The Importance of a Full-length Mirror

There are a few things that come up time and again when I work with style consult clients. Shirt length is one of them. Closet orphans are another. But the one that consistently surprises me? So many of these stylish, enthusiastic, creative women who are keen to transform their sartorial lives lack one of the most important tools in a stylish woman’s arsenal: A full-length mirror.

Most of them have mirrors in their bathrooms or atop their dressers that show everything from the hips upward. Some undergo potentially dangerous contortions to perch on the bathtub walls. Some check the top half and then clamber onto the bed for the bottom view.

And I get it. Mirrors can be big, unwieldy, expensive. If you live in a small apartment or house, if you share a bedroom, if you’re on a tight budget, if you’ve been making do with a smaller mirror for ages, procuring and installing a full-length might seem unnecessarily costly and complex.

But if you want to see how your footwear impacts your outfit, if you want to see how skirt length works on your leg line, if you want to make sure your tights really work with your scarf, if you want to know how all of the pieces you’re wearing interact, you need a full-length mirror. Basically, if you want to get the big picture of your personal style, you’ve gotta see everything at once. Viewing your top and bottom halves separately will sometimes suffice, but you’ll be amazed by how different it feels to see your whole self, top to bottom.

The mirror shown above is from Target and it’s $79.99. But you can get tall, narrow versions that can be nailed to a closet door interior for under $20 at actual Target stores, hardware stores, and home goods stores. There are cheap options, and options that work in tiny spaces, I swear! And tracking down a full-length mirror that fits into your dressing area is well worth the time and money. It’s an investment in understanding your style.

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

    Absolutely agree! The other thing I find strange is people who don’t check what the rear view of their outfit looks like either. I know that might sound like a totally unnecessary step, because our interactions with others only happen when we’re facing them right?

    Wrong! Think about how many people see the back of you first, before seeing your face- whether it’s on the subway/ train, stood behind someone in a lift/ elevator, trying to get a shopkeeper’s attention while they’re busy huddled over something, approaching your colleague about something while they’re at their desk. Of course there are many more, but the point is the way you look from behind is equally as important as the front view!

    Just a little backwards glance in the mirror could also avoid the embarrassment I’m sure we all know- the faux pas of having walked out of a bathroom without realising our skirt/ dress/ tunic has mischeviously tucked itself into the tights/ leggings we’re wearing, revealing all our underwear for the world to see. Or is that just me? ;) :P

  • Brigitte

    So, so true! I can’t believe how long I went without a full-lenght mirror and it was only then that I could see if things were out of proportion- pants would look fine on their own until I noticed my cardigans were hitting me in the worst possible place- everything looked fine on the bottom half, everything looked great on the top half, but it’s only once I could see both half together that I saw just how horrible things looked in the middle! It really changed the way I dress, and for the better.

  • Lulux

    Hi, at home I have a full-lenght mirror and each time I dress up I spend some time in front of it. My problem comes when I go shopping, the mirrors in the shopping center makes me look too big, or too small… I come to think that maybe the mirror at home isn’t right :(

  • elin

    I have that very mirror from target and while it sits in the back of my walk-in closet most of the time, I do love that I can take it out when I need a better all-over view than the space in the closet allows.

  • http://innerbodybright.blogspot.com Jo

    I LOVE having a full length mirror. I bought these:
    http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/90049573/
    because they’re only $10 apiece, are easy to install, and go with any decor. I have one in my closet for while I’m getting dressed, one where I keep my shoes so I can be sure of my footwear choices, and one by the front door for last minute checks. Still less money than you’d pay for one mirror somewhere else!

  • shebolt

    I remember the days of standing on my desk chair to see the bottom half of my outfit.

    I now have a narrow full length mirror on the door in the upstairs bathroom, which is often covered by towels. I also have a wall of mirrors in my downstairs bathroom (hello, 1970s decorating!), which is what I usually use. We’re about to redo that bathroom and I haven’t figured out where to put a big mirror to replace the wall I’m about to lose.

    I agree with Ignorant Awareness – always check your rear view. The number of women I see walking around with horrible VPL is testimony to how many of us forget to check our backsides.

  • M-C

    My mother used to comment that this was the easiest way to tell an American from a French woman at a glance – does she look fabulous.. above the waist?
    I’d add that it’s important to have a full length mirror that you can really step back from, so that you can get those unfocused first-impression flash glances that tell you so much. Mine’s currently at the end of a long hallway, and I’ll be reproducing that setup every time I possibly can in the future.

  • http://smiletexysmile.blogspot.com D

    I will confess to still not owning a full length mirror. I don’t really have a good reason- I used to have a cheap one, but it was lost when I moved. I guess I’ll have to start looking for one, it is certainly nice to see everything that is going on in an outfit.

  • http://nuranar.livejournal.com Ginger

    You can get a decent sized long mirror at Walmart for $5, no joke. Instead of mounting on the wall or a door, I have mine propped at a slight angle in my bathroom. I can stand in the doorway of my closet and get a good full-length view. In my old house, the mirror lived behind a door; I just moved it when I wanted to use it. There’s nothing to replace a full-length mirror, especially for $5!

  • Stacy

    And…you can sometimes find them at the thrift store. Take a look while you’re in there searching for clothing treasures.

  • Dee

    I feel a full length mirror is a MUST! When we moved to a new place a year ago that was one of the first things we bought. Actually two of them. We bought the ones that hang over the door frame and can be moved at any time. They were really cheap, maybe $20 each, and are framed in black and really don’t look bad. I have one, and my husband has one, so we don’t get in each other’s way while dressing each morning. At some point we may actually hang a nicer mirror but these really do the job.

  • G

    I don’t know if I like full-length mirrors! I can see the importance of being able to see an entire outfit, it is helpful for dressing, but they confuse me. I swear, in every full length mirror, I look COMPLETELY different. In one (and I know its not tilted at too much of an angle) my legs usually look pretty long and proportional to my waist, in another mounted on the wall my legs looks slightly disproportionate to my torso (I’ve always suspected I’ve had shorter legs. swimmers body.). So I’ll leave the house feeling like I look great in a particular pair of pants and nice blouse (that I’ve always felt complimented my shape!), walk past some sort of reflective surface – be it mall mirror, or one of those reflective windows, or even a mirror in another persons house -, and look ENTIRELY different, hate the pants, and think the blouse looks..odd or frumpy! Does anyone else have this problem? right now I’m just dying to know what I ACTUALLY look like! You can’t even trust camera’s, because it all depends on the angle!

    • Shaye

      It all depends on the angle when someone is looking at you, too! Perspective is a powerful force in the way something appears to our eyes. A mirror with any tilt at all is a change in perspective from one that’s straight up and down. It also depends on how close you stand to the mirror. If you feel foreshortened by a vertical mirror, you’re probably standing close to it, which means that your eyes are closer to your top half, which subsequently looks larger. (The real reason to tilt a mirror is so it can sit lower to the ground while showing your whole reflection, and to show your whole reflection in a smaller space, not because it gives a truer reflection.) Keep in mind too that reflective surfaces that aren’t mirrors (and even some low-quality mirrors) might be warped, which WILL change your reflection.

      The best thing to do if you really concerned about the way that perspective interacts with your reflection is A) get a vertical mirror in a place where you can stand at least as far away from it as you are tall – preferably farther, and B) not to sweat it too much when you catch a glimpse of yourself at what you feel is an unflattering angle. :)

  • http://unacasaconjardin.blogspot.com.ar/ romy

    You´re so right Sally, I don´t have a full-length mirror, so I use a large smoked glass door to check my general look, leaving out colors ha ha, If I want to check colors I stand outside in my patio and look at my kitchen door that has a huge piece of glass, I WANT a mirror, I do! It’s on my list of thing I’ll do before the end of the year. Great post Sally, also enjoyed the Closet Orphans link, I can identify some orphans on my closet.

  • http://harnessphoto.blogspot.com Dom

    I so agree. I had a full length mirror for a long time and I miss it terribly! I’m not fashion savvy, but I still like to know how an outfit looks… not just part of it!

  • Jenny

    So maybe I should go mirror shopping? It looks like there is consensus on this one.

  • Mary

    When moving into past apartments, the first purchase I’ve made is a 19.99 cheapie mirror from Target. (Wal-marts can’t be found inside my city limits.) Nail the edges to the inside of your bedroom door, closet, bathroom — you know you can find a place — and you will be able to see what you actually look like!
    Best part: you don’t have to take it with you when you move next. Prying it from the door is a pain, and the next tenant will hardly complain upon finding it left behind!

  • Diana

    I could not agree more! It drives me nuts every time I go to my fiance’s place and he has no full length mirror. I have resorted to taking a photo of myself to check my outfit!

    I’ve had one of the cheap hardware store ones for years. Works like a charm. In fact, I prefer that type to the freestanding type because they are perfectly vertical if you hang them up so there is no weird distortion from the mirror angle.

  • http://sololisa.com lisa

    I had a full-length mirror for a closet door at my parents’ house that I used to rely on for outfit shots (when I couldn’t get someone else to snap a photo) and once-overs. Now I rely on the full-length mirror in my condo’s elevator.

  • http://chiralcraft.wordpress.com Laura

    A digital camera or smartphone with a timer can be a substitute for this too. Nowadays a lot of folks have them – figure out how to take a picture of yourself on a delay and where you can prop your camera to get a head-to-to shot of yourself, and take a couple, back and front. You can really see a lot, and sometimes it’s easier to note proportion issues, etc., when you’re looking at a picture as opposed to trying to stand still in front of a mirror and analyze your look.

  • Kate K

    My parents did not (and still do not) have a full-length mirror when I was growing up and I can remember standing in front of the patio door, trying to catch a glimpse of how I looked. My freshman year dorm room had a mirror on the back of my door and it was a revolution. (I still dressed like I didn’t have a full length mirror for about five more years but at least it was a step in the right direction! :))

  • http://www.scribblesfromemily.com/ Emily

    I’ve never even thought of getting a full length mirror, but it makes so much sense! I have seen cheap ones at Goodwill or Home Depot. I think I need to get one now!

  • Blume

    Trash piles around the time that college kids move out will often have perfectly good full-length mirrors in them! I’ve gotten a couple that way.

  • http://www.considermelovely.com Rocquelle

    I can’t get dressed without my full length mirror!! Plus I’ve found walking pass it in the nude has helped me in loving my body as is.

  • http://notdressedaslamb.com Catherine @ Not Dressed As Lamb

    Sally my first response to this post was: How can anyone get by without a full length mirror? (Admittedly I did shout it at my iPad and had to explain to my husband what I was hollering about ;) I was so surprised that people don’t! But even though I have an enormous, leaning-against-the-wall-style huge mirror, I still get said husband to take a quick snap with the camera (standard lens! Don’t use a wide angle, you’ll always look stumpier than you actually are). I only truly trust the camera, not my reflection. I’ve regretted many outfits I’ve worn that I haven’t taken a picture of first!

    Catherine x

  • Roxane

    I agree! I’ve been without one since we moved and lost the mirrored closet doors, and I’ve been doing the climb to the edge of the tub and and asking for lots of feedback from my sweetie. We have one on order (with jewelry storage behind it). Time to call and see where it is.

  • http://shareacokewithlaura.com Laura

    All the houses I’ve lived in have had built-in wardrobes with entirely mirrored doors. A whole wall of both my bedroom & dressing room is mirrored, & I get dressed while looking at myself.

  • http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/ Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    How right you are – and how funny re: standing on the bed to see the bottom half! (been there).

  • http://www.rubybows.com Leiah

    I went a whole year without having a full-length mirror, and it was okay at first, but I never felt confident putting together a new outfit because I had no way of checking it!

    I finally caved in and bought a frame-less mirror for less than $10 at Target and attached it to my closet wall with those little clear brackets. It’s only about 4 feet long, but positioned correctly I can see my whole self in it.

    Totally worth it!

  • Shaye

    Wow, even growing up (relatively poor) there was always a full-length mirror in the house. There are people that don’t have them? But…how do they know what their pants look like? Or if their shoes match their outfit? Or….

    I’m boggled!

    • Shaye

      Oh, and – $5-10 mirror at discount store + double sided foam mounting tape = cheap mirror anywhere.

  • http://todaywaswonderful.wordpress.com/ Amy

    I concur with all folks who are voting for the $5 mirror! I use 3M velcro strips to hang mine on the back of my bedroom door. That way I can take the mirror down and move it to better light if I need to, but when it’s not in use it’s out of the way.

    I feel anxious without a full length mirror to show me my reflection, even when I’m wearing an outfit or silhouette I’ve worn before and that I know ‘works’. You never know where those pesky cat hairs will show up! Plus, I’m dang cute to look at.

  • Eleanorjane

    Very good point, Sal! I’m going to buy one this weekend. (I had one before moving countries). Just yesterday I went out in an outfit that I thought was fine then discovered when I saw the whole view that the boots really didn’t go with the skirt length.

  • http://[email protected] Caroline

    True. I have inspirational quotes pasted all around my mirror, so I can check out my outfit and get motivated simultaneously!

    ‘Think about how many people see the back of you first, before seeing your face- ‘ — that made me laugh!

  • http://butaneanvil.blogspot.ca/ Amber of Butane Anvil

    Another here, like Catherine, who can’t function without one, and like Amy, anxious even in a “known to work” outfit if I can’t do the once-over. A crucial tool!

  • http://www.amidprivilege.com Lisa

    This is so true. I have to climb on the toilet to see myself when I stay in SF. Not wise:).