The Skirt Zone


I wanted this dress to work. Oh my, did I ever. I got it on final sale from Ideeli in three colors for SUPER cheap and it looked completely perfect online. Long sleeves, high waist, full skirt – three kinds of yes. And it is so close to working … but not quite right.

This is the kind of dress that HM tells me is “too short.” And back in the day, I would get pissy about it. Because I love, love, love my legs and I love, love, love showing them off and I didn’t want anyone saying that I shouldn’t. But eventually I found out that it wasn’t scandalous shortness that he was reacting to, it was garment proportion.

Mini skirts generally hit high on my thigh. Maybe a hand’s width below the crotchpoint. Middle-length skirts – the kind that are most widely available for sale and most often worn to workplaces – hit just above my kneecap, in the kneecap realm, or just below. Midis hit mid-calf, and maxis sweep the floor. What I’ve discovered – much to my dismay – is that there’s a no-man’s-land on my thigh that falls between mini and middle-length, and that skirts hitting in this area just look wrong on me. They aren’t short enough to be mini skirts and they aren’t long enough to be traditional middle-length skirts, so they look like they’ve been shrunk in the wash. They also make my legs look stockier than they are, and fail to divide me along golden ratio lines. It’s subtle, but they look wrong. Worn with tights or a floaty skirt layered underneath, they can sometimes pass. Worn alone, they look undeniably odd.

I’ve encountered this problem with the occasional client, too. It seems that many of us have this middle-thigh no-man’s-land where skirts just fail to work. Any hemline that hits in there divides us strangely and fails to flatter. Have you found that there’s a skirt zone on your own figure that causes proportion-related havoc? Got any work-arounds to suggest? Or do you just avoid/donate skirts that fall in this zone? (I love this dress so much I’m considering taking it to the tailor to see if a band of fabric in a similar color/weight could be stitched onto the hem … but I’m pretty sure that would end disastrously.)

  • Karoliina

    There are skirts and dresses that work on others, but due to the porportions of my legs they often look obscenely short on me. I mainly manage to pull them off by wearing them with thick tights or leggings, but even then it rarely works that well.

  • anya

    Can you shorten it and transferr it to a mini dress? Proportion wise it’s just as good ad lengthening and I suppose more easy techincally. Also, alternate idea?
    How about laying a petticoat under?

  • Wendalette

    Hm…if adding fabric wouldn’t work, maybe layering a slightly longer full skirt underneath as a petticoat of sorts? Or layer one OVER it? Perhaps hem it shorter to get it out of the “no man’s land”?
    Such a lovely dress and otherwise perfect…for me, maybe? :-)
    I hope you can find a way to make it work; it’s so pretty on you!

  • Londyn

    Love this look – so pretty

  • Sonja

    I wear only maxi skirts or those that hit exactly at the knee, because of what you’re explaining, everything else looks weird to me proportion-wise.
    I don’t think it would be a problem to add a bit of fabric to the hem, I’ve already done so succesfully with übershort skirts.

  • LK

    Honestly I think the proportions in the photo look fine but that has to do with the tights and the boots. The boots seem to visually counteract the odd hem length. The tights’ color due to being a similar hue and family appear as an extension of the skirt which helps it flow. The boots come up to meet the line. Without boots or tights, this skirt would look very oddly proportioned. I wouldn’t shorten it though. With it being as full as it is you’ll probably end up with a skirt that has a whole new set of problems. I know that is what happens when I go that route!

    I have this problem myself so I understand. Minis don’t hit me where they should because I don’t have endless legs and for my small size I have thick thighs. I basically just don’t wear them. I often have to have knee length skirts shortened so they hit just above my knee instead of just below it.

  • Jen
  • Melanie

    I think the look works the way you have it – with the taller boots. I think with regular shoes it might come off wrong, but I think with the boots you have a perfect amount of leg between boot and skirt hem.

  • JB

    I’m no expert, but it seems to me that maybe the high waist is part of the problem. Have you tried the same outfit with the cardigan buttoned up? Seems like the proportions might look more balanced if the high waist was not emphasized.

  • The Waves

    Oh man, it just hit me that I have a bunch of skirts that just don’t seem right, and until now I haven’t realized why. Skirts that I like, skirts that seem to fit well… but something’s off. This might be it! I have to have a skirt-fitting session one of these days, to find out if, indeed, these skirts are in the wrong hem zone for me.

  • RM

    Having slightly unusual height proportions myself (long waist and shorter legs, bit still tall), I can totally relate, and I can imagine this wouldn’t work with flats or ankle boots. But I think it looks great with the tights and tall boots!

  • Erika

    I just bought a dress that I’m going to return b/c of this issue – and I like my legs too!

    Just saw this tutorial on adding fabric in the middle of a skirt vs. at the bottom. Maybe that kind of alteration will look more “intentional”?

  • Lauren a

    Colorblock strip of contrasting color added around the bottom of the dress- it’d be lovely!

  • LinB

    Slice it and dice it, sistah. I’d put at least one band of similar weight fabric, in a boldly contrasting color or print, near the bottom of the skirt (not just add it to bottom of hem, but slice the skirt and insert the band). Same sort of alteration mothers have been doing to the dresses and pants hems of their little daughters for many, many generations.

  • Versatile Style by Tracey

    I can so relate to this post and that magic line that I have to be careful about. I do feel that it helps when tights and boots are worn as you do. It is not as obvious in this particular styling of it…

  • Sarah

    NO! No fabric band at the bottom. I think that would visually impair your proportions, too. the idea of something added in the middle as a previous poster suggested is intriguing, though! kind of like an obi belt or something. huh.

    I think everyone can have this problem and it has to do with proportions and where a garment is hitting your body. I honestly don’t think this looks that bad on you, but it’s hitting your thigh in such a place that it gives the illusion that your thigh keeps getting wider under the skirt, instead of showing that it has already reached it’s full width and is just continuing up. Does that make sense?

    That’s why certain mid skirt lengths just look dowdy and make ones legs look stumpy, but just an inch or two difference in length makes all the difference in the world by highlighting a calf or knee at it’s slender point.

    Boots, too, I think can be difficult depending on where they highlight ones leg. I find I can’t wear mid-calf styles without them making my leg twice as wide as it is. I have to be careful with ankle boots, too, and how wide the opening is and how high up it comes. It’s amazing what a difference it can make. Uggs, to me, are the perfect illustrator of bad proportions. they usually hit at an awkward height, narrow (or rather, don’t!) at an awkward place and are generally the most unflattering shoe choice ever!

  • Jackie

    IMO, this look actually works for you, Sal! Especially with the boots. Snazzy.

  • indigorchid

    So… you could take a chunk out of one of those three dresses you bought, bringing it to mini-length, and adding that same piece to one of the other dresses, to make it non-funky-proportions-longer. Perhaps?

  • Swarne

    I think the boots are too long, the proportions aren’t too good but I love how you combined all these colors. Overall, you still did a great job! :)

  • Susan

    Sally, I don’t know if you remember me as a commenter, but I have commented from time to time, and almost always it has been about proportions for skirts. So many of your skirts are so cute, but just not the right proportion for you! You look fabulous is the longer skirts that don’t cut you off in the middle (and so do I). Like you, I have great legs–but that is not the point. The point is what looks best and most graceful. And usually, that is a longer skirt–even longer than knee length. I’m so glad you are discussing this!!!! I predict great things in your future ensembles.

    • The Cat

      “So many of your skirts are so cute, but just not the right proportion for you! You look fabulous is the longer skirts that don’t cut you off in the middle […] The point is what looks best and most graceful. And usually, that is a longer skirt–even longer than knee length.”


  • Sarah

    YES. I have noticed this effect on myself as well, but haven’t quite pinpointed the exact correct length because I’ve been in denial and want to continue to buy any skirt/dress that I think is cute without regard to where it hits my legs. Often, my legs end up looking super short or super thick. Thanks for talking about this issue!

  • Oh to Be a Muse

    Skirt and dress lengths can be very tricky, but I think you more than pulled it off. The fit and length are great on you!

    P.S. thanks for the mention in your link roundup. Glad you liked my cheetah pants!

  • Sarah

    Personally, I find it depends on the fullness of the skirt. A more voluminous shape looks bad on me unless it is knee length or longer; I can go much shorter with a pencil-type silhouette.

  • Rosanne

    I’m going to go with the group here and say the way you styled it the proportions don’t immediately strike me as being “off.” I’ll make a different suggestion relating to adjusting your hemline, however. Have you conisdered adding an inset piece to the midriff? It could serve as a natural place to for a waistbelt, further define the waist, and you could do this as a colorblocking opportunity in a contrasting color, neutral, or matching (if you are lucky enough to find it). You could also add a matching stripe to the hemline to tie it all together.

    • Sally

      Love that idea, Rosanne!

  • Trina

    I have the opposite problem – most skirts are two inches too long on me. I guess it’s an easier problem though – just hem :)

  • Andi

    Sal, I love the superhero stance in all your posts!
    I think the waist of this dress adds to the problem, it does look like it shrunk in the wash, what about a more decorative middle to break it up! OBI belt or a satin/sash belt?

    • Sally

      Could work, Andi! Though my natural waist is fairly high and I’ve found I need to be careful with the obis and wide belts as they tend to shorten my waist.

  • DC

    I honestly think this dress looks just fine on you! But I know what it’s like when you just don’t feel quite right in something. What about doing a color block band in another color, or adding lace trim to the bottom? Barring all else, you could always send them to me. I think the dress Is adorable. 😉

  • AnnR

    I don’t take issue with the skirt length in itself, it’s the shape of the skirt combined with the length. I think I’d like a straight skirt on a dress that color in that length better.

  • Litenarata

    Instead of adding extra fabric to the bottom of the hem, what about adding a layer of lace or tulle from underneath/behind the hem, that sticks out from underneath a few inches? It could even be the same color as the dress, but it wouldn’t have the clashy, strong impact like sewing a strip of another color fabric to the hem would.

    I do think the reddish tights drew attention to the length though. Maybe wearing tights the same color as the dress would help?

  • Megan Mae

    Yep! My spot is just about the same as yours. I’m fine with my legs. I’m not body shy at all, and the best way to describe that phenomenon is “too short”. It just messed with the proportions of myself and I dislike the look.

    I also consider a very specific longer length difficult too. Pretty much from the tops of my knees to mid calf is all a-ok.

  • Amy

    If you love the colors, and the fit in the torso, have you considered having them shortened and tailored into a tunic? I bet this could be very cute with a handkerchief or a hi-low hem. Just another option if lengthening is a no-go.

  • Janelle

    How about changing seasons? Wear three quarter leggings and sandles or peep toes. I’d love to see what the dress looks like without the cardigan (which I love BTW).

  • Susan

    I’m very short, 5 feet exact and I have short legs. So any skirt that is below the knee looks weird to me. Not sure about maxis- I don’t buy those because I’d have to hem them because I’m so short.