Hem length styles fall in and out of fashion, and this year, they’re longer for 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.
|Valentino||Gucci||Marc Jacobs||Carolina Herrera|
Fall 2015 Runway Shows
Photos courtesy of Vogue.com
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
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? No. 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.
So with these body points in mind, here are where dress and skirt hem lengths should hit:
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 of Hem Length
The most universally flattering hem length for women is knee length because it allows for the classic one-third/two-third proportion, which offers 1/3rd bare leg to 2/3rds coverage from neck to foot. It 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.
|Day Dress||Casual Dress||Cocktail Dress|
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.
|Mini Dress||Midi Dress|
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 the below the knee height. It will echo the midi length without overwhelming you.
|Above the Knee||Below the Knee|
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||Ballerina Length|
The Best Shoes for Midi Length
Now I said earlier that the longer hem lengths of the 1970s were back in fashion, but that’s not 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.
Lutterloh Sewing Patterns
Vogue Paris 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 “all the rage” this decade, stylists are trying to pair them with the midi length. 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 is there.
Photos courtesy of Vogue.com
Forget about your face and what you’re saying; people will 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.
|Valentino||Carolina Herrera||Michael Kors||Ralph Lauren||Marchesa|
Photos courtesy of Vogue.com
So what’s the bottom line?
Remember that fashion is a visual art which means basic art principles 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-Sikes 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.