sonja

    So, I have broad shoulders and strong arms, it seems all women in my family have them. I have also a big bust, but I don’t seem to have a short neck, because there are some things mentioned here that don’t apply to me. I like turtlenecks, I don’t mind spaghetti straps and choker necklaces, and I love to expose my quarterback shoulders by wearing neckholders or tube tops in summer.
    So maybe my case isn’t exactly the one of the asker, but I think I can give some advice about the broad shoulders:
    I love to wear tops (blouses, jackets) with a certain retro-vibe, but they often have puffy sleeves. I take them to the tailors and they un-puff them for 12 €.
    I also cut out any shoulder pads and cut off the epaulettes on trenchcoats and similar pieces.
    Apart from that, I recommend wrap tops and wearing a belt at the waist. And beware of cap sleeves.

  4. malevolent andrea

    I’ll admit as a genetically narrow-shouldered person who’s spent the last three years in the gym working my a** off for even a hint of the coveted V-taper, it makes me sad to hear those who are naturally blessed with wide shoulders wanting to play them down. I’m all “halters, spaghetti straps, and racer back tanks whenever possible!” I do of course absolutely support everyone’s right to look however they want to look. It just makes me sad that women have been culturally indoctrinated to think broad strong beautiful shoulders look unfeminine or something.

    That being said, narrow or broader-shouldered, I’ve always had a short neck and I find that jewelry/hair is more crucial than clothing for me. Big earrings means hair has to be up or back. Any kind of necklace or collar, ditto. And never a necklace or collared shirt with big earrings. I just can’t have too much visual clutter near my neck or it looks off.

  5. WideCurves

    I must be very careful about collared shirts/jackets. No collar is best, but if it has one it must lay very flat or be very open (70’s-ish).

    I also have large, high-set breasts -so finding the perfect v or scoop top that flatters without my breasts falling out is difficult. Cap sleeves actually work well on me as long as they aren’t padded or puffy (and are attached in a flattering way). Mock turtlenecks have worked (takes the PERFECT cut).

    Dolman/raglan/batwing are my best fit. I’ve yet to find a straight arm seam that flatters once you combine wide shoulders/muscular neck/big breasts/high set breasts/short waist. I think naked would be easier, and sometimes more flattering.

  6. Dee

    I also have the short neck, broad shoulder issue. Great tips above, most I have figured out myself over the years. It is frustrating at times to not be able to wear the fun puffy scarves and the big necklaces, but I try to keep with the trends using the tips above – thin scarves, wearing them long and loose, and long or no necklace. (I was so happy when long necklaces came back in fashion vs. the choker style or shorter styles.) Although Bubu mentioned that most models have smaller shoulders I can’t say I have noticed. I do think that most clothing however looks best on a figure with fairly strong shoulders, especially if you have a larger bottom half, it balances you out and the clothing hangs better. Most of the time I really like my broad shoulders for that reason — my back is pretty broad too, however, and that I am not crazy about, but have learned to dress to accomodate it.

  7. Cynthia

    I don’t have a particularly short neck, but I do have a high, square shoulder line and pretty wide shoulders. My figure is fairly straight up and down viewed from the front, while still having enough booty and hip to give me the coveted .75 waist/hip ratio. So I would add the following: don’t be so attached to your waist. Maybe that particular figure-flattery point is especially bad for certain kinds of shouldery girls. I’m realizing that, despite what might be “in fashion”, I should really be hanging drapey, fluid things off my mighty rack of shoulders, letting the lines fall diagonally and/or exactly at my hip, and not looking for structure in between. It’s not a traditionally feminine look but whatevs, I’d rather not fight with my body.

  8. bubu

    Thanks to Sal and all for the ideas and comments, very helpful!

  9. Claire

    For the wide of shoulder like myself, this is illuminating in that I had never really considered the neck length aspect. As an aside though, I was struck by the “models” vs. “us mortals” distinction in the query. Reminds me of the “models” vs. “real women” thinking that sets women against each other in some comparative way. Aren’t models both mortal and real, like all of us? Not trying to poke or antagonize here, just feeling surprised and thoughtful at seeing this phrasing in this space.

    • Sally

      That was part of Bubu’s original question to me. I do my best to leave the questions I’m sent unedited unless they are unclear. In her defense, I think it’s apt to say that models are elevated to a status that borders on worship for some, but I understand your concern.

  10. Brenda

    I haven’t noticed slight shoulders on most models and usually see the opposite. Models tend to be very thin, which can give the illusion that their shoulders are narrow. But if you compare their shoulders with their hips, often times their shoulders are quite a bit wider giving them an inverted triangle shape.

    These tips are spot on. I don’t know about having a short neck, but I’m a definitely an IT and need to consider my shoulders when choosing clothes. A main category of advice that was left out, understandably since the neck was also part of the question, is balancing shoulders out by what you put on your bottom half like Dee mentioned. Boot cut or wide jeans, full skirts, and/or wearing dark tops with light colored bottoms can add balance to a broad upper body.

  11. Emily

    I have a short neck, and I find that wearing long earrings helps to balance it out. I also think having short hair that doesn’t touch my neck helps, but your mileage may vary. Also, if I wear a thick scarf, it looks best if it completely hides my neck, like if it’s pulled up to the bottom of my chin. I think short-necked, broad-shouldered people can rock chunky necklaces! If you’re bigger or have “strong features”, small jewelery can look sort of lost.

  12. latonya

    I have broad shoulders and I competed.I don’t think my build is unattractive nor less feminine and I didn’t hear that here. My inverted build is not the ideal. The point I hear is request for flattering styles which we normally don’t see. I love me bare and and I’m almost fifty. I also train my naturally large arms so I don’t have wings. Spaghetti and halter work if you’re lean and athletic. For a woman who is round and short, these only make her look more squat. Its an issue of balance and not solely us having poor body images .at my age at this time in my life I don’t have hang ups about my body.I know what looks good on me and I got the attitude to wear it.

    • SKP

      “it’s an issue of balance and not solely us having poor body images” – right on! I like my square shoulders. So what if some styles don’t look good on them. It’s up to me to find the ones that do.

  13. KayBug

    I am short (5’3″), have a relatively short neck, broad shoulders, big arms, plus I’m medium chested (34D) and am sturdily built everywhere else (rounded bum and belly, sturdy legs with calves wide enough for extended sizes). I agree with all in the post, plus I emphasize my waist as much as I can or create the illusion of one. I can wear shorter, collar length necklaces in the right size. I do love a big chunky pendant, too.

    My goal is for proportion and curve appeal, not to look thin. Rockin’ my shorty status ;).

    What I have found frustrating in shopping the last couple of years is first the empire waist, then the puffy sleeve trend. Unless these two are cut just exactly right, they only emphasize what I’m trying to downplay. Arm hole cut, even in tank tops, can be tricky and should be looked at from every angle. I am easily swamped in maxi dresses, again, unless the cut and fabric is just right.

    Good tips, Sal.

  14. SKP

    Hm, I think I have that figure but only some of these tips work for me.
    avoid built-in shoulders: yes, I almost always remove shoulder pads
    thinner scarves: no, thick scarves look more balanced on me
    wide straps + deep necklines: yes
    thinner + longer necklaces: no, long thin necklaces create a spaghetti strap effect on me
    caution on empire waists: yes, but they can work if the waist shaping is subtle and not highlighted by color changes.

  15. shlowzi

    I have broad shoulders, ‘full’ upper arms, a short-ish neck and a large bust. I agree with many of these suggestions- except for one. I love slightly padded shoulders in jackets and dresses. I think they make for a cleaner line by allowing extra room for my upper arms and let jackets hang better over a large bust. Padded shoulders also make my waist look narrower, and as an added bonus make me feel powerful and cool.
    Puffy sleeves, on the other hand, do not make me feel cool.

  16. LaTonya

    I actually like empire because I don’t have a waist, short waisted. I have less sucess with tops because they don’t hit right on my frame but wearing my maxi skirts empire style (maxi must be narrow and flair out at bottom) looks very nice on me. Dresses hitting just above the knee with empire waist also works. We have variations even within the basis bubu asked about. I have straight hips and at 5″0′, I’m even length from neck to torso and then inseam. In other words not just short, short all over. lol

  17. OnlyPlaying

    As someone with football player shoulders, a short neck, and -erm- generous chin, I find that necklaces that are larger at teh bottom but still with a skinny chain look good on me. For example:
    Something like this, where the interest is all on the chest

    would look a lot better than something like this, where the thick collar goes around the neck