Keeping up with fashion can be difficult at the best of times and with each of us having a different body type, striving to find clothes that fit and suit us can be an exhausting process. 


Factor into this having an area of the body affected by swelling such as lymphoedema, even the thought of shopping for clothes can be traumatic. If the development of your swelling has been a recent thing, looking at the clothes you can no longer wear in your wardrobe can be upsetting. Following these tips may help to overcome some of the disappointment but remember this is general information and that everyone has different needs and some tips may not work for you.

How we dress and our appearance defines us and not being able to wear what we like can affect our lives immensely. But no matter what our shape or size, we can all look beautiful and be confident with our appearance, albeit with a bit of tweaking!

Dressing with an arm swelling

Having one arm that is larger than the other can be challenging. The natural reaction is to opt for garments in a larger size to accommodate the difference, but this may not be the answer, especially if you have a petite frame. Wearing long sleeves is the main problem with full sleeves not giving the girth for the larger arm. Dresses or blouses with batwing, butterfly sleeves or tulip/bell sleeves can be an option as the increases in styling can accommodate the larger arm volume.

If you want to avoid long sleeves altogether, perhaps wear a short sleeve or cap sleeved top teamed with a stretchy jumper, cardigan or pashmina. In the winter months the task is a little easier as baggy jumpers and sweatshirts can help camouflage your arm swelling and make blending in with the crowd easier.

Many tops and dresses available are ‘one size fits all’ which will suit those of you with arm or truncal oedema. Keep garments loose so that they do not constrict if your arm size varies throughout the day.

Most of us would consider altering a garment if it is too big but what if a garment is too small? For those items you still love but where the arm is too narrow, consider taking them to a seamstress to add an insert or alter the sleeve with a split or zip insertion in order to increase the girth of the sleeve. Choosing or adding fabrics with stretch also gives some flexibility and will help when the size of your arm varies. If the garment is too tight near to the armhole, the seamstress can drop it to create more room or remove the sleeve altogether, creating a whole new look! Remember, transforming clothes that you love with a few alterations will bring you a new joy at the fraction of the cost of a new wardrobe.

What to wear with swollen legs?

Having a swollen leg / legs can also pose some difficulties when shopping for clothes. Some days you may feel that you want to cover up with longer length skirts and dresses or wear trousers in order to hide your swelling. Having trousers in your wardrobe is essential but when you are faced with larger legs, what style should you go for? Trying to keep up with the latest fashion trends is great but remember some styles do not suit everyone. Experiment and find the style that works for you and your shape.

  • Full length, wide legged trousers are great for the days when you want to cover up. They make your leg shape a mystery to the onlooker and can be teamed up with a t-shirt for day wear or a smart black pair can be dressed up with a nice cropped top or fancy blouse for the evening
  • A variation of the wide legged trouser is a wide legged cropped jean. Not suitable for everyone but look around for options. Many are made of stretchy fabric and have a frayed hem which gives a softer look. Wear with a blouse or wrap around top which just covers the top of the jeans and put on a pair of pumps or a small heel if you can for a smart, casual look
  • Turkish harem style trousers in stunning colours that drape and disguise all shape and sizes can be very flattering. Many are made in viscose which is a natural fabric and good to wear over compression garments
  • Cargo or khaki pants are a good alternative to jeans. Made of cotton with turn ups at the bottom and pockets on the legs, they ooze comfort and are ideal for any activity. Match your khaki pants with darker tops and maybe a denim jacket and flip flops or pumps to complete your casual, comfy look
  • For a more dressed up look opt for some striped palazzo trousers. These are full-length and baggy and are ideal to wear to the beach or around town especially on warmer days. Some say that stripes can make you look bigger but give them a try. Wear with an off the shoulder blouse or tankini to complete your summer look
  • For a more formal look, a wide legged formal trouser, perhaps with a pinstripe, is ideal to wear to the office or a meeting. The classic style will make you look slimmer and once paired with a matching jacket or a dark colour that highlights the colour in the stripes you are on to a winner.
  • And finally, don’t forget the jumpsuit. The variety of styles available make this an essential part of any wardrobe, ideal for those with upper or lower limb swelling. If you need room around the arms, select styles that are more shaped in the legs, even those that have elastic around the ankles. Whereas those that need room in the trouser area can look at those styles which are more fitted at the top and have flowy, more roomy legs. If you fall in love with a particular style which doesn’t quite suit, remember to ask your local seamstress if she’s able to alter and customise it in any way

Don’t dismiss the dress!

The ever-popular maxi dress is in fashion year in year out and is ideal for those who want to hide their legs but do not want to wear trousers. But there is no need to feel that you are covered from head to toe. Use a focal point, choosing where you want to highlight and detract from your legs. Maybe choose a style with a ‘V’ neck or a halter neck or wear some interesting jewellery.

  • Wearing short dresses or skirts can be an option too. There are smart ways to wearing a shorter hem and again, if you are confident, you can carry off pretty much anything.
  • Use crop tops paired with high waisted skirts to make your legs look longer.
  • Choose fabrics that are thinner, delicate and silky looking, these will help to give you a thinner silhouette.
  • Avoid pencil skirts, instead opt for A-line designs or fuller ones so that your legs look slimmer.
  • Avoid wearing anklets or chains around your ankles as these cut down the length of your legs and make them look shorter. If your leg swells more during the day, they may also cause constriction

Midi dresses are great if you are not quite brave enough to go short but do not want to cover up completely. Choose a design that has lace detailing along the hem which makes the dress appear longer but remains sheer at the same time.

The use of colour and accessories

The use of colour both in the style of clothes and against our individual skin tones can make or break an outfit. Bright colours, especially white, can make our bodies appear larger. ‘Black is slimming’ and although that is essentially true, dressing head to toe in black can be a sombre experience. However, plain but bold colours including even the reliable black, can be worn both in the day and night alike and will give the illusion of length. Team up your main colours with those in your tops, skirts and trousers.

General advice for those with oedema is to focus on details that take attention away from the unwanted areas. For example, draw the eye away from your legs by wearing some nude coloured pumps or sandals or dressing your upper body in a dark colour and accentuate areas of your body that you like by wearing a nice necklace, hat or accessories. Conversely for the arm, wearing some brightly coloured or interesting shoes or boots will become your focal point. Refer to previous blogs on footwear remembering to look out for zips, laces, buckles and stretchy fabrics to accommodate any foot swelling. In the Summer, sandals and plastic flip flop shoes can be worn and come in a variety of colours but remember to take care if your feet are exposed.

Happy Styling!!

If you have any tips that relate to this topic, please head to our forum to share them with other LymphConnect readers.

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