How to Make Peace with Maxi Skirts

How to wear maxi skirts

What? What’s that you say? You are already at peace with maxis? Or, wait. You hate this silhouette with every fiber of your being and have no intention of reconciling? Well, as always, you are the author of your own stylistic destiny. But in case you’re curious about my thoughts on diplomatic overtures to floor-sweeping skirts, read on.

I was born in 1977, so I have no preconceptions of maxis. I believe I thrifted one for myself back in middle school while I was neck-deep in my Arthurian legend phase and wore it despite its incongruity among the low-slung jeans and prep-wear of my peers. It felt good on my legs, I liked how it moved, and I didn’t much care if it was stylish or not. I saw plenty of my college cohorts in patchwork maxis and long, tiered, crushed velvet skirts in the mid-90s, too, and thought nothing of it. Wasn’t my speed at the time, but I still understood the appeal. It wasn’t until I began consuming fashion-related magazines, blogs, and other media that I became aware that this piece of clothing is incredibly polarizing. And, even now, the comment I get most when I wear my own maxis is, essentially, “That looks great on you, but I could never pull it off.”

And again, there’s no reason to force this piece into your closet if you loathe it. But if, instead, you merely feel confused or intimidated by it, here are a few ways to dip your toes into the maxi skirt waters:

Hit the thrift store

I always offer this advice for experimental pieces because virtually no one wants to spend big bucks on an item that might not gel with her existing wardrobe. And yes, you can certainly try on maxi skirts in various high-end stores, but the real test will be to see if it works well with your other, already-purchased clothes. Thrift stores are typically lousy with maxi skirts and dresses, so consider starting there. (Plus-sized women, I believe, will have a harder time thrifting appropriately sized maxis but both Target and Avenue typically have options for under $30.)

Experiment with length and silhouette

Length may seem like a strange consideration when contemplating maxi skirts, but you’d be amazed by the range of hem lengths deemed “maxi” by manufacturers. More importantly, though, each woman’s leg and torso lengths, hip and waist ratios, and personal proportion preferences will be impacted by how long her maxi is. I prefer mine to be as floor-sweeping as possible without acting as actual dust mops on my hardwood floors, but some women prefer to let their shoes peek out and others may even show a bit of ankle.

Silhouette choices are fairly limited, but important to explore. My experience is that most women with curves prefer flared maxis that bell out at the hem, since this design balances hips and butts. The slimmer, tubelike versions are marvelously sleek and sexy and can work beautifully in body-conscious ensembles or when paired with a loose, oversized top for balance. If your trepidation about maxis stems from seeing a certain silhouette that you just know won’t work on you, explore other style options. (And, if I might nudge, give the scarier silhouette a go, too. You just never know until you’ve got it on your bod.)

Consider footwear

Does every tutorial I ever publish include this bullet point? I feel like that’s the case, but there’s a reason! Shoes make a huge impact! Since maxi skirts hit lower on your leg line than any other skirt style, it’s especially wise to heed your footwear choices. Although I don’t adhere to this guideline with any sort of strictness, I know intellectually that like-colored shoes will help create a more natural-looking silhouette. A black maxi with red shoes peeking out will look edgy and fun, but a black maxi with black shoes will make many women look a wee bit taller. This is especially relevant if your maxi is below ankle-length and/or if you’re doing boots. This is only relevant if a long leg line and/or the impression of height are among your figure flattery priorities.

Play with layers

As you can see in the photo above, I’m wearing a long cardigan over a long skirt. I’ve added that skinny belt to mitigate some of the proportion play that is naturally occurring between the two pieces, but it’s still a bit unexpected. Since maxis are, in and of themselves, a bit out of the ordinary I think that makes them great candidates for layering experimentation. Try short tops. Try short tops over long tops. Try a crotch-length top with a vest. Try a long duster. Add a belt or a scarf and see how it affects the mix.

Now, a quick overview of the most common maxi-related fears:

  • They’ll make me look short: They sure might!
  • They’ll make me look wide: Definitely possible.
  • They’ll make me look showy/dramatic: Could be!

If looking short, wide, or dramatic will make you totally miserable then I can understand your trepidation. Maxi skirts are undeniably challenging and, on many frames, create silhouettes that diverge from the approved norms. They are eye-catching pieces that probably wouldn’t fly at most law offices and might draw comments in many industrial environments. But they can be incredibly fun, they are fantastically comfortable, and they offer a great way to mix up your looks, should you be interested.

Furthermore! Maxi skirts are WARM. They’re a great pants alternative for those living in cold climes because you can layer tights, leggings, or long-johns underneath plus a pair of tall boots. The skirt basically acts like a leg-mitten, keeping your gams close to each other and trapping their heat. I’ve even been known to layer two maxis over each other, which can add extra length if the top skirt is a bit short, plus extra volume and extra warmth.

Maxis are much maligned and certainly not the most universally appealing style of skirt, but my experience has been that they can be fun, flattering, and surprisingly versatile.

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  • I love this look!!! That outfit is cozy and elegant all at the same time!
    Betsy
    cuteandcomfy.wordpress.com

  • Carbon Girl

    You had an Arthurian legend phase too!! In mine, I wore black maxi skirts everyday with red Doc Martens.

  • Eve

    If you want inspiration for decent looking maxi skirt styling, I’d suggest checking out Muslim style blogs/fashionistas – the maxi features a lot in their everyday at home wear and I’ve seen some really interesting ideas!

    • poodletail

      this is a great idea, Eve.

  • Olivia

    I have 3 maxi skirts that I wear in the summer only. I know one, patchwork, hippy-ish one definitely makes me look wide and short, but then I am wide and short and I just don’t care. They are a good summer alternative to my capris.

  • I love maxis! The look and the feel! Need I say more. You look very elegant in you maxi against the snow.

  • Herbee

    So interesting that you’d post this today…I saw a maxi in a shop on Monday and fell in love with it. Maxis are something I’ve never considered before, because of my height, but all week I’ve been coveting that skirt and wondering what kind of top to wear with, what kind of shoes, what length would be right for me? Now I’m just going to go back and try it on and see what happens!! Thanks again for the post and the confidence boost, Sal!

  • Alex

    I’ve always thought the trick was to stick to one that wasn’t too flared (e.g. those rather pretty-knife pleated ones which hang fairly straight) and have a very slim-fitting cropped top half – e.g. a fitted, cropped demin or biker-style jacket. And I think flats (or boots) are a must. Your cardigan does look rather lovely with that belt and skirt combination, though.

    • Sal

      I think it really depends on your figure. The straighter styles work MUCH better on some body types, flared on others. Personal preference figures in, too, of course!

  • el Maggie

    I have one that’s been languishing in my closet for YEARS because it always seems too dressy for work, but at the same time, I am convinced that for “fancy occasions” I will eventually want a long black skirt. It’s also a bit of a challenge to style because it has a tie-up detail around the waist, so I can’t wear anything fitted over it. Hmmm … maybe these ideas will give me a chance to pull it out again and try some different matches.

  • Donna

    I am 53 years old and I am 5’4″ tall. I loved maxi skirts, coats and dresses when I was a teenager. In the years since, I have always embraced longer styles when they were available and/or stylish. I like them for the exact reasons you stated…they are comfy, easy to wear, and they are warm in cold weather! Being 5’4″ I find it necessary to wear a boot or shoe that has a higher heel with the longer length skirt to keep the proportion right. Maxis are just right to wear with more substantial boots…tall skinny spiky heels aren’t necessary. Cowboy boots work really well with long skirts! Depending on the current fashions, I find that either a longer length or a cropped lenth top, sweater or jacket works best with maxis. The medium or regular length tops usually don’t flatter. The possible exception might be a medium length top that is the exact same color as the skirt, as that can be elongating to your figure. I currently have a black knit ankle lenth pencil skirt that wears really well with tunic lenth tops that bell out at the below hip length hem. I feel it is a very flattering look. The skirt is just a more elegant option to slim leg pants in this case.

  • Susan

    I love maxis and I’m old enought that I’ve seen the style come and go several times. I tend to wear them a little more for backyard BBQ type events rather than work. The maxi and office chairs don’t work well together!

    But being a curvy gal, maxis are sometimes my pet peeve too. Why is the tiered “hippie” maxi so prevalant in plus sizes, often the only skirt choice. The same is true in on-line plus size retailers, you can choose between a tiered maxi and a black pencil skirt. Now I love a little boho every now and again but I don’t want to look stuck in the ’60’s. Am I missing something? Are other plus size women anti-skirt? Or are skirts really that hard for curvy gals to wear? Thoughts?

    • Shaye

      Geez, to my mind, skirts are easier for curvy plus size gals to wear. At least this gal. Pants make me feel like something’s cutting across my middle all day at my desk, whereas skirts let my natural body shape sit comfortably. But I don’t have any trouble finding all manner of skirts in various styles… I finally had to stop hitting up the skirt section at the thrift store because I have no more room in my closet!

    • Check out the blog “Girl with Curves” – she’s got a few suggestions on how to wear and style maxi skirts. Here are the links:

      http://girlwithcurves.tumblr.com/post/4078839718/mix-it-up
      http://girlwithcurves.tumblr.com/tagged/maxi+skirts

      I hope you find it somewhat helpful:)

    • I find skirts hard to wear, much as I love them (short and wide figure here!). I find myself wishing I was born into an age of fitted dresses with dirndl or even crinoline skirts or living in Bavaria or Austria… For me, both the length and the shape are hard to get right – no, pencil skirts don’t suit me (look like I’m wearing a box wider than long), A-lines make me look wider than ever, godet shapes emphasise the hips even more and then the heavy calves… and so on. Although I feel a bit short for maxi and am old enough for the 70s first time around, I am planning on trying out a summer dress in a maxi length, with the difficulty the fact that heels are becoming a less viable option as I get older – they hurt. I will have to be really careful with length and probably end up getting the sewing machine out. Also, all the maxi summer dresses seem to be strappy, where I would like a bit of sleeve. Hm.

  • i’ve been looking for one, but I’ve yet to hit up the thrifts. I was just thinking this morning that I could probably wear my tube top dress into a high-waisted maxi skirt πŸ˜‰

    • Anna-Lisa

      I definitely wear tube top dresses as high-waisted skirts! Dresses that started out knee-length won’t be as long as a true maxi… mine hit kind of an awkward point on my legs so I tend to wear boots with them to camouflage the resulting weird leg line. Heels work too.

  • I am a maxi lover, and have been for years. At first I gravitated toward them because I was uncomfortable with shorter hemlines, but grew to love them for their movement, how elegant and ladylike they make me feel, and like you said, how warm they can be! It’s kind of like wearing a blanket, sometimes, which is awesome.

  • Anne

    You know I’ve always thought the whole maxi dress trend looks a little like women running around in their nighties, but somehow the maxi skirt thing seems a bit more doable. I like the look best paired with a tucked in shirt and belt. I’m not sure I’m ready to jump aboard this trend just yet but if I come across the right skirt… who knows?

  • D

    I am short (5’1″), and in some spots I am pretty wide, and I LOVE maxi skirts. Comfortable, and I always feel so girly in the best way when I wear them. Since I grew up in a pretty warm climate, I am only now realizing how awesome they are for the cold. I can wear my boots without worrying if they will fit over my pants and huge calves.

  • I love that outfit on you…very pretty!

    I am a maxi lover, most definitely. I have just about every silhouette and length in my closet. I even made two in the last few weeks! I wear them both for work and just for casual get togethers.

    I also agree with you the “Warmth” factor. Living in MN they are quite lovely to wear in the winter with boots. I tend to wear skirts more than pants, so having them in my closet makes winter a bit more bearable. πŸ™‚

  • Sonja

    When I was sixteen (and had no idea about style and what looked good on me – that was before the internet) I went through a hippie-phase.
    On a secondhand-market I bought a maxi skirt – purple batik – that the seller had dyed herself. During about a year I wore this skirt maybe three or four times a week. I loved it so much that I actually wore it to death.
    And then I didn’t come across another maxi skirt that would look good on me, until about a year ago (fifteen years later).
    I bought one at H&M, it’s a very feminine thing with flowers and butterflies, not usually my style, but I like it. It was really a dress with a shirred bust, but I snipped off the straps and wear the shirred part around my waist/hip.
    After trying that one out, I made the connection with the skirt from the nineties – both were shirred in the waist and made me look slender and actually tall – whereas I’m actually short and have a curvy hourglass figure.
    Skirts that have only a narrow waistband, on the other hand, and then flare out directly make my derriere look very, very prominent.
    Now I’m on the lookout for some maxis in darker, more versatile colours, but always with a figure-hugging waist. I’ll probably try to sew one …

  • Heather

    I love long skirts–especially maxis. You said they were a “bit out of the ordinary” and I love them for this very reason (ordinary can become tiresome). They look very classy with boots or simple flats, and, can be used as a backdrop for a more dramatic top piece or belt/shoes if you want to stand out. Cooler in summer and warmer in winter with the right fabrics, maxis are a staple in my wardrobe. I really like what you’ve done with your ensemble in the picture–monochromatic with the cute belt and classy boots. I would definitely notice this outfit (in a good way) in a crowd!!!

  • Jessica

    I’ve been hunting for a maxi skirt for months, but to no avail. TJ Maxx had a bunch on sale, but they were all of the slim, tubelike variety and looked a mess on me. I’ve found a few thrifting but they tend to look more like sister wife skirts. The search continues! Yours is really pretty.

  • LOL. I wear a “maxi” skirt nearly every day! They’re long (ankle to almost-floor) A-line skirts, and I have to say that a long triangle makes me look both taller and thinner.

    The only time I hesitate is when it’s going to be a day where I do a lot of scrubbing or bending over.

  • Heather

    I love maxi skirts and dresses, and often live in them during the summer. (and on really hot days you don’t need underwear since you aren’t likely to flash anyone with that length!

    I find it trickiest to deal with winter skirts that don’t have a real waistband (seems like alot of fuller skirts have either a drawstring and/or elastic)- you have to get a top with an interesting hem because a straight across sweater hem can hit wierd over the hips. For some reason this is less of a big deal in the summer- love a simple tank with a gypsy skirt and flip flops!

  • Rise

    Leg-mitten. I’m smitten.

  • Susan, the one in Berkeley

    The flowing, hippie skirts are not my style nor are the saran-wrap tube versions but I did thrift a few maxi pencil skirts. They are now my winter go-to fashion choice because that shape creates an hour-glass lower half when I’m bundled up in bulky sweaters on top. You’re right, Sal – they keep you warm. I have a cashmere skirt I wear around the house because its so much more comfortable than track pants and just as warm.

  • poodletail

    The sheer maxis, both skirts and dusters, are catching my eye these days. I think the lightweight fabrics don’t make a person look bottom-heavy at all. Sal, your monochromatic ensemble is gorgeous and, with the pleated skirt, you look about 5’10”! Really, really lovely.

  • Aziraphale

    I don’t hate maxi skirts, but I wouldn’t wear them mainly due to the inconvenience factor. Do they not drag on the ground when you bend over? I’ve never owned a maxi, but it seems to me that this would be a problem. I can barely tolerate wet pant hems…I can’t imagine wet skirt hems!

  • At 5’3 I haven’t seen many maxis in stores that would fit me without tailoring BUT I lucked into the perfect maxi at a thrift shop. It’s black and stretchy and just the right length – the thrift gods were smiling on me that day! I totally agree about considering the footwear as it can be tricky. I like best how it looks with black engineer boots and a colorful layer on top to break up all the black. Cheers, Lauren

  • Kim

    Thanks for the encouragement and tips Sal! I love the feel of a flowy maxi and clompy boots. Used to wear them with grungy plaid shirts… (cringe)
    I only wear them to the occasional house of worship now. Maybe because of this, they make me feel a bit frumpy and conservative.

  • Jane in SF

    You look wonderful in that outfit. I love the combination of chunky knit and delicate chiffon look pleats. Thank you for the guidelines for maxi-wearing. I’m 5’4″ and love long, linen skirts for the summer but haven’t yet worn maxis in the cooler season.

  • Another idea is to do a search on Etsy under “vintage maxi sewing patterns” to get an idea how these skirts were expected to look, be accessorized, etc., based on the pattern cover art.

    There are many hundreds of patterns to choose from!

  • I have one (actually, a dress) that I LOVE that you didn’t cover- it has a uneven “handkerchief” type hem, so it’s not just one length all the way around. It’s the first maxi I’ve ever worn that I felt was really flattering to my short, curvy body. The dress is really summery, so I can’t wear it all year round πŸ™ But when the weather’s right I wear it all the time and feel like an awesomely sexy beach goddess, which is pretty neat for an outfit that doesn’t reveal a ton of skin!

  • I’m a fan, more so in summer than winter. I have a maxi dress I bought more than 15 years ago now, it’s simple, aline, sleeveless and being 100% polyester, it dries fast, never wrinkles and doesn’t die. I am short and I’m okay with that, it’s who I am. So I often wear that dress with flat sandals just embracing me for me. As someone who burns easily, I like that long skirts in summer can be cool and still provide sun coverage.
    Maxi’s for winter I find a little harder to style. I was given one for Christmas and I push myself to wear it and style it because my husband says it looks good. He can’t be too far wrong so I figure it’s worth pushing my comfort zone with the skirt.

  • I absolutely love maxi skirts!

    I have
    – a long denim flared one (http://sheilaephemera.blogspot.com/2011/04/casual-friday-stab-at-steampunk.html),
    – a long suede flared one (http://sheilaephemera.blogspot.com/2010/12/dinner-out-and-lunch-shopping-with-mom.html),
    – a denim straight cut (http://sheilaephemera.blogspot.com/2012/01/i-heart-samurai.html),
    – a black flared one with slits (http://sheilaephemera.blogspot.com/2011/06/dragon-lady-in-red-shoes.html), and
    – a mushroom wrinkly sweeping one (http://sheilaephemera.blogspot.com/2012/01/layer-up-week-vest-over-jacket.html).

    …and that’s just my winter ones!

    In summer, I love a light fabric, like silk (like this one: http://sheilaephemera.blogspot.com/2011/05/casual-friday-fluttery-long-skirt.html) – it’s great for sun coverage (not to mention you don’t have to shave your legs as much, ha ha).

    My maxi skirts are a staple in my wardrobe!

    Some great recommendations for wearing them, Sal!

  • Hmm… I’m not entirely convinced yet. I just don’t think they’re *me*… but it may be that I haven’t tried on enough of them to tell.

  • sche

    I hate how maxis look on me, as I have yet to find a style that suits my 5’4″, wide-hipped frame. Of course, I have so many cats that long skirts are impractical for daily home wear anyway, so.

  • Laura

    Thanks for giving the maxi skirt some love. I’d gotten a little tired of reading some other blogs’ commentary about how “bad” they are. I only have a few, but they are so comforting and comfortable.

  • I’ve been looking for a maxi that I like and will work with my wardrobe to try out the trend. I admit that being a short, curvy woman, the anti-maxi advice must have soaked into me well, because I always hesitate about them.

    Logically, I don’t understand why maxis would be problematic on many people. Shouldn’t that long sweep of fabric create a long leg line? Seems like a long, flared skirt would balance out broad shoulders or a large bust. Also, I haven’t heard anyone recommending that petite ladies avoid floor length formal wear, so why is a long hemline great for a gown but not for day wear? I suspect that in some cases the answers to my question have a lot to do with proportions and silhouette, which is why what I think might work best on me is a maxi dress rather than a maxi skirt, but I want to give both a try, as soon as I can find the right one(s) at the thrift store.

  • Keilexandra

    I bought a convertible silk Indian wrap skirt a few years ago at a farmers market, and have gotten SO many compliments on it. It’s midi length, but since I’m short, it falls around my ankles depending on how high I wear the waist. I love the colors and the floatiness. That said, I’m 5’2″ and find it difficult to buy maxis… also, I feel like maxi DRESSES overwhelm my frame unless I’m wearing heels. But skirts are wonderfully versatile!

  • KWu

    Does anyone have tips on how to handle walking in maxi skirts more gracefully? I had a long dress once that I loved but found myself constantly tripping on it while going up/down stairs, which might be ok normally but was quite embarrassing when trying to get on/off public transportation. Is it just me or is there a knack to it?

    • Sal

      For what it’s worth, I pick up and carry mine whenever on stairs. Just grab a handful and hold it in one hand so the hem is a few inches above the floor.

    • Myth

      To walk up stairs in a maxi (without lifting the skirt, which is a fine option) lift your feet a little higher as you step. Instead of sliding each foot forward onto the next stair, lift and set it down on the stair. The lift of your knee moves the skirt out from under your foot. Take your time. If you’re in a rush or if your skirt is actually brushing the ground when you’re standing, you should lift it up.

  • ily

    I owned a maxi skirt once (although, they were just called “long skirts” then) and I rarely wore it, maybe because it was a hard-to-match pattern, or because I couldn’t figure out what shoes to wear with it. I’d like to give them another try though. I wouldn’t mind looking more dramatic once in a while. The problem with them for me is that they’d be impossible to bicycle in, which I often do in knee-length skirts (with leggings underneath).

  • I’m 5’11” with a short torso and long legs (35-36″ inseam). The maxi skirt, the palazzo pant? My forever-friends. They haven’t been in style since the 90s; it’s been really nice for me to be able to find some of my favorite styles in stores again.

    I’m hippy, too; my favorite style of maxi is one which is fitted at the waist and through the hips and flares dramatically from there. One of my favorites is a black wool/bamboo knit from j.jill. It wasn’t as long as I needed/wanted, so I actually added 9″ of black knit fabric at the top to make it longer. I love to pair it with a pair of dark brown equestrian-looking ankle booties and a casual top.

  • Sal… you look like you’re channelling an Edwardian look (s. Downton Abbey)!! Love how you put it together πŸ˜‰

  • Christie

    How funny, MelD, I was just going to say the same thing about Downton Abbey! Sal, I really like your outfit pictured here.

    I recently wore a long dark denim skirt with dark tights and brown t-strap pumps, white blouse and brown woven leather belt. It felt very Downton Abbey. I loved it.

  • I’m 5′ so my maxi skirt/dresses were always of the sleeker variety. I wore them often in school and had no trouble styling them appropriately for my office jobs after college. I also didn’t really experience the polarizing aspect of people hating on them. They faded out of my wardrobe over the years, but with all the current availaility, I’ve got my eye out for the perfect one. I associate them with serving a special summer niche – cool like shorts in the right fabric, but providing some relief when you’re burnt out from shaving everyday and need to cover your hairy legs quickly and stylishly. Forgive the tmi, but that’s not something many clothing items can do! I’ve hit regular and thrift stores with no luck so far, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

  • Thursday

    I wore long skirts quite frequently as a teen (had a strong hippie/boho vibe going on for a while) but they really dropped off once I hit my late teens. I found them very hard to style in a sleek, flattering way once my style priorities firmed up (and my hips got so much wider!). I did pick up this surprisingly lovely long black skirt in a Target sale late last year, which has a very wide waistband/yoke which emphasises the narrowness of my waist, and accordion pleats at the front and back of the skirt, but flat at the sides. Dynamaite for downplaying those hips. I’ve paired it with a tucked-in blouse with gently caped sleeves and lace neckline, channeling an Edwardian vibe somewhat like your outfit above, but with the high waist of the skirt doing the mid-section defining work. Now, if I could find the same skirt in such a lovely soft colour…:-)