How Short is TOO Short?

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Lovely April wrote with this question:

I’m in the process of cleaning out my closet, and I found an adorable skirt that I really want to wear. It’s high-waisted, which works fine for me, but it’s also very, VERY short. I never realized how short it was before, possibly because I used to wear it quite a bit lower on my waist than it was really intended. At any rate, it’s shorter than I’ve ever worn a skirt before (I’m usually a below-the-knee or just-above-the-kneecap girl). So, my question is this: How short is too short? Are there any style guidelines that I could follow that will keep me out of the red zone when it comes to skirt shortness?

OK. So. I do love me a mini skirt. Nothing makes the legs look longer and the Sal feel sassier. Well, unless the mini is a little too mini and I spend more time yanking it ankleward than enjoying how long and lithe my gams are looking. And I’ve had to jettison several teeny skirts because I didn’t run them through these tests before buying:

  • Sit in it. Is there any chance of crotch-flashing when seated? Do you find yourself worrying and tugging at it to make sure it’s covering the top 6″ to 10″ of your thighs? If so, it is likely too short. As in too short for you, and you might want to give it away.
  • Ask yourself: Self, how do you feel about your legs? How do you feel about your upper thighs? If you like them and have confidence, a shorter hemline is nothing to fear. No matter your age, build, or height a skirt that hits just above the knee is almost universally flattering. If you feel good about how you look in a shorter skirt, don’t let anyone’s style rulebook stand in your way.
  • Have an impromptu measuring session. In my opinion, a skirt can be about one hand’s width above your kneecap and still be safe for work. That’s when you’re standing straight up and the skirt is falling where it naturally would. (As opposed to artificially hiked down or up.) Anything above that, and it’s a true miniskirt. And while miniskirts are fantastic for making your legs look a mile long, but they are generally best saved for weekend/casual wear. (Unless you work in a super casual or creative office. Use your judgment, as always!)

And here are a couple of potential workarounds in case your skirt truly tiny:

  1. Leggings make super-short skirts less revealing. That nice, thick cloth does a lot for your coverage level – much more so than tights or hose. You may have to wedge a short slip in there to keep the skirt from bunching, but see if leggings don’t make that itty bitty mini more manageable.
  2. Depending on the style of skirt, you could try layering it over another skirt or a dress. Check out lovely Audi’s tips on skirt layering, if you’re interested.
  3. For short skirts that are big in the waist and as a total last resort ONLY, you can hike those babies way down to your hip bone and wear a long, loose top. I can only imagine doing this for a truly gorgeous, unusual, or sentimentally significant skirt as so many things could go wrong. For example, make sure you won’t be reaching for anything on high shelves or taking any jump shots.

Image courtesy Idhren, whose skirt is NOT too short, in my opinion. Not for weekend wear, anyway!

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  • dawn

    I like the adage, "when in doubt, leave it out." So if it makes you uncomfortable, there's probably a reason, and your discomfort will probably show.

  • Anonymous

    A tip we used at the summer camp I used to work at is the fingertip rule. If it's shorter than your fingertips, it should be reconsidered. Of course it all depends on what you're comfortable with, but that's what I use.

  • LENORENEVERMORE

    short is fine by me there are always leggings~ Just don't do the Britney Spears thing! No FLASHing* & wear clean undies!
    xo

  • Susan

    How timely, a post about skirts, when today I am wearing a skirt as my day/work outfit for the first time in about 25 years!
    As a petite gal (5'2) a just above the kneecap length seems to work – I don't think I'd feel comfortable going any shorter, as I do alot of desk-siting through my day.
    I must say, had I not found this blog I probably would never have reconsidered skirts as an element to add to my daily wear wardrobe.
    Thanks Sally!
    We'll see how I feel by the end of the day
    Sue

  • Marley

    One of my favorite outfits for a night out in the winter is a super-mini with blue and silver sequins, worn with black sweater leggings and a chunky sweater. I'd never wear the skirt without the leggings, but if I have that layer on, I feel like I'm basically wearing a two-piece tunic! As Daddy Likey says, I don't want to "show-cha my cho-cha", but minis are A-Okay with me!

  • Clare

    I used to wear a lot more miniskirts, but have shied away recently. The ABSOLUTE shortest I'll go is the 5-finger rule. With my arms flat by my side, my skirt MUST be as long as my middle finger. Otherwise it's a no-go. And that can be a risky game, too. A few inches below that finger is probably better.

  • Meli22

    The shortest I own is KNEE length. But then again, I work at an office where the skirt has to be at the knee when sitting. And I am NO fan of the back of my thighs… but recently I tried a dress that was 2" above my knee and it was REALLY flattering for my legs… I guess in my personal style (not office) I can give it a try…

  • Erin

    I usually go by my old High school's dress code test:
    Put your arms straight down by your sides, and if the skirt doesn't reach your fingertips, it's too short.
    to be fair though, I have rather long arms and legs and a short body (I'm all legs) so this test keeps my skirts rather demure while my sister can get away with crotch-flashers using this rule.
    But I think it's a good rule of thumb.

  • Law Girl

    I love short skirts. My legs are my favorite part of my body thanks to 15 years of ballet and modern dance. So I believe in showing off what I've got and down playing what I don't!

    When it comes to work I generally stick to right above the knee. I work at a prosecutor's office so it doesn't get more conservative than that! For school…I'll go a little shorter but I try to downplay the leg by wearing flat shoes or boots and dark tights. On the weekends though…I'm all about the mini skirt!

  • SarahN

    *sigh* I ordered an adorable Martin & Osa skirt last month. It's a navy and black jacquard pattern in a tulip shape and fits perfectly in the waist, but I just haven't been wanting to admit that it's simply too short. Standing up and worn with tights, it makes my legs look miles long. Sitting down, I risk being arrested in some states. The skirt is completely impractical for my corporate work environment, but I keep thinking I'll have some fabulous party to attend, and then I can rock it with some killer heels. Still waiting for the invite. Skirt's still hanging in the closet.

  • EvaNadine

    this weekend, my dance team competed at a competition in atlantic city that was otherwise reserved for cheerleaders. having been on the pom squad back in high school, we wore costumes similar to what the traditional cheerleader wears. however, that was over a decade ago.
    i was agog to see what these kids are wearing these days!
    i realize it is a costume, not everyday wear, but IMHO, i 6-year-old doesnt need to be wearing a skirt where here backside is already hanging out just standing there. not to mention sitting or, yknow, cheering!

    i realize your post is about everyday, wearable fashion, but the topic reminded me of the assault upon my eyes from this weekend.
    *whew!*

  • Angela Pea

    As one of your 'ahem' older followers, I wear my skirts just above the knee, hitting at the absolute narrowest part of my leg. This still shows off the (still) lovely shape of my legs, but long enough to cover the spider veins and to appear modest for office wear! Perfect all around.

  • Silver Sisters

    If it is so short it makes you feel self-conscious then it's too short. If you will be pulling it down all day then it's too short. That will definitely be a different length for different people. People will be able to tell if you are not confident in your clothes, and then it will look too short for sure.

  • Jenniferocious

    My boyfriend bought me an ADORABLE Jack by BB Dakota dress for Christmas this year. I'm in love with it, but it is quite a bit shorter than what I'd normally wear. I'm a mid-thigh or lower girl… usually knee-length or just above. This lovely dress comes to just a hint shy of the middle finger rule. My main reason for not wearing it yet is because of the weather (even with tights, when you live in northern Maine, a short dress is a bit too breezy), and so I occasionally pull it out of my closet, gaze at it, sigh, try it on, sigh again, and put it back. I'm hoping I'll have the confidence to give it a go once it warms up a bit.

  • Anonymous

    I love miniskirts, they are the only thing that makes my legs look long! However, as I get older, I am definitely becoming a fan of tights and/or leggings underneath. I also used to buy them at the hang-at-the-hips size so I wouldn't be combining too short and too tight, but I am getting too old for that sartorial trick. However, since my torso is too long for tunic wear, I am planning to take a page from Marley's book and wear my minis as tunic extenders.

  • Anonymous

    I used to wear skirts all the time years ago, but found that as I went into my 30's I had to go longer when I finally grew hips! Standing all the time was NOT an option so the hemline went down some.

    Now as I'm entering my 40's, there's the whole "mutton-lamb" thing entering my mind as I look at some skirts and dresses. If I'm not comfortable it will not work especially if I'm at the playground with the kid.

    I use the fingertip rule and common sense. Some women do not, spending all their time flashing or tugging and pulling at what they are wearing. That's unflattering.

    Jennifer

  • futurelint

    I'm with Clare – with my arms by my side, the bottom of my fingers is as short as I'll go (and that's probably only on weekends, not to work). I think because I look young and work with teenagers, I go out of my way to make sure I'm never wearing anything too short or revealing to work. For weekends, as strange as it sounds, I'm more comfortable in a tighter short skirt where I can feel it touching the backs of my thighs and know where it is, than a short skirt with some volume where the wind or sitting down wrong could flash everyone!

  • Charlotte

    I've discovered that a skirt shorter than 20 inches (top of waistband at actual waist to hem) is too short for me. Longer than 23 inches looks frumpy. I try to remember to take the measuring tape to Goodwill. I always wear tights with my skirts. When the warm weather comes, I guess it's back to pants.

  • SR@MyStyle

    Hi there-I love short skirts, but don't own any anymore-thats not to say I won't, I just have to find the right one!!

  • Tina Z

    Funny, I just read a post over at Orchid Grey in which Julie answers a reader question about length of skirts. She wears shorter skirts but balances the look by covering up on top or wearing tights underneath.

    Also, I just read in one the fashion mags that 40% should be the maximum amount of skin you show in any given outfit. Any more it's considered too much to the eye. I think opaque tights (and leggings) help avoid showing too much skin but allow you to wear shorter skirts or dresses. I know Tim Gunn disagrees with that advice, but whatever. And in the spring/summer? Add a long sleeve v-neck light sweater and/or scarf on top to balance the skin on bare legs.

  • Charlotte

    LOL–Tina Z., it's not BALANCING the skin on bare legs I'm worried about in summer. It's HIDING the skin on bare legs. Mine are chicken blue and covered in spider veins.

  • WendyB

    When your ass cheeks are hanging out — it's too short!

  • goingungracefully

    Sal said, "If you feel good about how you look in a shorter skirt, don't let anyone's style rulebook stand in your way."

    Thank you!

    If you want to see my head spin around à la Linda Blair, tell me I can't wear X, Y or Z because I was born in a particular year.

    This goes for dresses and skirts for sure! I need to wear my skirts at a certain length at work in order to conform to the dress code. I aim for mid-knee cap but wear things up to about a palm's width above the knee if I'm wearing dense tights. Outside of work I'm ok with going somewhat shorter.

    For me, the length of my skirt is determined by the quality of my legs. My legs are slim and look great when they're covered, but the higher I look, the more uncomfortable I am with the appearance of my skin. For that reason, I tend to shy away from shorts and ultra-short skirts unless I have another layer. I save the skin flashing for my boobage [grin].

  • kristophine

    WendyB, you took the words right out of my mouth.

  • FashionTheorist

    After several years of eschewing them, I've recently rediscovered short skirts, and I'm loving them! I think the too-short determination varies from skirt to skirt: it depends on the shape, the material, &c. A straight-cut mini in a more substantial fabric like corduroy or fulled wool is more comfortable at a shorter length than a fuller, lightweight one that's liable to flip up.

    All in all, I have to agree at least in part with dawn: if you're uncomfortable in something (whether another person would say it's for a good reason or not!), you won't look good in it.

  • CompassRose

    I have a few fingertip-length skirts, but I'd never wear them in public unless over tights, leggings, or pants. Mostly, I prefer skirts to be either ankle-sweeping long, or just above the knee. Knee-length or just below the knee makes me look awfully stumpy.

    Style can also be a factor, though. A flippy wider A-line or gathered skirt generally needs to be on the longer side, because movement or wind can push it up to the danger zone more easily. (Not to mention, a really short skirt in those styles tends to look really juvenile, and rapidly crosses into "Whoa, too young!" for anybody out of high school.) And I just bought a paper-bag-waist tulip skirt, which seems to be a perfectly safe length when I'm standing, but because of the construction, crawls up my legs like anything when I walk and requires constant vigilance!

  • angie

    The sit down test is essential – good one, Sally!

    I’m also going to be the voice of dissent. As you saw from my blog post today, I’m hyper sensitive about the lengths of pants, skirts and dresses. Wear them too long or too short and it’s just not flattering. I believe that you need to have youth, AND fab legs on your side to sport a mini skirt (skirts that hit you mid thigh or shorter). Skirts that end on the knee or a few inches above the knee on the other hand, are instantly more flattering than any other length.

    I’d love, love, love to romanticize about the whole issue: that if you feel good about how you look in a shorter skirt, don't let anyone's style rulebook stand in your way. But alas, I can't. I dress women in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s for a living. I see all sorts of body types and ages in all lengths of skirts and I can’t help but generalize about this matter – you need youth and fab legs on your side to sport a mid thigh mini-skirt.

  • fromsneakerstostilettos

    I use the good old school rule of if your finger tips touch after the hem line, then it is too short.

    I also try to say it has to be finger tip length plus an inch or two if I am wearing it to work. 🙂

  • Sara Darling

    Too short for me translates into uncomfortable, unflattering, and/or inappropriate for the situation. Or if it can be mistaken for a belt. That's too short too.

    Most of my skirts are knee length but I do like shorter denim or cargo skirts for casual wear but always wear with opaque tights and a tall but low heeled boot. I kinda figure that it's okay to show a certain amount of leg between the hem of the skirt and the top of the shoe. A knee length skirt is lovely with a pump, but a short skirt needs a boot.

    One of the nice things about short but relatively straight (unlikely to flip up) casual skirts is that in spring and summer they're like wearing shorts but girlier.

  • Rad_in_Broolyn

    Great discussion, Sal. I love that you are shying from clear rules, because everyone really has a different body and comfort level. For myself, I like the finger tip thing, but I also think it's about balance. Tights and leggings allow for shorter lengths and even make them "modest." I would rather cover my shoulders and chest and allow for more leg.
    My recent post has my work outfit for today. The skirt is just an inch or so longer than my long arms. I've worn the skirt (but not the shirt) when I teach too. I enjoy having a casual enough work environment in which a shorter skirt is OK.

  • Amy

    Hey lady!

    OMG, I can't believe I didn't have you on my blogroll before… have no fear, you are there now. YAY! ;D

    xoxo
    Amy
    http://thebargainhunterextraordinaire.blogspot.com

    P.S. I have alot of short skirts and sometimes I wonder if I am just fooling myself being able ot wear them in public. These are some great tips! Thank you!

  • Work With What You’ve Got

    I go pretty short myself, but I wear a lot of leggings. If it covers my butt when I sit, and my butt is not touching the chair, I'm good. lol.

  • The Budget Babe

    i like the fingertip rule as others have said 🙂

  • Shannon

    The fingertip rule would not work for me, not even as a teenager, because I'd be flashing cheeks. A skirt is one thing my bigger bum can look fabulous in, but it has to be a little longer to keep me out of trouble.

  • Gwrageddannwn

    I'm not a big fan of skirts in general^^ But I have found a great pair of high-waisted shorts which are simply great. I think it all comes down to whether you feel good with skirts in general. I'm a trousers-girl^^''' Anyway, I agree about leggins. I suggest also wearing above-the-knee boots.

  • ITSOLA

    Couldn't agree more about your suggestions on how to know if it shouldn't leave the house on your body. I often feel that people forget to look in the mirror prior to walking out the front door, but sympathize with them because well, haven't we all? Nevertheless, I appreciate your desire to help a sister out! Love your blog, and you. Check out mine @ http://itsola.blogspot.com/

    –Kristin

  • Elaine

    These are fabulous tips!!! Because I AM petite, I try to get as much leg as I can – usually mid-low thigh is my limit.

    clothedmuch.blogspot.com

  • Ecc3ntricCynic

    Great post. I agree with most of the commenters. "If in doubt, leave it out".. If you're uncomfortable, it's probably for a reason. Definitely no flashing.

    The fingertip rule doesn't always work, I have long arms and am petite soooo yeah that doesn't always work out.

  • akb

    I always do the underwear test. In front of a full length mirror, i will bend over in whatever way suits me (its generally not the most feminine way) and if i can see my underwear, the skirt is too short. this has to do with my inability to act lady like in skirts, and needing to compensate for that. but, it works for me 🙂

  • Beatrice

    How I wear a short skirt without looking slutty:

    1. I make sure the skirt is NO SHORTER than about 2" above my knee. Any higher and I feel uncomfortable in public, even if I do have nice legs.

    2. Wear flats if I am going bare-legged; wear opaque tights the same color as the skirt and shoe if I am wearing a shoe with a higher heel. This include boots.

    3. Cover up on top: like a long sleeve blouse, turtleneck, cardigan, boyfriend blazer, kimono blouse, you get the idea.

    4. I keep hair and makeup minimal. Lipgloss, mascara, hair in a ponytail or something neat but not too "done."

    5. Wear boyshorts or other shorts-like underwear.

    I do own shorter skirts, but I reserve those for Halloween only! 😛

  • All Women Stalker

    I use your tips are guidelines, especially the sitting-crotch bit. If I want to wear something but it's too short, I reach for hose or leggings to cover my legs. And then pair it with flat shoes to look less of a sl*t.

  • Love Muffin

    Since I come in at 4'9" on a good day, I often tailor my skirts two to three inches above my knee. This lengthens my leg line and I do wear them in an office enviroment. On the weekends, when I'm out on a date with the hubby, I'll go even shorter, because really he love it. I say if you feel confident, then go short if you want to.

  • lisa

    I follow the fingertip rule myself, but unless I'm going out clubbing, I wear tights or leggings under shorter skirts. I feel too bare otherwise!

  • Elissa

    Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that bending over forwards is the best way to see if it is too short. EEK. I like "Dawn"'s comment, "if in doubt, leave it out". Nothing sucks worse than second guessing your skirt all day, so my thought is, if the question crosses your mind, and if you're even a little neurotic, best to stick with something longer, or you'll be thinking about it and getting increasingly uncomfortable all day long!!

  • meliasaurus

    i'm young and not corporate minded. assuming it's the right occasion (a night out, concert, etc.) i have no qualms about wearing the shortest thing definable as a skirt.

    I bought a dress earlier this year that was so short after i washed it and it shrank i regulated it to shirt category. i originally wore it with super opaque tights and flats.

    I don't think it looks trashy if i have dark tights on or shorts underneath. Granted that is not appropriate for day/office wear.
    I'm also a tall girl with a pretty long torso and short legs. so a short skirt/dress that sits at my natural waist is probably the most flattering thing for me.

    My usual rule is short skirts should be complimented with a more demure top And weather appropriate accesories (tights, leggings, scarf.)

  • Vanessa

    I have little shame when it comes to short skirts. As long as I'm not in an environment where it's EXPRESSLY inappropriate (work, for example), I feel like you should, for the most part, wear whatever you want as long as you feel great.

  • 28cupsoftea

    I always do a little skirt dance, bending over, sitting down, crossing legs, jumping, reaching, etc to see if it's going to flash anyone to test.

  • Miss Peregrin

    Make sure you're comfortable! It's better to not wear it than to spend the whole day yanking your skirt down because it feels too short. 🙂

  • danni

    My personal guidelines are that if a skirt hits at or nearly below the knee (it cannot sit below the knee) than it has to be fitted, in a pencil-skirt kind of way, and that it has to fit well. On the other end, though, as long as I'm not actively flashing anyone, I'm comfortable. Of course tights and leggings are ever-present (save in summer) with the shorter skirts though. I have short legs + long hips, so any way that I can make it seem like my legs start higher up, I do.

    Also I've always been about 1000x more comfortable in skirts than pants, which make me feel like my legs are constricted. So maybe I also like the freedom of movement with less material there? Who knows.

  • lizzle

    Ah! How timely! I've been reading a few style blogs' takes on spring/summer lines, and have been sadly disappointed at how short all the skirts are. The shortest I wear is just above knee length, because I'm super self conscious about my thighs, and it seems that is not 'on trend' at the moment. So, to etsy with me for some knee length pencil skirt action!

  • Modestkini

    I just came across this blog and found it very interesting indeed.Thanks for sharing

    http://www.modestkini.com/

  • Ash

    Since I’m petite (5’1) and young (18) I definitely prefer shorter skirts. During the winter, I pair them with tights so I’m not cold but during the summer I wear them without and no one has ever said my skirt is too short. They don’t even hit my finger tips because my arms are so long but in my opinion short skirts look much better on shorter women than long skirts. Plus I wear spandex shorts underneath so no one sees anything 😉 And my skirts are mostly loose in the waist and usually end up hanging off my hips making them more appropriate in length.

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  • Steve

    As a TV (That’s correct – a male who dresses as a woman) – I tend to dress conservatively – ie Only the shortest available skirts and mini dresses that I can find – I don’t care if people call me a slut – I am normal and proud of it
    queer is not a word I understand either

    • Dahlia Black

      As more guys wear mini-skirts (and the like), you won’t really be cross-dressing (even though you will still be dressing the same). Think about it.

  • Lisa Rivlin

    I looove minis! Ill be honest I wear them very short and when I sit down I really dont mind a little panty flash not that I aim for that but you cant always be aware if you are. If it hikes up then all you can do is hold down the skirt by hand over your hoo ha area. Lets face it girls there is just a little bit of exihibitionism in all of us when we wear them. We dont wear mini skirts just to show off our legs otherwise we’d wear shorts. Cmon girls admit it.
    I think its because I cheered in high school and I really lost sensitivity too flashes when my skirt flew up even though underneath where just little shorts covering my panties. However I still cross my legs of course.

  • Anonymous

    When you asked “Do you have to tug at it to make sure it’s covering the top 6″ to 10″ of you thighs?” does the length mean when you are sitting or standing?

    • Sal

      Good question! Standing.

  • Dahlia Black

    12″ pleated mini skirt (or ultra mini kilt) is just right. Top of skirt sits about half-inch above my navel, and hem is just low enough that when standing up straight, my undies & bottom do not show. Most girls are very envious of my awesome legs. If you’ve got ’em, flaunt ’em, baby!

  • betty

    My daughter,now 16,has always worn short skirts and dresses and i havent had a problem with it.She was never baptized as a baby due to various problems and issues,so last year when she was 15 we finially had her baptized and it was quite an ordeal,We are catholic and at our parish the girls wear the traditional,all white,’baby girl’ type outfits for baptism.She found a cute,poofy,’baby girl’style dress with a matching bonnet in her size on a website and ordered it.She then got the white lace anklets and the traditional white ‘mary jane’shoes.her dress was knee length and when she tried it on,she felt like an old woman in it.it was fine with me! How ever she wasnt satisfied with it and told me she wanted it shortened just like her other dresses.We agreed on top of the knees,so we took the dress to a seamstress and told her what we wanted.The next day,behind my back,the daughter went to the shop and told the seamstress she changed her mind and wanted the dress mid thigh length.three weeks later,we picked up the dress and when we got home i looked at it and it was short! I told the daughter a mistake was made and she said no,that she told the woman to make it that way.She tried the dress on and it was mid thigh length!Since the outfits are ‘baby girl’ type outfits,the girls wear an under shirt with a cloth diaper and plastic pants[rubber pants] under the dresses,so i had her try the diaper and rubber pants on under the dress and when she bent over the dress went up in back and the whole back side of the diaper and rubber pants could be seen.Knowing that she would be bending over to receive the water on her head,i asked what she is going to do and she replied that she didnt care if they showed or not.So i dressed her in the outfit at the parish the morning of her baptism and when it came time to get the water on her head,she bent over and i looked and sure enough her diaper and rubber pants were in full view.After wards several of her friends and other people told her they saw her diaper and rubber pants and she got teased some and was a little embarrassed.she learned the hard way!