Can we wear sleeveless dresses in the heat?

cotton maxi dress

Can we wear sleeveless dresses in the heat? I am sure that this post will create some interesting debates in the comments box. All opinions welcome provided they are polite.

Last year I was ill-prepared for our long-lasting heatwave. I did not have enough cool dresses to wear and by the time I got round to buying one all the best ones were sold out. So this year I decided to add at least one new cool cotton dress to my wardrobe and I am very glad that I did. The sleeveless maxi dress I am wearing above is from Cos. They have a very good selection of cotton and linen dresses both with and without sleeves.

One thing I can’t stand is synthetic fabrics in the heat, Way too clingy and sweaty. I only wear either cotton or linen. Personally, I like maxi dresses as I prefer to cover my legs however if you are petite a knee-length version would probably work better.

Summer cotton scarf

I have one of our cotton shawls draped around my shoulders. The Lobster print scarf is from Chicatanyage. For some unknown reason lobster motifs were very popular this year in the South of France.

cotton maxi dress and scarf

I am wearing our blue cotton coral scarf. I have tied a row of knots along the length of the scarf to create a necklace effect. This is a great way to draw attention towards the face and away from other areas of the body, in this case the upper arms

This Summer we were in France till late June. During the last few weeks temperatures were in the late 30s centigrade and for the last couple of days 40 degrees centigrade. One of my favourite pass times, especially when I am in France, is people watching. I noticed that many chic French women of a certain age in our village were wearing sleeveless tops and dresses, both maxi and knee-length with confidence. They did not seem to have any issues with their arms being on display.

Maxi cotton dress and jacket

Just in case I want to cover my upper arms I bought this matching jacket again from Cos. Mine is very asymmetrical with a wide collar. It seems to have sold out online however this one would work well as a cover-up. My blue necklace is from Grimaud Market, available from a selection online at LesbijouxdeNatasha. I may be able to get necklaces similar to the one I am wearing for the shop. Let me know in the comments box if you would be interested.

My gorgeously comfortable sandals are the Heda style from Fitflop. They also have an excellent collection of sandals in their sale including the snake print ones I featured here.

cotton printed summer shawl

Another alternative to cover your arms which I use all the time is to throw a scarf or shawl over your shoulders. The colourful tasselled shawl I am wearing above is the embroidered tropical leaf scarf available from a selection at Shop at Chicatanyage.

Over to you. Do you ever wear sleeveless tops or dresses when the weather is very hot?

If you are not a fan of sleeveless dresses I have chosen a selection of dresses both with sleeves and without. Dresses continue to be popular for Autumn and some of the dresses below would transition well into the new season.

Selection of dresses:

The photographs were taken by Laura Hines. Follow her on Instagram

Location Strawberry Hill House


  1. 5th August 2019 / 13:14

    That is a lovely dress, Josephine. I’d never heard of COS until I was in London in 2017. I love their clothes. What I don’t love is the look of my upper arms in a sleeveless dress, but I’ve been wearing the one I have more and more this year. Really, nothing like a cool, wafty dress in the heat. Maybe next year I’ll plan ahead, like you, and buy myself another one.

    • 5th August 2019 / 18:20

      Hi Sue
      I find that Cos do some great dresses for the summer. They mostly use cotton and their clothes are nice and loose and never constricting

  2. Wendy in York
    5th August 2019 / 13:40

    My kind of dress but I would prefer sleeves . You look great though .

    • Jane
      5th August 2019 / 14:36

      Great look, both with and without, the jacket! You look lovely. Cool and sophisticated.

  3. Lesley Day
    5th August 2019 / 16:11

    I always try to wear sleeves, but in the stifling heat there is nothing better than a sleeveless long dress in a natural fabric.

    I also wore a long sleeveless dress to a function at the City of London Mansion House in the heatwave (had a wrap with me just in case) but so many of the ladies were wearing sleeveless too I didn’t bother.

  4. Janet Povey
    5th August 2019 / 16:11

    I do not love my upper arms, despite regular exercise they are very flabby especially since I have lost weight, however I do wear sleeveless tops and dresses when it is hot. I even wore a sleeveless dress to my daughter’s wedding recently, with a jacket initially, but without as the evening wore on! Love the Cos dress btw, Jan

  5. Caroline Heaton-Watson
    5th August 2019 / 16:13

    Love the Lobster print scarf, just had to order the pale one!

  6. Sara
    5th August 2019 / 16:32

    In the heat, comfort tops ideas that older women should not reveal their arms, so I am with you, Josephine, and I think the Cos dress looks great. Sometimes I struggle with Cos’s online photos as they seem to aim for the least flattering pose possible, so I appreciated seeing you in these photos. You look so much better than their model; gawky schoolgirl is not a style that many of us want to emulate; why do they do this??
    In terms of sleeveless dresses, surely we can combine comfort with style? Isn’t that in part what being older helps us with? I will wear sleeveless if heat dictates, nature and weather being more important factors than outmoded ideas of “suitable” clothing for the older female!

    • 5th August 2019 / 18:25

      Hi Sara
      I so agree we should wear what we like and definitely be comfortable. I think hot, sweaty and uncomfortable is a worse look than showing a little upper arm. You are right the Cos photos do not show their garments in the most flattering light. It is the one shop that I like to visit so that I can check out the shape and hang of the clothes.

  7. Sharon Thomas
    5th August 2019 / 16:54

    Hate my arms but if it’s really hot I do not care…as long as I don’t look in a mirror As my friend said to me .. who really cares…. everyone is so busy thinking about them selves they are not really looking. I’m saying this as I now live in USA but when I go back home to England I have a slightly different perspective as generally women are more fashion conscience . I certainly miss the stylish clothes in Europe! It’s so hot and humid here in Atlanta

    • 5th August 2019 / 18:26

      Hi Sharon
      You are right people are much more concerned about themselves than others. However I do admire a well dressed woman when I see one.

      • Sharon Thomas
        6th August 2019 / 02:31

        Oh, me too x

  8. Sharon Thomas
    5th August 2019 / 16:55

    Ps . You look lovely in your dress!

  9. Susan S Adams
    5th August 2019 / 16:56

    I’m sad to say that European heat waves are probably the New Normal. I’m in Northern California, and the number of scorching days each year is steadily increasing. We’d better get used to seeing our upper arms, or we’ll all roast to death.

  10. Helen
    5th August 2019 / 17:34

    I haven’t worn sleeveless since I noticed the look of my upper arms in my thirties. I think older women with a very strong tan can get away with it, and I am guessing that the chic French women in the South of France are all beautifully tanned!

    • 5th August 2019 / 18:18

      I am not sure that they are all beautifully tanned. Our next-door neighbour isn’t and she definitely wears sleeveless dresses and tops. However, some would definitely have light tans. Except for some really mahogany women on the beach sun tanning seems to have gone out of fashion.

  11. 5th August 2019 / 18:20

    I do not have great upper arms. But at my age 78 I think I need to get over it in the heat. I live in Los Angeles where it can get Really warm, although it looks like it gets really warm over the pond. No, I don’t do yoga or weights and my arms are not great but who am I trying to kid. If it’s hot I bought a few sleeves linen dresses and I’ll wear them. I mean I have grey hair and not great arms but my husband, children and great grandchildren still love me.
    PS. You look fab in sleeveless or not sleeveless. Either way you stand out.

  12. 5th August 2019 / 18:30

    Hi Sandra
    Yes our nearest and dearest love us great arms or not especially my three grandsons they notice a lot but certainly not my arms. I do pilates once a week and swim and that definitely helps keep my arms in reasonable shape.

  13. Paula Beasley
    5th August 2019 / 19:52

    I struggle with questions like these – I think that everyone should do what they’re comfortable with, but the idea of roasting in the heat because of our upper arms seems silly. You *should* wear what you want to wear, you *can* go sleeveless and still look very well dressed, and I hope that none of us would feel that we are “too old” to be comfortable. Those arms have earned the right to be shown off, not hidden away! Think of all the hugs they’ve given, the tears they have absorbed, the babies they’ve held, and the work they have done over their lives! Sounds like the women in the village have it sorted out pretty well. Bare arms proudly, ladies!

    • Sheree
      8th August 2019 / 17:13

      Well said Paula. So what if our arms are not the same as when we were aged 20!
      Strangely I find a “ cut in” shape to the arm-hole which actually exposes even more arm and shoulder is more flattering.

  14. Elizabeth
    5th August 2019 / 20:01

    Josephine, You look lovely & elegant in your dress, with or w/out sleeves. I strongly believe if one is comfortable going sleeveless, just do it.
    I am fortunate to have very slim arms however they are not as toned as they could be, but thats ok, just turned 66, and when the weather here is hot & humid, I embrace sleeveless.

  15. Margo
    5th August 2019 / 20:19

    Hi Josephine I have just seen this post and went immediately to the COS site to order because you are the same shape as me and you look great. I don’t worry too much about my arms as I hate my veiny legs more and something has to show in the heat. Keep your posts coming and when you are buying for your shop don’t forget us warm toned people
    Best wishes. Margo

    • 6th August 2019 / 10:49

      Hi Margo
      You are in luck this season there are loads of warm colours around I will be going to have a look around the shops tomorrow.

  16. Lynn Brogden
    5th August 2019 / 21:22

    You look great Josephine, yes I must say I do wear sleeveless dresses when it is very hot, it is so much more comfortable. A nice summer dress with a sun hat, is my favourite on a hot & humid day. My upper arms are what I would call passable, so for the moment I will carry on wearing sleeveless dresses.

  17. Brenda
    5th August 2019 / 22:48

    Lots of very interesting comments above. My arms aren’t great but my veiny legs are worse, so I would definitely consider a sleeveless cotton maxi drress. I don’t tan particularly well and I wondered if there was a body cream or fake tan you would recommend using on arms to give them a nice silky sheen? I

    • 6th August 2019 / 10:43

      Hi Brenda
      I like Mac face and body foundation. I use it on my legs for light coverage as it acts like a tinted moisturiser. I have never tried it on my arms.

  18. Angela in NZ
    5th August 2019 / 23:46

    Here in the upper north island of New Zealand our summer heat is mostly in the high 20C’s but it’s the humidity that’s the big deal. Without sleeveless dresses I’d be a puddle. Far too long in the tooth to give a jot what anyone else thinks about my arms. I do agree that a light tan takes the edge off upper arms. At the beginning of summer I use a cream that, applied everyday, gradually builds a tan until such time as nature’s vitamin D takes over a little. I try to stay out of the sun between 10am to 4pm as our UV is very fierce. Most of my linen dresses have faded from it and silk is a no no too. Much prefer spring and autumn.

  19. Jayne
    6th August 2019 / 01:03

    I don’t worry about whether my arms look good or bad (they are a little flabby for sure) but I too have veiny legs which are more of a worry to me than my arms. I wear both sleeves and sleeveless if I love the dress. You look really great in this dress. If it was for sale in NZ, I’d buy it.

  20. Brenda Chell
    6th August 2019 / 10:40

    You look so pretty and elegant Josephine, you have lovely arms. I’m with you wearing a shawl to cover at times.

  21. Anthea Dore
    6th August 2019 / 12:03

    personally, I think the sight of someone obviously overheated from too much “cover-up” looks far worse than the bingo wings …! And, yes, I was in the South of France in June and my upper arms were the least of my worries!

  22. 6th August 2019 / 15:34

    I find in such heat that a thin natural fabric and loose fit are most important. The garment has to stand slightly away from the body and be very light and fluid. Darker colors are usually not see-through. Just finding that is hard enough! While I prefer a short sleeve, if I find such a piece and it’s sleeveless, I’ll take it!

  23. Janet Moore
    6th August 2019 / 16:08

    Where did the idea that older women should not display their upper arms come from in the first place? If it’s too hot, wear sleeveless tops and dresses. You will feel and look more comfortable in the heat, you’ll also get more evenly tanned arms, rather than having a sleeve line part way down your arms(which I think makes your arms look worse, whatever their state of toned-ness)

  24. 8th August 2019 / 09:07

    We have a real problem in the UK with our prejudices about the ageing body or indeed the less than perfect body. Which is a bit of a shame as most of us spend the majority of our lives over 30. It’s great to dress in a way that makes us feel good, emphasising our plus points and and disguising the bits we love least. However when that disguising bits tips over into self hatred it’s a problem. Hardly surprising when the fashion world tells us that we are only acceptable to be seen out in public if we are young and thin but still wants our money. Yes there are a few older models around now but they are invariably whippet thin and rarely do you see their limbs exposed!

    • 8th August 2019 / 11:47

      You are so right Maureen. Very well expressed. I don’t think that French women have the same negative attitude about getting older.

  25. Pippin
    12th August 2019 / 16:57

    I had to laugh when I read the comments above about COS. I adore their clothes but they look horrible on the hanger and look unbelievably unflattering on the models on their websites. And yet every single time I’ve tried something on, it has looked great on me and I’ve immediately fallen in love with it and bought it. I’m never quite sure how they manage to sell anything online!

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