Hem lengths fall in and out of fashion, and this year, they’re longer for spring and fall.

Which can be good or bad, depending on how tall you are. If you’re a fan of the longer lengths, take note: they can be tricky to pull off.

Let’s start with the good news: more coverage.

When temperatures dip, you want to stay warm. Longer lengths in cozy fabrics allow you to do that. Plus, if you prefer more modest clothes, skirts to your calf instead of your thigh keeps you from feeling exposed.

Note:  While all clothes shown are chosen because they meet our editorial standards, we may receive a commission if you buy through our links at no additional cost to you.

Green and white midi dress by Alice + Olivia Midi dress by Elie Tahari Beige floral midi dress by Adrianna Papell Denim shirt dress by Calvin Klein
Alice + Olivia Elie Tahari Adrianna Papell Calvin Klein

Now the bad news: getting the length right is crucial.

So is the footwear.

Because if you mess it up, it throws off the proportion and the aesthetic, leaving others pondering the proportional imbalance instead of marveling at your fashion savvy.

So let’s break it down:

Proportion and Hem Length

The 8 Head We’ve talked about proportion before and the ancient Greek ideal of the 8 head body.

Everything boiled down to math for them, including how to dress.

So they visually divided the body into eight head-size lengths:

1 Head to neck
2 Neck to bust
3 Bust to waist
4 Waist to hips
5 Hips to mid-thigh
6 Mid-thigh to knee
7 Knee to mid-shin
8 Mid-shin to bottom of foot

…to allow people to find clothes that suited them and create visual balance based on their particular proportions.

Is everyone 8 heads tall?


Would your head length fit at these exact points on your body?

Not necessarily. That’s why it was considered the “ideal.”

But if you use these points as a proportional frame of reference when dressing, it will help you identify where things should be hitting on your body.

So when you look in the mirror, if a length isn’t hitting at the right spot, you know you either need to have it tailored, or go find another piece that hits where it’s supposed to.

With these body points in mind, here are where dress and skirt hem lengths should hit:

Hemline Lengths

Micro – high thigh
Mini – mid-thigh
Above knee – 1 to 2” above the knee
Knee length – at the knee
Below knee – 1 to 2” below the knee
Midi (or tea length) – mid-shin
Ballerina – between mid-shin and ankle
Maxi – ankle
Floor Length – floor length to an inch above

The Most Flattering Hem Length

The most universally flattering hem length for women is knee length.

It allows for the classic one-third/two-third proportion, which offers 1/3rd bare leg to 2/3rds coverage from neck to foot.

This visually breaks the body in thirds and shows the most flattering part of the leg.

Knee lengths are appropriate for most daytime and some evening functions.

Burgundy and white Dolce & Gabbana knee-length dress Black and white polka dot dress by Calvin Klein Calvin Klein
Dolce & Gabbana Calvin Klein Calvin Klein

Longer or shorter hem lengths change the proportion.

Micro and mini lengths visually cut the body in half, while midi and ballerina lengths create a 3/4 (or 6/7ths) proportion from neck to foot. It’s a lot of material and can be tough to pull off, particularly if you’re petite.

Beige mini dress by Dress the Population Beige stripped ballerina length dress from StyleWe
Dress the Population Stylewe

Which is why I don’t recommend this length if you’re shorter than 5’4” (1.63 meters). It’s just too much fabric for your height.

The above the knee length is the most flattering for petites because it makes the legs look longer and the wearer look taller.

But if you’re petite and want to wear a longer hem, stop at below the knee. It will echo the midi length without overwhelming you.

Above the knee dress by Lauren Ralph Lauren Below the knee dress by Lauren Ralph Lauren
Lauren Ralph Lauren Lauren Ralph Lauren

For those of you over 5’4”, make sure the hem hits at the correct spot on your leg: either mid-shin for midi lengths, or between mid-shin and ankle for ballerina styles.

Precision is required for the correct proportion here; just some random length between your knee and ankle won’t do.

Remember Greek heads and body points when you’re looking in the mirror, and buy or tailor the hem to the correct length.

Midi Length Pink ballerina length from StyleWe
Midi Length
Ballerina Length


The Best Shoes for Midi Length

Now I said earlier that the longer hem lengths were back in fashion, but this isn’t the first time midi and ballerina lengths have been popular.

A look back at the last 100 years shows they go in and out of style roughly every 20 years.

The Delineator, October 1916The Delineator
October, 1916


Chic Parisien 1930sChic Parisien
c. 1935


Lutterloh Sewing Patterns, 1955Lutterloh Sewing Patterns


Vogue Paris Patterns, 1978Vogue Paris Patterns


Vogue Patterns, 1986Vogue Patterns


McCall's Patterns 1995McCall’s Patterns

Long Hems and Statement Shoes

So why the fashion history lesson?

Look at the shoes traditionally worn with this length: flats, kitten heels, or boots.

But with statement shoes being so popular the last few years, stylists keep trying to pair them with these longer lengths.

It doesn’t work, in my opinion, because it throws off the proportion: 6/7ths clothes with 1/7th “look at me” shoes is just too much drama for one outfit.

It pulls attention straight to the feet and keeps it there.

Clunky shoes with delicate dress by Chloe Pink sheath from Frame Black sundress with tennis shoes by Faithfull the Brand
Chloe Frame Faithfull the Brand

With shoes like these, no one will be paying attention to  your face or what you’re saying; they’ll be too busy mentally pondering the imbalance of your ensemble to pay attention.

Remember: the mind seeks balance and symmetry. If it doesn’t get it, it immediately goes to work trying to figure out what’s wrong.

You don’t want that. 

Create balance and symmetry by going old school with the shoes at this length: plain and simple.

Flats, pumps, and boots in a color equal to or darker than your hem, or flesh-toned shoes that visually lengthen the leg and foot.

Save the statement shoes for mini and knee-length hems instead.

Cream dress with cape by Lanvin Sage shirtdress by Cefinn Blue satin halter dress by Galvan Red and yellow off-shoulder dress
Lanvin Cefinn Galvan Rixo

So what’s the bottom line?

Fashion is a visual art which means that the basic Principles of Art apply.

Use proportion, balance, and symmetry when assembling outfits.

Think like an ancient Greek and do the math to make sure your ensembles add up – especially with tricky proportions like the midi and ballerina hem lengths.

Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton is an image consultant and author of Signature Style Blueprint. Need some help streamlining your wardrobe and creating a signature style that turns heads and opens doors?  Signature Style Blueprint can help.

Tricky Hem Lengths to Avoid

    18 replies to "Tricky Hem Lengths: The Midi and Ballerina"

    • Renée Suzanne

      I love your posts Diana! I never knew about the rules of proportion until I started following you. I realized some things looked “off” but never really knew why. I’m not a fan of 70’s fashion and I’m also a curvy petite, so I’ll stick with the classics this fall.

      • Diana

        Hi Renee, glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, once you understand proportion, the math of fashion makes sense. As for following trends, that’s the beauty of it all: you get to pick which ones to follow.

    • Della DeYoung

      Wonderful article. I’m 5’6′, 200 straight up and down pounds, with skinny legs and flat feet. And I don’t always want to wear pants. Shoes have always been the challenge because I just can’t compete.

      Thank you for something I can (hopefully) figure out. This article gave us a lot of information with specific detail as to how to make the magic happen.

      This article and article you published last year about colour are the best! I also have several of your books.

      Again, thank you.

      Della DeYoung

      • Diana

        Hi Della, you’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed it! I will be writing more about shoes in an upcoming article, so hopefully, that will help even more. Stay tuned… 😉

    • Sameara

      I have a question about wee little women. I’m 5’2″ and from your article I can only wear short or knee length. I don’t find that attractive in the coulotte or split skirt style I see so much. I have also noticed for spring it’s all Capri pants. I see very few fun styles that are longer or attractive ones that are shorter. Is there any crop length a little woman can wear? What about heels or wedges with them? I’m ready to throw my hands up. I do love the article and thank you for keeping us Au courant. I follow the fashions shows, but there are so many I often miss some trends.

      • Diana

        Hi Sameara, at 5’2″, I would suggest styles that hit 1-2 inches below the knee. Again, midi lengths can be overwhelming on petites so stick with the knee length range, even for Capri pants. Heels and wedges are fine to wear with them.

        • Jen

          I am petite. 5’0 115 lbs and I wear maxi dresses quite often and they are flattering. It is not true that petite women can’t wear maxi or long dresses

          • Diana

            Hi Jen – I don’t recommend it for most petite women as all that fabric can be overwhelming. The only way it really works is if the style is simple and the fit and proportions are correct.

    • iamloved

      How useful is this guide – particularly the illustrations and photos as reference points! One (of the many!) things Iove about your posts Diana is that they can often be kept as information to look at later.

      I’m someone who does have a natural instinct for what looks most flattering on me, but your tips help me to the next level – much appreciated.

      Congratulations on your 500th post – I’m looking forward to many more!

      • Diana

        You’re welcome, IAmLoved! Thanks for your kind note. I’m glad you’re enjoying all the info! Please, refer to it as often as necessary. P.S. The illustrations are by my daughter, Peyton. I’ll be putting her talents to more use in the future… 🙂

    • Chelsia Berry

      First time visitor to your blog. I’m a designer looking for customers that are real women. I design clothes for women in the workplace, aged 30-50+. I love designs that are easy to wear – one main piece and leggings for a lot of what I design and multi size looks that work for a variety of body types. I’m on etsy, but my customer is not. I really like how you’re reaching out to real women. I’ll be visiting again. Some of us designers do want to work with real body types. 🙂

      • Diana

        Hi Chelsia – glad to hear it! 🙂

    • Jean Marie

      Thank you for all your helpful wardrobe information. You certainly have helped me see how important it is to dress one’s individual best and glorify your Creator.
      I currently am writing my doctoral dissertation on women’s clothing and health. Your thoughts on emotional health and clothing have been insightful.
      Please tell your daughter Peyton how very much I appreciated her lovely drawings!! 🙂
      Jean Marie

      • Diana

        Hi Jean Marie – I’m so glad you’re enjoying all the material! Thanks for your note! I’ll be sure to let Peyton know you what you said about her drawings. 🙂

    • Claudia

      Wonderful article, and especially the illustrations, which make me think that another factor might enter here: When I compare the illustrations from 1916, 1935 and 1950 with the much more coarse and unrefined pictures of the skirts from the 70s and 80s, it is obvious that drape plays a major role here. Something that drapes and moves like those 1916 dresses must be much more flattering, independently of height, than the 1978 models which look as if they would keep their shape even without the wearer in it.

      At least in my eyes, a stiff hemline and bunching at the waist contribute as much to the overall appearance of unflattering chunkiness as the wrong hemline does. As someone with the calf muscles of a soccer player and two smashed knees crisscrossed with scars I always struggle with longer skirts and find that the same length, done in a thin and pleated fabric, works, while it does not work in a stiffer material.

      • Diana

        Hi Claudia – glad you enjoyed the article!

        As for your observation about drape and fabric, yes, a softer, “swishier” fabric CAN be more flattering than a stiffer one, depending on how it drapes. It’s the bunching at the waistline that makes the wearer seem heavier in the 1970s picture. But the purpose of business clothes in the 1970s was different than in previous generations: women were competing with men dressed in men’s fabrics. In the six decades before, they were trying to be the epitome of a womanly woman with corsets, merry widows, and soft, draping fabrics.

        Thanks for your insight!

    • Julia

      I often wonder about shoe colours that are best if they are the same or darker than your hemline. As a fan of particularly 50/50 black and white stripes and of other shades of light and dark stripes how do you then determine the best shoe colour. Do you go for the lighter of darker stripe.

      • Diana

        Hi Julia – I typically go for the darker color to ground the look. White or light-colored shoes tend to draw attention to the feet. Another option? Flesh-colored shoes that make your legs look longer and draw the eye back to your clothes.

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