Reader Request: Sweaty Gal Style

Dressing tips for women who sweat, how to downplay sweat stains

Several women popped the same question into the most recent suggestion box: How exactly is a sweaty gal supposed to stay stylish? And although this may seem particularly appropriate for summer, those of us who sweat buckets do so year-round, so I’ve included tips for both cold and warm weather!

When it’s hot out …

Natural fibers: If you pit out all tops no matter what, you might think that fiber content won’t matter. And it might not make a huge visual difference, but it is likely to make a comfort-level difference. Cotton and linen breathe. Polyester and spandex do not. Do your bod a favor, and err on the natural side.

Dark colors: Wearing black in 90-degree heat may not sound too appealing. But since sweat darkens fabric, a color that is dark to begin with will help stains appear less noticeable. Deep navy works well, too, if you can’t bear to swathe yourself in black every time you plan to venture outdoors.*

Sleeved garments: This is all down to personal preference, of course. If your priority is to disguise sweat stains, going sleeveless may be your best bet. But if your priority is dryness-related comfort, I recommend sleeves. Nothing makes me feel more antsy and uncomfortable than the sensation of wet pits. I’d rather have a cotton tee that keeps me somewhat dry.

Layers: Another counter-intuitive suggestion for summer! But think a minute: You’ve got on a blouse, you pit out your blouse, game over. You’ve got on a tank and a blouse, you pit out your tank, it’s possible that no one will ever notice. AND if it’s a real scorcher of a day, you can plan ahead and bring a backup tank to swap in!

Shawls and wraps: There are about a billion gorgeous gauze-weight cotton scarves out there. Super beautiful loose-weave ones, too. Throw one over your shoulders when you’re wearing a tank or tee and you’ll both spiff up your outfit, and add a lightweight layer to your shoulder area that can help disguise sweat stains.

When it’s cold out …

Camisoles: If you’re wearing anything besides a tight-to-the-body shirt or top, a camisole can make a huge difference. I buy nude camisoles from Target and wear them under nearly everything during the cold months. Since the cami sits in your pits, it acts like a sponge to some extent. I can often skip washing my outer layer entirely when I’ve worn a cami.

Dress shields: Since winter wear tends to be bulkier and more structured, it can generally accommodate dress shields. You can certainly purchase ready-made dress shields but pinning old cotton shoulder pads or peds to your garment armpits often works just as well. Again, sponge action is the goal.

Layers, shawls, dark colors, and everything that works in summer: All of those techniques can be deployed in cold weather, too. Often more easily, in fact.

Image courtesy Old Navy

*I’ve heard that some hot-weather cultures advocate wearing black for its cooling effects on the body. I’ve never personally experienced these effects, but perhaps some of you have.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2011-06-16 06:16:41.

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52 Responses to “Reader Request: Sweaty Gal Style”

  1. nestra

    On the prevention side CertainDry (OTC) and Hypercare (perscription) have helped me immensely.

  2. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Very helpful, Sal (96 degrees here today)! I also find loose armpit styles to be useful – like dropped shoulder or dolman sleeve tops that don’t touch the skin. And I totally agree about linen/cotton – huge difference for me!

  3. Kate K

    As always Sal, you are brilliant! I am one of those gals who sweat a lot and I’ve had to learn some of these lessons the hard way. I was in Texas over Memorial Day weekend for a wedding and on the day of the (outdoors! no shade!) wedding, I wore a jersey dress and I was miserably hot and sweaty and uncomfortable. (And I look awful in all of the pictures. The dress was clinging in awful ways, my face was a lovely combo of shiny, pale and red and I just looked plain uncomfortable.) The next day, while I was sight-seeing around town, I threw on a 100% cotton dress and I was perfectly happy. Sure, I was still warm but I was never overwhelmed by the heat and the sweating was kept to a minimum.

    I also try to avoid tight pants or shorts. They trap heat and don’t let my skin breathe. In fact, if given the option between a pair of fitted bermuda shorts or flowy linen pants, I’d choose the pants. Dresses are great because you get air movement and it’s just less fabric in general. (And you can easily throw on a lightweight blazer to help the pitting out problem.) In case our reader who sweats a lot is also a woman in possession of curvy thighs, I’d recommend a swipe or two of unscented, plain ol’ men’s deodorant between the upper thighs when wearing dresses. (I like Arm and Hammer’s Invisible Solid :D) Totally random but it works to keep sweat to a minimum and keep the skin from rubbing and chafing.

    • Maria

      Second that bit about dry deodorant between the upper thighs – that trick has helped me tremendously, now I can wear skirts and dresses during hot months when previously it was only pants for me due to rubbing and chafing.

  4. hellotampon

    I don’t sweat in large amounts, so wetness is not an issue. But I feel that the little amount that I do sweat stinks to high heaven! I get new deodorants all the time and they only work for a few days before I start smelling like pit again, and the perfumed scents react with the pit smell in unpleasant ways. In the summer time I end up wearing tank tops where the armholes don’t touch my armpits at all. Then the sweat just evaporates instead of hanging around on my clothing.

    • Ash

      You might want to try Vichy antiperspirant if you can get it where you are. It works for 24 hours and I’ve never had any problems since I started using it. Also, a bit pricey, but Lancome make an antiperspirant called Bocage (or something similar) and that is very effective.

  5. Katharine

    Man, I only WISH I just sweated in my pits! But that’s the least of my problems. With the slightest exertion in warm temperatures (or while overdressed) I immediately break out in sweat ALL OVER (including my face). Lots of sweat.

    Full-body clothing shields?

    My “secrets”, if you can call them that, are natural (and THIN! — a lot of linens aren’t comfortable for me in summer because linen or not the fabric is heavy) fibres; loose construction that allows air to breeze around; and carrying a fan in summer. Yes, really. I carry a cheap folding fan in my bag wherever I go, because then at least I can recover my facial equilibrium if I somehow end up walking somewhere in the hot sun, or sitting in a non-AC building, and have to look respectable anyway.

  6. Laura

    Hi Sal,
    I visited the bedouins in Egypt once and though they wear black as their outermost layer, the layer light colours underneath it, so the heat is sort of captured between the dark and the light, if I understood them correctly..
    Thought you might like to know 🙂
    It’s actually really fun if you get to see what is underneath all that black, they wear the loveliest shades and colours 🙂

    Love from Holland!

  7. Alison

    I pretty much wear tshirts under everything. I also try to buy a lot of t-shirts at stores when they are on hyper clearance. $1 or $2 for a T then I don’t feel bad when after a couple months I can’t get the stains or stink out of them.

  8. Rad

    I have the distinct pleasure of sweating more from my legs then most people do. Crossing my legs is a real no-no above 80 degrees, because rivers of perspiration will start to fall. My major stay dry (dryish) strategy is nothing below the knee, ever!

  9. Becky

    If I understand the physics of this, white clothing will be cooler if you’re standing in direct sun, because it will reflect more infrared light (i.e. heat) away from your body. This is why white roofs are recommended in hot climates. Whereas, black is cooler if you’re not standing in direct sun, because dark clothing will not reflect your body heat back onto you as much.

    But that conflicts with what Laura says the Bedouins say, and experience trumps theory every time. So what do I know? 🙂

    I lived most of my life in a hot climate, and I recommend loosely fitted dresses in a somewhat crisp fabric. Waistbands are a terrible itchy-sweat catcher. Cotton batiks are a good fabric (and they originated in insanely hot, humid countries – how bout that). If I’m going to be outdoors under the sun in very hot weather, counterintuitively it’s more comfortable to wear light, loose, long sleeves in a breathable fabric than a tank top. Not only does it shade my skin from the sun, but the clothing gets damp and then starts evaporating, and there I am in my own little swamp cooler. In the shade (on a porch, indoors), sleeveless is more comfortable. This is where summer layers can be a big help.

    As a bonus, under loose dresses, some sweat evaporates before soaking into my clothes. Under a fitted top, the sweat has nowhere to go but into the fabric.

    Finally, if I have to be red-faced and sweat-soaked, I always feel just a little more poised and attractive in a pretty cotton frock than in shorts and a tank.

  10. LinB

    All your tips are great — I live in a hot, humid part of the U.S. Long sleeves when outside are a must for sun protection, so lightweight and loose are key. Dark colors are less attractive to insects for some reason, so they help in deflecting gnats, mosquitoes, flies, and yellow jackets — although exposed sweaty skin is going to make all of them regard you as their own personal water fountain. sigh. Applying vinegar — either white or apple cider — to your clean, dry armpits is a natural deodorant. You’ll still sweat, but you won’t stink. The evaporation is in itself cooling.

  11. Erin

    I have serious stankfoot, and my strategies are myriad: 1) Wear different shoes (Teva water sandals 3 months of the year, athletic shoes and socks in winter) to commute in (walk/subway), then change at work; 2) Change out commuting AND work shoes every day to allow for full drying; 3) Summersoles; 4) Washing off my feet with wetnaps before changing shoes; 5) When it gets really bad, T for Toes from LUSH. Also socks are a great strategy, but my pretty painted toes long to breathe free!

  12. debbie

    I use Drysol. It’s OTC in Canada, and it works really well. It can really irritate your skin, so I use the mild formulation. I sweat a lot from my face and scalp, and sometimes I dab a little bit around my hairline.

  13. Audi

    I love your suggestion of shawls and wraps. In hot weather I love loose, flowy clothes that don’t touch my pits and just skim lightly over the rest of my body. Also, when it’s really sunny out I’ll carry a parasol; it provides portable shade and looks cute!

  14. Crst

    An aside here – I used to sweat quite a bit too until I quit eating processed foods. The same with my daughter. There was something in the foods that was reacting with my body in an unpleasant way. Our feet used to stink badly too. No more 🙂

  15. Pranita

    I always wonder if ‘everybody’ can see my sweat stains, which makes me conscious, which makes me sweat more! Ack!! So sometimes I just give in…i’ve heard that gel deodorants actually work, but i have to try it to believe it. I think that mixed bold patterns on tops are helpful in camouflaging stains…

  16. Rachel HB

    I am also a sweaty person. I come from a long line of sweaty people. Unfortunately, I hate nothing more than feeling sweaty and “damp”…. You put me in any kind of humidity and it’s pretty much a given.

    I am in the same boat as Rad: I try to stick to skirts and dresses during the summer, because these do not create the dreaded lines of inner thigh/crotch sweat. Or, um, back-of-the-knee sweat.

    Woo boy, it is magical to be me in the summer!

  17. Michelle

    Body powder. Before I get dressed I powder myself (particularly between the breasts and thighs, and my back if I can manage), I got this trick from my aunt. Also, while this counters the natural fibers – sometimes wicking athletic fabrics work wonders for keeping you from feeling like a sweaty mess. Finding wicking athletic clothing that doesn’t look like you are about to run a marathon is another matter though (but wicking underwear does exist and I know it helps when I’m doing sweat-inducing activities though I haven’t tried it in extreme heat yet).

  18. Terri Schmidt

    For those of you who wear dresses, do you wear a slip underneath?? Call me old-fashioned, but so many dresses today (esp. cotton) are easy to see through, and at 50, I don’t have anything anyone wants to see, except for my husband! LOL

    • Katharine

      For me — no. I hate slips as much as I hate linings. They move separately from the clothing on top, and twist in funny ways, and make folds. If they are made of artificial fibres, they completely eliminate the point of wearing a light natural-fibre dress on top in the first place (polyester, ech to the max — and ditto, by the way, on lovely linen dresses lined with — ech — shiny, sticky polyester lining.) If they are cotton, they are an absolute festival of riding up and bunching and unattractive cling. I don’t get slips at ALL. But this is why I didn’t even touch the “how to be polished” post.

      I rely on carefully chosen underwear, occasional pairs of bike shorts or cropped leggings, and overall lack of modesty, coupled with the knowledge that even if people might be able to see a bit through my dress in the sun, there are probably five people wearing far weirder, tighter, or more inappropriately revealing things in my immediate vicinity.

    • Tabitihia

      “Sliding shorts” they’re the spandex shorts that athletes wear. They fit close to the body, don’t make me hot surprisingly, help on breezy days and keep anyone from seeing anything. I just bought a pair for men and wear it high waisted since there’s so much extra space haha. Dance shorts are great too, that’s why I started wearing the sliding shorts in the first place, for swing dance.

  19. Bubu

    Great suggestions – by Sal and all the comments, thanks! I tend to be very hot in summer and freezing cold and winter, so i’ll add this tidbit I figured out: the parts that I know to quickly cover in winter to warm up my whole body quickly are the same to quickly cool down in summer for over-all cooling. To whit: my wrists, forehead, ankles and feet, neck. If I’m burning up, putting something cool on my wrists or forehead helps cool me down (I’ve pulled out frozen peas for this), or just putting my feet and ankles into the sprinkler – don’t need to get drenched to cool down the whole body.

    • Lapin_malin

      Studies says that if you want to be warm, you better cover up your belly. A warm “belt” or something (high jeans + long pullover) can do wonders !

  20. Cynthia

    I am a sweaty girl, and my strategy is just — natural fibers. I have a few poly jersey dresses, but they will not be replaced with more poly. When the southern sun hits that fabric it feels like it’s going to start on fire! Natural fibers, and light layers over everything, and I survive until it cools off again.

  21. Natasha

    Patterned clothing! This is the “wear black” tip in disguise. It’s harder for the eye to distinguish sweat rings on patterns than on a solid – whether you choose plaid, abstract prints, or Hawaiian florals, you can give yourself a sweat-invisibility edge.

  22. Lydia

    Cottons are good, but they actually wick sweat away from the body, (a good thing…) but, at the same time, sweat stains on cotton show up more. Jersey, some polyester or viscose content actually works best for me, because I sweat the same amount as I do when I wear cotton, but on polyester, the stains to not show. The exception is on super thin cotton, which shows sweat stains easily, but then dries quickly as well. I have sleaveless tops in patterned jersey, (with less cotton content), and as I mentioned, the sweat stains do not show up on these. I have not worn a button down shirt in years because unless I use LOTs of deodorant, the sweat stains show up, even in the middle of winter.

    My Dad explained that the Beduin wear black to insulate them — the temperature outside is much hotter than their body temperatures — the black covering insulates them and helps them moderate their body temperature and cool off (hope this makes sense).

  23. Tabitihia

    If you want a layer without covering your whole top half try the short sleeved boleros out there. I love the effect camis give but I hate them clinging to my body in the summer! I have a few short sleeved boleros that may add a little more heat on the shoulders but that’s it. There’s also super loose ones that flow that work well. I actually bought one of my over-sized boleros in the winter but love it year round. It’s a light grey, and hides those underarms without adding heat!

    Also, a dressier look (but may be counter productive since they’re usually made of synthetics) without having to wear a dress is gauchos. I personally love dresses, but I know not all women do and sometimes you just want pants! Linen is beautiful but wrinkles too much for me!

  24. Courtney

    I’m the sweatiest person I know, my parents have threatened to put me in the garden to drip water the flowers 😉 Here are my strategies:

    +Dark patterned thin sleeveless tops or very loosely sleeved tops (regular sleeved tops ride close to the pit are great for wicking moisture, but on me that means a sweat spot the size of a dinner plate that wraps around the arm of the shirt. Ew.)
    +Light colored linen/cotton full or A line, self lined skirts. Hallelujah for breezes!
    +Sandals, but if you feet make puddles like mine do, you want thinnish sandals (so they don’t make squishing noises once they get soaked) with leather, cloth or straw soles (less slippery than plastic) and with straps that go all the way around the foot (that slippery thing again). I’ve got a pair made by Born that look like leather Tevas that are magnificent. I can’t fall out of them, and I switch them out with others daily and saddle soap them regularly to ward off the funk.

    This is the summer uniform that I’ve landed at with a great deal of trial and error. The devil is in the details!

  25. JS

    I used to sweat a lot in my armpits, until I started using the “clinical” variety of Secret and Dove antiperspirant-deodorant.

  26. Mrs.M in MI

    I used to have major armpit sweat issues in the summer – and since I bike to work, usually in my work clothes, it was getting to be a problem.

    Then I started using that Secret(?) “Clinical Protection” deodorant. I no longer have issues.

  27. Gracey at Fashion For Giants

    I am a super sweaty person. Face, hands, underarms, belly, underboob, between my legs, all of it. I used to wear a lot of black to combat it, but a few years back I got a prescription for Hypercare and it’s helped a ton. The only non-prescription one that’s worked even a little for me is Mitchum and if you sweat but not a ridiculous amount like I do, it’s pretty good.

    Otherwise, I agree with OneWeirdWord in that patterns can help disguise sweat. And I try to wear a lot of skirts and dresses to give my lower half a little breathing room. I do wear slips, but I like to wear pedipants (or bloomers) even more to keep my thighs from touching and making each other sweat. I also wear DKNY smoothies which are super lightweight cotton (with a touch of Lycra) bike shorts which do help smooth but without being constricting like Spanx can be.

  28. sara

    I have to agree with the people who went the prescription/stronger deodorant route.

    Like @Debbie, I used Drysol. As soon as I hit my teens, I started sweating like crazy. I had to wear layers all year round to hide the stains, which was so uncomfortable (and so embarrassing! I used to walk around with my arms glued to my sides). When I was in my last year of college, I mentioned something to my brother (a pharmacist) and he got me some Drysol. I used it once a week for a year, and then never used it again. I think I forgot about using it because my body had started regulating itself after that. It’s been four years since I’ve been using normal strength deodorant with no problems (not sure if that’s how it worked for other drysol users).

    I believe they have milder versions for other areas of the body (hands, face, feet), so I think a lot of the issues here could be alleviated somewhat. I would ask your pharmacist and maybe check the drysol website. I usually don’t think about it anymore, but reading this post, I look back and can’t believe I couldn’t wear t-shirts in the summer, and I am just so grateful.

  29. sara

    Just wanted to add, you should probably try the stronger deodorants first, I think someone mentioned secret clinical,etc.. first, to see if that helps enough. The Drysol is probably more than 20 bucks, if I remember correctly. That’s what I did, but the stronger deodorants didn’t work for me.

  30. Trish

    Thank you, Sal!! As a sweaty gal I greatly appreciate your advice.

  31. Sophie - Country Girl

    I sweat all year. Hot or cold, I’m still dripping it. Nothing will hold it back. I’m uncomfortable being all sweaty, so frankly I just want to disguise it. Cotton does not make me feel any more comfortable. There are some clothes I can never ever wear, they show the slightest drop. Its all about hiding it! I wear lots of patterns and manmade fibres. I have a fab lightweight jacket that shows nothing, it has saved me so many times, I can’t tell you. Thanks for posting about this Sal, reading all the comments has made me feel like I’m no longer suffering (and I feel like I’m suffering terribly) on my own.

  32. erica

    I just wanted to let you all know that if you can scrape together the money, botox is the way to go. it literally changed my life from a wardrobe perspective. it’s not cheap but it is worth it if you can afford….

  33. Bonny

    Thanks everyone. I’m sorry you have to deal with this, too, but I am glad it’s not just me. The heat makes no difference. I mostly sweat in the armpits and its the worst in winter, actually. My mom days its nerves and she may be right. I don’t sweat in my sleep. Patterns! Never silky clothes, cap sleeves, or heathered fabrics. There are some high tech moisture wicking quick fry fabrics out there. I was hoping to find some names of those on here. Try REI and places like that. They’re expensive so ebay is a good resource. But you want to wash them on hot since they were all sweaty but so many tell you not to. The OTC clinical strength deodorants help some but I wish I could find unscented. I heard there’s a surgery where they can sever a nerve to cute this but I don’t think if be that desperate. Hang in there gals!

  34. kat

    As soon as puberty kicked in for me, so did the immense and terrible sweating problem.. Now, at age 21, I am in limbo between still vehemently hating the existence of sweat and accepting my failure at being a dry human specimen. When I was younger, I would feel so disgusting because I was the only girl who couldn’t do something as simple as wearing a t-shirt in our 100 degree Texas heat. And now, years later, I’m still so jealous of women who don’t sweat. For me, even the slightest exertion will produce sweat. I can walk for 10 minutes, sit in a room full of cute guys, walk to class, and I will get pit stains. I have ruined so many white shirts, I just cycle through them yearly. So, long story short–I sweat terribly and I hate it.

    I have tried countless deodorants–both men’s and women’s clinical–none of which have done much at all. I have had underarm botox once and it was ineffective–especially when I exercised. I have used drysol, sweat pills, etc. to no avail. I’m tired of all the products out there for sweaters. They just don’t do anything for me. Now, I just swipe on clinical secret or mitchum deodorant and go on my merry way, hoping that the 3-4 layers I’ve piled on to cover up the pit stains will shield my faulty body-temperature regulation system from the world.

    I think what annoys me most about being a colossal sweater, however, is that I feel so wholly alone. I go to the gym, other gyms, dance classes, exercise classes, yoga classes, and NOBODY–no other female–seems to sweat at all. I regularly attend zumba classes and after class, I look like I just stepped out of the shower. But other women have a cute rosy blush on their cheeks and that’s it. No BUCKETS of sweat, no soaked shirt(s) and leggings. Just blush. And this is what annoys me the most. I have a senior dinner coming up in a few weeks and graduations after that and it’s a terror because I’m fretting over how I’ll find enough dresses that can cover up pit sweat… I just want to know what it’s like to not have to factor in your obnoxious sweating problem when picking out outfits in the morning. I wish I could know how that feels. I’m resigned to hide my arms for eternity, but I still wish I too could experience the joy that is wearing gray t-shirts in public. Haha. Oh well. I suppose we get what we get in life. To all the ladies out there who are suffering like me, you are certainly not alone. And I hope that in the future, they will make clothes that are geared towards people like us; that one day we may yet hope for a world where all shirts and bottoms may be created equal and that fabric, no matter how saturated with sweat, will not succumb to darkened display. This is the world I envision for our kind and I have faith that one day we will make it there. So, in the spirit of the Queens we all are (regardless of our pits), let us keep calm and carry on.

    • elly

      Let’s start the revolution! I think our only options are to forgo clothes (which I’m personally not in to), create communities that see sweat as natural, or a sign of hard work, and not as something that’s gross and unfeminine that we need to stop by paying money to close our pores with Botox or aluminum (which just makes the sweat come out harder everywhere else for me).

  35. Girla

    Lightweight mesh fabric and/or lightweight all lace fabric works spectacularly well too.

  36. Desiree

    I am so glad I am not the only one who deals with this stuff! As someone who lives in the northwest, I have accepted the fact that I cannot wear white (have not bought a white t-shirt in 10 years). Also, I work in physical therapy which means I am constantly moving, not such a good idea for someone who sweats quite bit… I wonder all the time what my patients must think. I have picked up on the use of Drysol from other comments on here and think I may try that. I have tried the clinical strength stuff and that seems to help somewhat but I still get that grody smell in my clothes and recently had to look up how to get rid of that (because otherwise I am shopping for new clothes all the time) and it has just become a big headache for me. Thank you for all the comments, I found them all helpful! 🙂