How to Do Long Over Lean

In warm weather, I’m all about dresses. Typically dresses with knee-length or shorter hems, nipped waists, and full skirts. That silhouette feels perfect for spring and summer. Ya know, a little something like this:

But as soon as the weather starts to cool off, I switch to the “long over lean” formula and stick to it until the sun returns. You’re well familiar with this look by now, I’m sure:

Since it’s been my dominant look for months now, I thought I’d dissect the formula and talk a bit about why and how it works for me. I’m also curious to hear your opinions of “long over lean” looks, as they don’t work for all body shapes or situations. Let’s dig in, shall we?

ELEMENTS

In its most basic iteration, “long over lean” is simply a longer-than-shirt-length top worn over a skinny-silhouette bottom. In the outfit above, I’ve got on a tunic, skinny jeans, and boots. Long layer over lean bottoms. This differs from:

A more traditional blouse-pant pairing. Here, the top is loose and the pants are slim-fitting – so there are some similarities – but the shirt is not long enough to capture the long over lean silhouette. And, of course:

Long top layers can be paired with other long, flowy, or full layers to create very different silhouettes. Maxi skirts, wide or straight leg pants, trousers of any sort. But for long over lean, you need a top that hits mid-thigh or lower, and a pair of tight pants or leggings.

There are multiple options for both elements, of course: Some very short dresses or very long shirts will serve, but tunics are most commonly employed on top. Length is your choice and will depend on your preferences and proportions, but the idea is to pick something that is shorter than your typical dress length to show off a bit more leg. If your top is long enough that you feel comfortable wearing tights or sheer hosiery, it’s likely more of a dress and hitting lower on your leg line. Possible bottoms include ponte pants, skinny jeans, skinny pants/cords, jeggings, and leggings.

APPLICATIONS

When I worked in an office, I reserved my long over lean looks for Fridays and weekends. Plenty of my coworkers wore this style during the work week, but it just felt too casual to me. It’s all down to personal preference, of course, and you can gauge your own environmental factors, but I feel this dressing formula is inherently more casual than blouses and slacks, sweaters and skirts.

That said, there are ways to make it feel more formal:

Long over lean works marvelously with boots, but swapping in a pair of heels gives the look a more polished appearance. Adding an eye-catching necklace or other formal accessory alters the look, too. This particular outfit feels closer to traditional workweek wear, but to my eye, it still skews a bit casual. More flowy and less structured, more comfy and less formal.

VARIATIONS

This is my most common variant on the long over lean theme: Just add cardigan. My preference is to wear cardigans that fall within an inch or two of my tunic or dress for a clean look.

Although I generally reach for a long cardigan, shorter top layers can be utilized. Here, I’ve done skinny jeans, a button-front tunic, and a v-neck sweater. Still long over lean, but gives a different impression and a slightly different set of perceived proportions.

I realize that much of the world loathes cropped leggings, but I dig ‘em. Here I’ve done a cropped jacket, tunic, and cropped leggings with low heels for a funky, summery variation. If leggings like this irk you, try clamdiggers instead. Any style of sandal or low-vamp shoe should work with this exposed-calf version.

TIPS

This formula works marvelously for my figure because I have a small waist compared to my hips, a small bust, and average length legs compared to my torso. I also have thighs that are 3″ longer than my calves, so tunics work well on me. This pairing of garments will be more challenging if you have:

  • A long torso and short legs: If you want looks that lengthen your leg line, long over lean may challenge you. Shorter tunics may help.
  • A large bust and small waist: If you want to accentuate your waist, doing so in a tunic can be tough. Belting may help.
  • Any self-consciousness about leg shape: This is a pretty leggy look in most cases. If you are shy about your legs – even when they’re inside pants or leggings – long over lean might make you feel uncomfortable. Bottoms made from thicker material like ponte or denim may help, but if you’re just miserable, forget it. Not worth it. Plenty of other options.

If you’re concerned about how a long cardigan, tunic, and pants might interact and feel like it’s a lot going on, try staying within color families. Low contrast versions will look less busy, especially if the tunic and pants are close in value.

If you opt for boots – as I frequently do – be aware of how your top’s hem and boot’s height interact. If your boots are really tall, a longer tunic may hit you in an odd place and shorten up your legs. If your boots are calf length or shorter, long tunics will give you the appearance of an exaggeratedly long torso. This is the part of long over lean that trips me up most often, and I don’t feel like I’ve completely nailed it every time or landed on a perfect formula. So I’ll just say this: Experiment, be aware, see what works on your figure.

Long over lean is an absolutely fantastic option for women who are sick of doing jeans and tees on the weekend. It’s a slightly more polished casual look, but can be as comfy as PJs if the right garments are deployed. I can’t imagine my life without the tunic/skinnies combo, and feel like it strikes a marvelous balance between comfort and chic.

Do you wear the “long over lean” silhouette? What are your favorite pieces to employ when creating this look? If you avoid this look, what turns you off? Anyone wear long over lean to work on a regular basis?

  • AnnR

    I do the sit test with long/lean. If I sit down and the tunic pulls up so much that my crotch is exposed it’s too short. Leggings and tight jeans outline way more crotch than I care to expose.

    You can also bend over. If you’re happy exposing the blossom of your butt no problem. If not then the long part needs to be longer.

  • http://www.thewellnesschick.net/ Ann Olson (@TheWellnessChick)

    This is pretty much *my* look. I usually wear a nice sweater dress or oversized, long-sleeved shirt, and pair it with leggings and boots. I have a short torso but long, lean legs, so this look shows it off the best.

  • Kaitlin

    Hi Sally,
    I find that I use the long over lean style tip a LOT! It is so comfortable, and for me, I think it’s figure flattering and realistic–it allows me to move and get through my day without feeling uncomfortable or too fussy about what I’m wearing. I work it casually on weekends (bright print tunic over leggings or skinny jeans and a scarf) or work-appropriate (short-ish solid-color shirtdress belted over dark leggings and danskos or boots with bold accessories and either a blazer or cadigan.) My favorite dresses for this come from H&M–the basics line. They are comfy and simple enough that they can be easily accessorized and dressed up or down.

    I love this post–you did a great job showing the diversity of this style pair! Just wanted to also tell you this is my favorite blog. :)

  • http://www.befabulousdaily.us Cynthia

    Hmm. Well, I wear long cardigans to work a lot of the time, but I don’t really wear them with pants, so I’m probably not following this formula to the letter. But the only time it really looks “too casual” to me is when the pants are leggings. If I wear something long on top and a straight or pencil skirt on the bottom it doesn’t feel casual to me.

  • Tina

    You have a great figure for this look!! I can’t pull it off and I love this look!! :(

  • http://www.weartheshift.com madge

    This is my favorite look for fall and winter, too. Almost every day I wear a short shift, some tights or leggings, and a long drapey cardigan. I’m tall and apple shaped, with long thin legs and a big rack, so a scoop neck shift with tights and boots is just about my holy grail look — appropriate everywhere, super comfy and warm, shows off my gams and decolletage. I will be sad when/if this look goes out of style again!

  • http://www.weartheshift.com madge

    one classic example of how i rock this formula :)
    http://www.weartheshift.com/blog/2012/01/09/on-the-upswing/

  • Eliana

    As a grade school teacher, who is often on the rug with the kidlets, the longline top & skinny pant are my staple. I don’t know if this is *the* look for me or not–I’m short and chubby. What I do know is that leggings/jeggings have made me feel like I can wear short skirts or tunics for the first time in my life. My legs feel much too big to wear short skirts bare or even with opaque tights, but put on some leggings & it’s all good. It may not be logical, but has opened up a whole world of short skirts to me. I wear ankle length with boots in winter, ankle length with Danskos mid-season, and capris in warm weather. I love them all and will probably wear them long after they are no longer fashionable.

  • Iona K

    Good post! I love this look and have tried it with skinnies and shorter tunics. I want to try it with leggings but don’t own the longer tops required for modesty. Having trouble finding them in stores too… will try short dresses as suggested!

  • Anonymous

    That was an interesting read. Surprisingly, none of your tips exclude my body type from wearing this look. However, I have trouble imagining it working for me. I have very long, thin legs, so I usually wear bootcut pants to make my legs balance better with the rest of me. Also, my hips are wide compared to everything else, so I’d be concerned about my hip width setting the visual width of the top layer. However, now I’m slightly motivated to try this look if I can find a suitable top layer in my closet.

    • http://nuranar.livejournal.com Nuranar

      If it weren’t for you, Sal, I’m not sure I’d be doing this at all! I love it when I do, and I feel okay doing it in the office, although I try to dress more business-like if I know I have more meetings than usual.

      What’s challenging for me is the difficult proportions I have:

      * Tall (5’9″) and overall slender – great legs below mid-thigh
      * Small bust and waist
      * Short waist, medium torso overall
      * High, wide hips (out of proportion to upper body)

      I can literally count on one hand the tunic/dress overlayers I own that actually flatter my build. There has to be self-definition of my midsection; a belt creates too dramatic an hourglass for the long/lean look. It’s also got to be wide enough to skim my hips and flare below them to balance, but it’s also got to be slim enough to not POOF right below the waist and also give a really top/hip heavy look. Plus regular tunic/tunic dresses are usually too short. I like my legs, but they are SO long it throws off the proportions even more if the tunic is much above mid-thigh.

      The ones that work are strangely enough either jumper dresses and/or high-waist dresses with skirts that don’t poof. And I LOVE wearing them. I love feeling both feminine (dresses!) and comfortable (leggings!), plus I love my legs in riding boots and flats. I haven’t tried heels at all, partly because it’s winter and I’m a wuss about cold feet. Once it gets warm here it’ll be way too hot for leggings, too.

      I’ve never been able to successfully put a blazer with these layers. The most I’ve done is a long-sleeve cropped cardigan. Somehow I feel that any over layer destroys the precarious flow of the other pieces! I’d love any more ideas, although I understand this is both very specific and very subjective.

  • jen b

    As a short pear-shaped type, I canNOT wear long over lean! I wish I could, as it looks really fabulous on you!

  • http://www.unefemme.net déjà pseu

    Smashing looks, Sal! Actually I find long-over-lean helps balance my short-waisted, long-legged proportions quite nicely, and it’s my go-to silhouette when I want to incorporate some of my (slightly) edgier accessories. You’ve given me some great ideas here!

  • crst

    I love this look and wear it often. One variation that is my favorite- a shirt dress with a full (or leaner) skirt with only the middle few buttons fastened, a black tank, black leggings and a wide black belt. This works for me even with a knee length shirt dress. As long as I leave most of the buttons open, the silhouette balances out.

  • LinB

    So, as I understand it, the “long” part of the equation is “past your crotch.” It can be just barely covering the y bend, or down to as far as your knees, to be “long over lean.” After that, it is just “long.” Very helpful for coping with proportion variants of long/short legs or long/short torso. Thanks for this essay.

  • Krysta

    I try to stay as far away from this look as I possibly can! Not only do I have the long torso-short legs issue, but I also have generous proportions. Anything on my top half that covers my backside makes it look even wider, and that is something that I definitely don’t need help with!

  • Kate K

    I love the look of this but I struggle with the application. I’m tall with a very long torso so shirts and tunics and even dresses hit higher than they were intended. And, I carry all of my weight in my tummy so it’s hard not to find long that’s also really lean i.e. clingy. But, I love the look and when I get it right, I feel fantastic so I keep soldiering on. I think these tips will definitely help Sal!

  • http://paperarmour.blogspot.com/ Elspeth @ paper armour

    I don’t do the long-over-lean look, but your blog has inspired me to start. I don’t have tops that are the right length, but as I build my wardrobe it’s an area I feel confident looking into now.

  • http://www.relatablestyle.com Lili @ Relatable Style

    I do long over lean with dresses and skirts :-) Of course, the skirt sometimes is flared, so it’s only “somewhat long over lean”. Time and again I try skinny jeans and I always look like I have a gigantic butt in them. I don’t have a small butt but it’s not quite the size of Brazil, to quote Bridget Jones :-) If I do wear tights with a dress, it has to be fitted, or else I’ll look ridiculous from the side as it generously skims over my hollow back, making my 10 pound heavier instantly. Of course, belts always help. Never thought I’d say that, but it’s true :-)

  • http://dustwindbun.blogspot.com dustwindbun

    Huh. By all rights I should look terrible in long-over-lean (short with short legs/long torso, mad amounts of T&A), but it always seems to get me compliments when I do it. I’m just usually too lazy or cold to wrestle myself into the leggings in the morning! As for office looks, I used to wear a sweaterdress, blazer, leggings, heels, scarf combo to my old mid-business-casual office and that was the outfit that got the most positive attention – the other ladies made a point of telling me I should dress like that more often. (Though I suppose anything’s an improvement over my black pants/giant sweater usual winter combo.)
    For me, I find that the short overlayer helps balance out the massive butt feeling without actually covering up the awesomeness that is my massive butt :)

  • http://cwhf.livejournal.com Ericka

    I think I have from reading your blog for >1 year subconsciously gravitated towards this; the last 3 weekends I have rocked some variation of long over lean, whereas 2 years ago, never would have happened.

    I will say it’s trickier on my very curvy physique (top and bottom); but it actually makes me embrace my shape which is a good thing. The other key for me is the neckline on the top layer; a crew neck or turtleneck is not a good thing. A v neck or scoop is much better or I look like a giant boob monolith. Now I need to find some more good longer sweaters that have a nip or shaping at the waist so I can rock this look even more. Leggings are becoming my preferred weekend wear (but never with a short top, because that would get a little crazy).

  • Mrs.M in MI

    I was not sure about this look when it came back around, and was slow to implement it in my own wardrobe; I do have a short torso and I am pear-shaped.

    But once I started I couldn’t stop. It’s like wearing pajamas! But you look presentable! While my office is business casual, we do not do casual Friday so I usually wear a short sweater dress with leggings and boots or ballet flats on Fridays.

    My two tricks for making the look work for me: one, I almost always wear a regular-length cardigan or jacket over the long layer to break up my torso; and two, I always wear a belt at my waist. I also find that wearing heeled ankle boots with the look keeps my legs looking long, but I don’t always do that.

    Also, I never, ever wear leggings as pants. I once saw a girl wearing leggings as pants bend over and got a big eyeful. They are never as thick as you think they are!

  • http://www.futurelint.blogspot.com FutureLint

    I’m glad you posted this because I love the idea of leggings in theory, but I always forget to wear them and suddenly it’s spring and too warm! Going to bust out some short dresses/tunics tonight and wear leggings soon!

  • Mar

    I like this look a lot, and wear it quite a bit myself, except not that much with the tunics and flowy cardigans – I have wide shoulders, wide hips, and very narrow waist, so the flowiness around my midsection is not something I think is too flattering for me. Belting helps of course, but since I wear this look on days I want to be ultra comfortable, I don’t want to belt. I mainly deploy slim fitting sweater dresses over the leggings – well, the two I have were marketed as dresses, although they are incredibly short. So I suppose this makes it ‘long lean over lean’.

  • http://corpgoth.blogspot.com/ Trystan (the CorpGoth)

    This is my absolute favorite silhouette for the weekends! I want to make it my casual uniform, also for working from home. BUT, I can’t find affordable tunics! Sal, please help!!!

    I want some knit tunics (petite plus size would be great, but regular sizes are fine, I can take up the sleeves ;-) that don’t cost $100. Those ones are pretty, but I just can’t swing it, esp. for something I’m not wearing to the office (my workplace is casual & I *could* wear this to work, but it’s not really my style for work).

    Maybe an Insomniac Sale Pick? Knit tunics for $50 or less? Bonus points for dark colors, jewel-tones :-)

    I’ll pay more for sweater dusters, & I have a few, but they look a little odd imo over short tops.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      You got it, Trystan! Will do it later this week.

  • Diana

    This is one of my favorite winter looks and I find it very flattering and comfy. (Not surprising, since you and I are basically identical size and shape.) I do wear it to work but since I work in a lab, pretty much anything goes.

  • Alex

    I wear this occasionally but it’s not a great look from the side if you’ve got a round butt and hollow back, as Lili mentioned above.

  • http://lepetitmondealyssa.blogspot.com Alyssa

    Great outfit!

  • Sarah N.

    Sally, I have started embracing this look at it is ALL because of YOU!! I read AP just about every day, and I really love how you rock your awesome boots and cozy outfits. I have a short waist, long legs, and some Curves, so this look works for me. I recently had an eBay incident (i.e., found money in my PayPal account) that has netted me a couple pairs of awesome boots, so I’m exploring how best to show them off!

    Trystan– ditto!! With this newfound interest in utilizing leggings/boots/etc, the tops are my issue. Typically with boot cut jeans I avoid longer lengths (fabric + fabric + curves = where did I go?), but now I’m hunting for longer tunics that are work-appropriate and don’t cost an arm and a leg. I like the suggestion to check out H&M for simple, short dresses, though, that’s a great idea!!

    Thanks, Sal!

  • b.

    This look works great for me, too, though I’m built nothing like you, Sal–I (like Madge, above) am short with a big tum, big boobs, and wide hips (but on a small-boned frame). In other words, a classic apple. My legs and decolletage look GREAT in long over lean. It’s comfy and it feels like me. Plus, I’m an arts administrator and teacher, so I can get away with it at work–people expect me to look artsy-fartsy and approachable. Thanks for all these great ideas! I look forward to that Insomniac Sale feature.

  • http://alysonhill.wordpress.com Alyson

    It’s tragic that at 42 I have finally had the lightbulb moment about how to dress for my weird body, and this is it! And it has a name! The funny thing is I can shop my wardrobe to make most of those looks and yet many of those items had sat feeling sad and unused until now. This blog is now my go-to, thankyou. One suggestion – as I am in Australia, it’s tricky finding the seasonal posts to match where I’m at…any chance you could tag the season?

  • Anne

    I always love it when you wear these looks and I’ve been itching to try them myself. I have exactly one longish sweater and one tunic/shirtwaist dress. It seems that every long drapey cardigan I found this year was only long and drapey in the front, not in the back where I really need the coverage. My other concern is this: just how long does the top have to be to constitute tunic and not shirt, thus making the leggings just leggings and not “leggings trying to be pants?”

    I also really love the skinnies tucked into boots and haven’t gathered the courage to try that look either. Well, if nothing else these looks do inspire me to keep working out and not to overindulge the sweet tooth.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Depends on your own comfort level, but overall I’d say a good guideline is something that hits between mid-thigh and just above the knee.

  • http://thecommunicationskitchen.wordpress.com/ Hope

    I have become a convert to this look this year because of this blog. (I have a big bust, short torso, and long thin legs, so this is very flattering, especially with boots that have a slight heel.) I’d purchased a pair of jeggings nearly two years ago and never wore them because I didn’t know how. Because of AP, I wear them now several times a week (I’m currently self-employed). Like many others, finding the right long tops is the tough part. My fave is a purple three dots tee shirt dress that I bought after clicking on a link in one of Sal’s recent posts! And I have never, ever purchased anything in that manner before. Tory Burch has some beautiful but pricey tunics. But it’s almost impossible to find anything in my local stores and thrift shops.

  • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

    My gosh, friends, I had no idea my outfits had been so influential! I’m thrilled to hear that so many of you – and with such a diverse group of figures and shapes – have been enjoying the “long over lean” look!

  • http://www.anjeladancer.com Anjela

    “Long over lean” is a look I love, though I typically have to reserve for Fridays at work, and weekends. I am a huge fan of sweaterdresses, because I can hide my SmartWool tops underneath them for extra warmth. I especially love a “sweaterdress and over-the-knee boot” combo (which is what I was wearing the day I met you at the Smitten Kitten), where there is just a flash of leggings/jeggings/tights between the sweater’s hem and the top of the boots. For summertime, I do love the cropped leggings! I think that when they hit the right spot on the leg, they can be quite flattering.

  • Adi

    Being blessed with a little paunch, i prefer to showoff my legs rather than my waist! This combo works really well for me:)

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  • Anon

    You just described every single 18-35 year old female in Finland. I call it the “Finnish Uniform.” Plus, the long tops over the jeans/leggings adds an extra layer for when you sit on bench waiting for bus or ride bike.

  • http://ignorantawareness.blogspot.com Ignorant Awareness

    As a hijabi (Muslim woman in a headscarf), I’ve been employing this look for years, for modesty reasons (even when it was still ‘taboo’ to wear a dress/ tunic with trousers/ pants- fashion has changed a lot since then)! So I’m glad to see it has a name now, & that more & more people are finally embracing the look =]

  • http://facebook/katherinenortonmalek katherine norton malek

    I was blessed with being thin my entire life, even after 4 kids, a perfect off-the-rack sz. 4, 6 then 8, tiny waist to boot. In my late 50’s now, after a 2 yr. bout with hypothyroidism my waist went bye-bye and I gained 30 lbs. Presently a sz. 12 pinches my new square-ish torso. Consequently I just could not look or feel good in anything until I realized I needed to find a new look. When you spend your whole life throwing on a skinny sheath dress & sweater for work it has been a tearful struggle to dress for the office & presentations etc. I just did not know how to shop & dress anymore. This site gave me such great ideas. Tried a few with what I already own & made a shopping list of what Inneed to cooy these looks. Thank you SO much! Great info. MWAH!!

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      I’m so glad to hear that, Katherine! Thanks for your incredibly kind words, my dear, and so glad you’ve found a new look that you love.