Reader Request: Matching Skirt and Coat Lengths

match skirt dress coat hemline length

Lovely reader Jenni (from Helsinki!) sent this question via e-mail:

I’m thinking about a subject, which I think you haven’t covered yet (or at least I don’t remember): how to wear coats with skirts and dresses and especially how different hem lengths and silhouettes work together. The climate here in Helsinki must be pretty similar to what you have there in MN, which means winters are COLD. Therefore it would be great to read more about coat lengths compared to skirt lengths. Example from my life: I was wearing a lovely felt A-line skirt, that hit below the knees, then realized all my trench coats were considerably shorter and my nice outfit was totally ruined after I added a coat. I had go out and couldn’t change the skirt but I ended up feeling stupid the whole day… As the winter is approaching it would be great to hear your thoughts and how you’ve solved these kinds of problems.

Much of Jenni’s question was covered in this post about selecting a coat to work with your outfit, which definitely covers skirts and dresses, but I wanted to explore the specific question of matching lengths a bit more.

Even though the rule itself has been around for decades, I wasn’t even aware that matching your skirt hem to your coat hem was a “thing” until relatively recently. And I just don’t worry much about it. I know that some women may consider this to be a grave style faux pas, and I can definitely see how matched hems create a marvelously clean look. But I feel like there should be some leeway in how closely those hems align.

This is not to say that I’ll do any coat with any hemline. For instance, if I’m wearing a super long cardigan, I wouldn’t put a cropped bomber jacket or super-short coat over it. (Again, specifics on my preferred coat/clothing pairings here.) But any coat that falls within a few inches of the cardigan hem? Works for me!

My main issue with the coat-dress hem question is that it may cause women to feel like they must either purchase a coat to match each and every skirt length, or limit themselves to a single skirt length so that their coat will always look appropriate. You end up with a system that’s either too expensive or too confining. Every woman must do what works for her style and pleases her eye, but I think that roughly mismatched hems are perfectly acceptable.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen several magazine articles stating that the matching hem rule is now obsolete. Other bloggers and style experts hold a variety of opinions on the subject:

As always, style “rules” are really just guidelines, and even the loosest guidelines are being bent and broken by the most stylish women in the world on a daily basis. Wear what makes you happiest, and you’ll look radiant every day. And that goes for mismatched skirt and coat hems, too!

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  • Meg

    I only have a few coats (that I wear..) and so I match for colour. Brown with browny tights/trousers/skirts, chartreuse coat with black/navy, pink & burgundy hound’s-tooth coat with everything else (yes, yes, I know I’m not making it easy for myself but I can’t resist bright coats). However, since you’ve mentioned hem matching in a previous post I’ve been thinking a lot more about length and I’ve noticed two things. Firstly my skirt and coat lengths don’t tend to vary much and so most ‘match’ in this regard. And secondly, I’ve a blue coat that is fitted at the waist and then flares out to hit mid-thigh; it goes really well with knee-length straight/pencil skirts, in sort of a winter variation of the pelplum trend. So my conclusion is that it’s not just about length, but shape too.

  • Sam

    I have two longer coats, a pink trench and a brown wool coat. I definitely am one to not care about the length. I wear shorter jackets with long skirts/dresses all the time, out of necessity. I like when the hems align, but it’s more out of coincidence than actual effort.

  • Katharine

    I like the tiered look of a shorter skirt over a longer, so I prefer my coats to be shorter — which is more practical, in a coat, and which has a silhouette I find pleasing. For knee-length and above skirts, I’m not actually that crazy about matching hems, since that often makes the wearer look like a flasher of some kind.

    Very long coats I find inconvenient and heavy, although they certainly will cover the gamut of hemlines.

  • Anna

    What works for me: (1) a shortish jacket that is quite a bit shorter than any of my skirts and (2) a longish coat that is quite a bit longer than any of my skirts. With either of these garments, no combination looks like a mismatch. Simplify, simplify!

  • Generally, if I’m wearing a coat, I prefer that it’s longer than my dress hemline. For me, it’s way more important to protect the dress from the elements than it is to be super-matchy with length. I am kind of jealous of people who can match all of their coats with their hemlines — it does look pretty polished and pulled together.

  • I like this topic and thanks for the shout out, Sally.

    Although you needn’t worry too much about the length of your coat versus the length of your skirt/dress, I do have preferences that look best to my eye. I summarized them in a recent post:

    http://youlookfab.com/2011/11/18/the-best-coat-length-for-flared-skirts-and-dresses/

    Straight skirts/dresses are easy and you get away with just about any coat length. Flared skirts are harder. I like cropped coats with flared skirts, or coats that are at least as long as the hem of the skirt/dress. I have no problem looking like a flasher.

  • Anat

    I think you are very right – no point in sticking to rules just for rules’ sake. Each person needs to look in the mirro and apply personal taste and common sense!

  • Robert

    I only have a few coats that i wear! I’ve never tried to match hemlines..But,i would never wear a full length dress with a short jacket…

  • Anne

    I guess I’m the rare bird with one winter coat. It is a beautiful plum color, slight princess lines, and hits about two inches below my knees. It seems to go with everything in my closet, granted most of my skirts and dresses hover right above or at the knee. I used to have a gorgeous dark green reefer coat. It seemed to go with very little as the style was so narrow. My hunch is that the shape of your coat is more important than the length.

    This may not solve Jenni’s problem but I find jackets are easier to coordinate than coats.

  • BD

    Like you, I didn’t realize that hem length was an issue until recently. The only concern I generally have about the length of my coats is that they don’t make me look like a flasher! As long as the folks around me can tell I’m dressed underneath, then I don’t have to worry about a public indecency citation. (Thumbs up for that.)
    The photo of you above with your skirt peeking out from under your coat is super cute, Sal!

  • Diana

    Personally I prefer my coat hemline to be slightly SHORTER than my skirt. When the coat is longer than the skirt, I feel like a flasher! I think a short coat with any length skirt is fine too…

  • Miss T

    All my coats are longer than whatever skirt/dress is under them. I’m speaking of coats, not jackets, which have variable lengths. That being said, I have different *silhouettes* of coat, which to matter a lot in terms of looking right or not with a given outfit: fit-and-flare, duster, straight, opera coat, trench. I find that the it’s not length, but silhouette, that ultimately makes or breaks my outfits.

  • Sara

    I like the jacket/coat to be a little shorter than the skirt, otherwise I think of flashers. =)

  • Jenni from Helsinki

    Thank you Sally for this post! Very useful comments too. As somebody mentioned above, it’s also about the shapes and proportions, not just the length of the coat. I’ll keep on experimenting and hopefully find a formula that works for me!

  • I think matching hemlines looks very polished and I would love it if all my hemlines matched but alas. Fortunately all of my winter skirts and dresses are approximately knee length, as is my winter coat, so I’m usually not too far off.

  • I mostly wear my knee-length coat with my skirts and dresses, which ensures that my coat is the same length or longer than my hemline, since none of my skirts or dresses are longer than knee-length. If I’m wearing a minidress, I’d rather have a longer coat anyway to keep my legs warm (and I assume that as long as I’m wearing tights, I don’t think people will think I’m a flasher).
    When I’m wearing pants, I have a couple of hip-length coats and a cropped moto jacket to choose from. I agree with your rule about not wearing a cropped jacket over a long top or tunic- it definitely makes my proportions look weird because it chops my body up into so many sections!
    This whole question has gotten a lot easier since I moved to Southern California and no longer have to deal with temperatures lower than about 32 degrees F…. 🙂

  • I think the same thing! When I wear a skirt, I try to be aware of the coat and hem length. It doesn’t always work in my favor, but I give it a shot. I have a few short coats and one really long coat, so I am pretty well covered.

    http://www.glamkittenslitterbox.com/
    Twitter: @GlamKitten88

  • rb

    I’m pretty old-school on this, I realize, but I grew up believing that coats should always be longer than skirts. The idea of the coat was to protect clothing, so it made no sense to have the hem of the skirt sticking out at the bottom to get splashed or rained upon. “Car coats” were to be worn with pants.

    Today I wore a “car coat” with a knee length skirt, but to be honest, that’s because it’s only semi-cold and not raining and I was carrying a lot on my commute and didn’t want to be weighed down by a long coat. But even though I did this for practicality’s sake, it still feels wrong to me to be wearing it with a skirt. To me.

    Anyway, this is why I always look for below-knee length coats!

  • JS

    That’s funny – I wear skirts everyday and I never even thought about this issue!

  • I’ve only recently gotten into outerwear, and while I’ll try to take more care on how my lighter jackets ‘go’ – I can’t be arsed to match a heavy winter coat. I have a couple that work for colder weather and I try to wear the one that goes best, but when it comes to warmth I could care less about my hemlines.

    I’m genuinely surprised this is a thing.

  • Anneesha

    This brings back a memory of a very small-town winter wedding I attended last year; where “fancy dress” was covered with snowmobile jackets… The mental picture still makes me smile!

  • Kat

    I’ve never tried to match up hems! I will change coats if the shapes don’t mesh well–like if a full skirt bunches up underneath a close-fitting coat.

  • Cat

    Well, I don’t have money for multiple coats in my clothing budget mostly because I live in the south. If I’m walking or staying out in the cold very long, I dress casual. I also live in a rural area where public transportation isn’t an option. It was a big step for me a couple of years ago to buy a dress coat for work and non-casual settings. And I did buy a London Fog coat for $40 at a resale shop last month. Nice coats just weren’t even on my radar till recently, but I like seeing yours to get ideas.

  • Sarah

    What’s the coat you’re wearing in the photo? It’s stylish for a down coat!

    • Sal

      It’s from Land’s End, sadly no longer available. Though they have some other cute options this year.

  • I’m giggling over how many comments make references to long-oated flashers. I don’t think that possiblity ever occured to me, since my longest coat is always accompanied by hosiery and good winter shoes.

    And count me in among those that didn’t know a hem matching rule existed. For me it’s a matter of gut instinct. My shorter coats go with jeans or trousers, my mid length coat can go with either pants or skirts. And my longer coats with skirts, but usually there’s several inches of skirt hem peaking out. None of my skirts are shorter than knee length, both due to modesty and concern for my fellow man… nobody wants to see my knee chub.

    Of course now that I know about “the rule” I’ll be hem length watching for the next week or so. 🙂

  • K

    I have to agree with Angie on this one but for one point: flared skirts may need a coat that flares from the waist if they are not cropped, but still shorter than the skirt. My solution to this issue was to get a winter coat that goes nearly to my ankles. It really does work with anything and keeps your legs warm when temps drop (us Canadians must think of such things). I’m still working on a good solution for fall & spring. Any suggestions for trench-style coats with a little length and a little flare from the waist on a budget?

  • I like the skirt peeking out from under the coat – I think it looks super-cute. I also think having the coat longer than the skirt looks a bit ‘flasher’ (ie you may not have anything on underneath). BUT the longer coat is obviously the only practical answer when it comes to keeping the rain off!

  • GingerR

    I like coats to be above my knees around mid-thigh. That walking length works best for me. The coat doesn’t hang down on the floor of the bus or train when I’m seated, and I can navigate stairs and escalators without the hem line getting caught or dirty.

    Because my commute has me bumping up against grimy escalators I stick with washable coats. Right now I have a black coat and a cream one. I can switch the hat/scarves around and they’ll look fine with most any color of dress/skirt or pants that shows underneath.

  • Kenzie

    I usually like to have my skirt showing! My clothes are all pretty resilient to the elements, I don’t like spending a bunch of money on something fussy and fancy that I then have to put more effort into taking care of.

    On a college campus, I spend a lot of time walking around outside, so I feel like if I’m wearing something cute it should show at least a little bit at all times!

  • Jen

    I have two winter coats, both peacoat, one gray, one olively brown. Unfortunately, both are a few inches past my knees (I’m 5’3”). (Note to plus size retailers: not all of us are giants or want to cover our whole body.) I’ve actually considered getting them tailored to go to my knees, but I figured it’d be very expensive. I just found a beautiful purple pea coat at Sears that I’m waiting to go on clearance–it barely covers my butt, and I love it.

    With other jackets, I’ve been able to find shorter ones that just reach the top of my bum. I think because I’m short and short-torsoed, this is the best length for me. I actually kind of like the short jacket over long skirt/dress look–very boho. But I think that it can look a little weird if the skirt is around knee-length and the jacket is much shorter. I try to avoid cropped jackets, because I think they emphasize how short my waist is.

  • JI

    I have one coat: long black down Eddie Bauer. It covers everything. In mountain country, you dress for comfort. Who has room for more than one coat?

  • LaChina

    Most of my skirts are above the knee, and I usually wear a below the knee coat or a cropped jacket, so either way, I’m covered. But I agree, wear what works for you. I never would have thought to wear my skirt a couple inches below my coat, but your picture with the sporty coat and boots, pulls it all together. Love the tights!

  • Thanks for the link Sal! I generally prefer a coat that is within an inch or two of the hem of a skirt, a big difference doesn’t flow as well. But you can go much longer – if you’re wearing a full length coat.

  • You alluded to the face that coats are expensive. I can’t afford multiple coats, and even here in balmy Virginia it’s cold enough that I prefer a longer coat that may clash with my hems. My skirt hems do look awkward sticking out from below my coat, but I don’t worry about it. Maybe that’s because I’m originally from Buffalo, NY, where, because of the massive amounts of snow, your outerwear is likely to be incongruently utilitarian compared with what you’re wearing underneath, so you get used to thinking that what matters is how you look when you take your coat OFF.

  • Elizabeth

    By the way, a little off-topic: the street behind you is a beautiful background! What a lovely and picturesque neighborhood.

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