The Importance of Variety of Fit

Why you need a variety of fit types in your closet

Several commenters balked at my pant length post. Not because they disagreed with my assertions, but because the very idea of buying pants in several different hem lengths to accommodate a variety of heel heights seemed both costly and excessive.

And I hear that: Stocking up on your favorite black slacks in short, average, and tall lengths to prepare yourself for any shoe-related eventuality may sound positively ludicrous. And since quality dress pants run anywhere from $80 to $200 a pop, we’re also talking about a substantial chunk of change, here.

And yet, unless all of your shoes are the same height, you can’t rely on one hem length to work all the time. Unless you wear flats or mid heels or giant platforms EXCLUSIVELY, all day, every day, year-round, your pants are gonna look downright goofy sometimes.

Similarly, if you want to layer tops successfully, you’d better accumulate an array of tightnesses and lengths. Sometimes nothing but skintight will work underneath a certain outer layer. And sometimes your shorter shirts will ride up and drive you bonkers if you try to stick them under a close-fitting sweater. And if all you have is loose tees or tight tees or short tees or long tees, you will struggle to layer and your tops are gonna look downright goofy sometimes.

Furthermore, if you like to play around with belting, you may have discovered that your pant belts are totally useless if you want to belt at your natural waist, or try out the hip-slung look. You need smaller belts for the cinched look, wearing-waist belts for keeping your trousers up, and considerably looser belts for hugging your hips.* If you let your single length of belt sag off your natural waist, or squeeze the life out of your hips you simply won’t look your best.

You’d never buy a single color and style of sock and wear it with every outfit, every shoe, every day, would you? You need whites for the gym, thick ones for your winter boots, knee-high silky ones for conservative work stuff, peds for your flats, cute patterned ankle socks to peek out from your Mary Janes. You’d never buy a giant down parka and expect it to work for every outdoor outing from October to April. You need a denim jacket for breezy warm days, a wool peacoat for when it is just starting to get cold, a fancy coat for special occasions … OK, you get the point.

And if you don’t care, you don’t care. If you have to compromise, you have to compromise. It is not financially feasible to attempt preparedness for every stylistic need, and I would never advise anyone to make that a goal.

But most of us cycle through clothes, purging out our closets on a seasonal or annual basis. Next time you are sorting out your wardrobe, consider this before chucking something into the giveaway pile: If it doesn’t work for your everyday purposes, should it be stashed for occasional use? If it’s pants that are “too long” but otherwise fit fine, could they be tucked away for use with towering heels? If it’s a fine gauge sweater so tight you can see your internal organs protruding through the fiber, could it be set aside for wintry layerings? If that belt your cousin gave you is WAY too tight for your jeans, could it work when you want to throw a belt over a cardi or dress?

You don’t necessarily need to keep variety of fit in mind when you SHOP, but it’s a fantastic thing to take into account when you PURGE. Also a good concept to bear in mind if you are a thrift shopper: Accumulating a variety of fits is mainly a burden on the bank account, but much less so if you are buying those skintight tees for pennies on the dollar.

Those with an extremely consistent style and minimalist wardrobe may not need to worry about amassing an array of pant lengths, shirt fits, and belt styles. But those who experiment a lot and have larger, more varied wardrobes should consider finding ways to accumulate variety of fit. This type of variety helps make personal style more resilient, and is a truly worthwhile investment.

*This is assuming that your natural waist is smaller than your wearing waist which is smaller than your hips. Apple shaped women may not experience this, but many women see some difference in circumference between these three areas.

Black tee image courtesy Bebe, white tee image courtesy Banana Republic.

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  • Oranges And Apples

    That seems sensible! I guess I do this already (with the tops and belts mainly, because almost all my shoes are flat), I just never thought about it consciously before.

  • Meli22

    just like any other thing in this world- balance is the KEY.

    When buying clothing, we inevitably get different fits anyways- each brand, each peice within a brand, has a different fit. Buy what you love, and what fits great.

    When you are going through your closet, try different outfits/ layer items together. When you need something for an outfit you really want, mark it on a list. Maybe you need a 3/4 sleeve cardigan, maybe a v-neck sweater to layer over things, maybe a really great button-down. The things that are most versatile and come up the most on the list are the items you should invest in.

    Or at least, this is how I am doing fall shopping for MY wardrobe.

  • Christina Lee

    Because I am more of a flats and kitten heel type of gal, I can get away with one or two lengths of pants–but everything you're saying is right on-esp. about the tightenness and length of tops! good post Sal!

  • ranksubjugation

    In addition to having a variety in some things, I also like to limit other things to keep the variety from going out of control. For example, I have decided to stick to either flats or 4" heels — that way my pants only have to come in two lengths instead of five.

  • Anna

    This is so true! I have some layering tees that I have kept for years because they have just the right neckline or are the perfect length for certain kinds of layering. Since it seems like fits change so fast these days, it just makes sense to keep some things around "just in case."

    Also, when I was a kid, I DID wear the same socks for everything. I was a preteen and had just started doing my own laundry, so I only wore white crew socks so I wouldn't have to match them up. I think I had like 12 pairs! Thankfully I grew out of that.

  • K.Line

    This goes back to your keeping that dress you feel is too tight to wear on its own, but perfect for layering – there are pieces that have real use, if only occasional.

    In general, I'm very decisive about throwing those things out (giving them away etc. – not throwing out). Can't tell you how many times I've thought lately: I should have kept item XX. It would be perfect with item YY.

  • La Belette Rouge

    I think if you find something that works it is a great idea to stock up on it in whatever works for you.
    p.s. Thank you so much for that article!!!

  • Hanako66

    I do this as well…not necessarily with the same pair of pants, but I have a variety of lengths for different shoe heights.

  • CB

    Ah..yes..I do regret many of my purges because of this! If I had known that layering would become more than just a t-shirt under a shirt, or that a short structured jacket would look great with a longer top beneath..le sigh! I wish I could rewind and change some things for the better!

  • rb

    I don't really wear pants much but I have varying lengths of skirts depending on whether or not I'm wearing tights, leggings or bare legs; heels or wedges or flats. I would never expect one black skirt to fit all of these requirements so I'm totally with you on the pants lengths.

    By the way, I don't wear pants much because I can't seem to find them long enough. I need a 34" – 35" inseam with FLATS, and that's with no laundry related shrinkage, so finding any to wear with heels is just about impossible.

  • Cupcakes and Cashmere

    i think it seems reasonable, but since i refuse to wear slacks with any heel length less than 4 inches, i don't usually have this problem.

  • Dina’s Days

    I buy the basics in a couple different lengths. I am very short, so I buy the shorts or get long pants hemmed and then get another pair and don't hem them for heels.

    I don't do it with everything, but if it's something I adore and need I will. Black pants are a must in both lengths for me.

  • Audi

    Great point! Since I don't wear pants that often, I usually just go with whatever length I happen to find them in — so if they're extra long, they'll always be a heels-only pair, and if they're shorter they're relegated to flats. I'd never go out and buy another pair of black dress pants in a different length just so I could wear them with different shoes — but then again, I sort of hate black dress pants.

  • lisa

    This makes complete sense to me! I have jeans in bootcut and skinny silhouettes with different lengths to go with flats and heels, and certain shirts I would only wear as a layer under something else, and certain shirts I'd wear on their own.

    For those who don't want to stock up on pants in different lengths to wear with flats/heels, this is one sneaky trick I picked up from reading Rachel Zoe's book: Have your pants hemmed for your highest pair of heels. Fold the hem under and use double-sided fashion tape to hold it in place in case you want to wear them with lower heels or flats.

  • mamichan

    personally i hate buying pants in different lengths, but i generally don't wear heels so it's been ok for me. my friend swears by zakkerz, the magnetic hem thingies to make her pants the right length for her shoes.

    totally agree about the other items though!

  • AsianCajuns (Lauren)

    Ooo this is genius, Sally! I know it might seem like things we should know- but I don't think about this when I'm purging at all… and then of course there is some very frustrating layering happening (I hate the too-short-tee-under-the-sweater fiasco). I'm getting ready to go through my packed-away winter cloths and I'm definitely going to be thinking about this!

  • Rosie Unknown

    I had never thought about this before, but it really does make total sense! I find pants hard, since I could wear 3 or 4 inch heels one day and converse the next, and I might want to wear them with the same pants.

  • Casey

    I love the part about rethinking how to wear pieces that you may purge! I've been doing this a lot lately since my clothing budget is pretty small, and trying not to just put things in the giveaway pile without considering if they have an alternative use first. I've managed to save a couple of things that have expanded my wardrobe in ways they hadn't done before. 😉

    Great post, Sal! 🙂

  • LENORENEVERMORE

    I don't look good in 3/4 length pants… I need something to elongate & stretch my height! I'm loving the layering look so much, I have to control myself lately not to go too much…you know~

  • enc

    Good points, all. I think it's useful to have a few different sizes/lengths/fits.

  • Amy

    You've summed up why I prefer skirts! Dress trousers are either slightly highwater on me if I try petites or are WAY too long in regular sizes (and inconsistently so, requiring 2-inch, 2.5-inch, or 3-inch heels). And when you start getting in the 3-inch heels territory, my back wants to die, and I can't fit my legs under my desk. Fuhgetaboutit.

    Which leads me to my next complaint: WHY is it so hard to find really cute shoes in the 1 to 2-inch heel range? All the shoes I'm loving this season are well over 2 inches. 3-inch heels were fine in my 20's and 30's, but believe me, that catches up with your body when you hit 40!

  • Sonja

    Oooh, I have very different size belts for wearing at the waist and below – got me a pear-shaped body. Thanks for the ideas about thinking outside of the box with different fits. It'll be helpful when I pull out my fall/winter clothes and figure out what to keep and such. xo

  • The Barely Tattoo’d Artist

    Reading this post makes me realize how I have a varitey of different lengths for all my items, from t-shirts to sweaters, slacks to skirts, blazers to dresses, and even my shoes…

    But I guess I knew this somewhat when I first started consciously making choices on what I wore because of my height (I stand 5'4 barefoot, inbetween petite and average, so I walk on most hems without heels because I refuse to wear highwaters) and my bodyshape (I'm inbetween a hourglass and pear shape naturally, where a size or two either way fully puts me into either catergory)…

  • lopi

    Like Amy above, the need to have different pant lengths is why I wear mostly skirts.
    When I do wear pants, I leave them long enough for heels and I peg them casually to wear with flats. Looks stylish too!
    As for belts, I have found some of my childhood belts that now can be worn on my natural waist instead of my hips. And yes, I really never throw anything away. This post pretty much explains why.

  • Joceline

    I'm 4-11" and have a ridiculously short inseam, like 25" or something like that. I have certain favorite pairs of jeans, so I'd hate for those pairs to be relegated for only-flat or only-heel wearing. What I do is fold the hems UNDER, like a reverse double-cuff. You can make the cuff anywhere from a half-inch wide to one or two inches, and it'll stay up fine. What I usually do is flip the hems up to my knees, cuff the hems (rolling toward my feet twice), and then flip the hems back down. You can't really tell the difference other than the lack of a hem stitch-line, and then I don't have to buy two pairs of identical jeans for different purposes! Being a starving college student, this trick definitely has its uses.

  • Kari

    It took me a long, long while to learn this, but once I did, I realized exactly why many of my clothes didn't "fit". Sometimes it was simply because I was wearing them with the wrong thing – wearing too short pants with the wrong height of shoe, wearing too short of a top with pants when the length of the top is really more suited to a skirt… you name it. Once I realized that wearing certain pieces only with certain other clothes was the only foolproof way to achieve good fit, it was like a light bulb went off.

    I've since become much pickier about fit, and I deliberately choose whether a pair of pants will go with heels or flats. (Most dress pants are tailored for heels, and I like to keep one nice, dark pair of jeans for heels and a duplicate pair hemmed for flats.)