Posts Categorized: proportion

A Guide to Pant Length for 2014

understanding pant length

A few weeks ago, Belle linked to my 2009 guide to pant length and one of her commenters pointed out that although much of the post was still relevant, styles had changed. It’s five years later and ankle pants are almost more common than full-length, so some of my tips are definitely outdated. And since puzzling out pant hemlines is something that many women struggle with on the regular, I thought I’d take this opportunity to refresh and revise that post for 2014!

First and foremost, different pant lengths suit different shoes. Those slacks that look killer with your ballet flats are gonna look downright goofy with your platform slingbacks. Those jeans you love to wear with your stack-heeled boots are going to appear utterly preposterous when you throw them on with flip-flops. When you’re on the hunt for new pants, be sure to bring the shoes you intend to wear with them into the fitting room. Otherwise, it’s a total crap shoot. More on the pant hem dilemma right here.

Also, you’ll encounter different length challenges depending on the style of leg. Skinnies bunch, widelegs engulf, straightlegs pull, and on and on. Yet another reason to bring or wear the appropriate shoes when trying on potential new pants.

And finally, while extra length can be dealt with, lack of length is far trickier. If you unearth a pair that fits you gloriously and suits your budget but is miles too long, a tailor can rescue you quite easily. Gorgeous pants that are meant to be full-length yet expose your ankles will be tough to lengthen to acceptable proportions.

Now let’s see some visuals:

Full-length pants too short for heels

Full length pants that are too short for heels

Here we see a trouser-style dress pant with a crease and fairly wide leg opening worn with heels. They are riding several inches above the floor and showing almost the entire foot. This means that by current standards, they are too short.

Full-length pants too long for heels

Full length pants that are too long for heels

Pants that are too long are often wide-legged or flared, like these pairs of jeans. If the hem covers the entire front of the foot and makes the wearer appear to be footless, they are too long. And, actually, this applies regardless of whether the shoes are heels or flats! We need to see at least a peek of foot.

Full-length pants at correct length for heels

full_length_pant

If you’re doing full-length pants or trousers with heeled shoes, they should look like this. In my opinion, pants should not graze the floor, as that’s just asking to ruin your hems. About one inch above the floor when you’re standing straight will work just fine. See how just the tip of the toe peeks out? And in the back view, see how about an inch of the heel is showing? Conditions are perfect.

Full-length pants at correct length for flats

full_length_flats

These guys are a little closer to sweeping the ground, so you could certainly go up a half-inch or so. You still want the hem to be pretty darned close to the floor if your pants are meant to be full-length, even if your shoes are flat or almost-flat.

Now, both of these pairs have fairly wide legs, although one pair is formal and one casual. Things get trickier if you’re doing slimmer styles like straight legs because the opening at the hem may ride on the bridge of your foot.

Straight leg pants with heels and flats

straight leg pants with heels and flats

Here are straight leg pants worn with both heels and flats. If the pants on the left were any longer they’d bunch over the bridge of the foot and get caught on the back of the shoe. If the pants on the right were any longer, they’d bunch over the bridge of the foot and drag on the ground. So: Better that your straight-legs ride a little higher than your trousers to prevent awkward encounters with your feet and the floor. But since we want full-length pants – especially dressy ones worn for professional purposes – to appear longer than this, straight legs may look a little less elegant. My guess is that ankle-length and cropped pants gained popularity because they look intentionally short instead of shrunk-in-the-wash short, which can happen with certain straight legs. And so …

Ankle pants at correct length for heels

Ankle pants at correct length for heels

SUCH a subtle difference between the straight legs above and these ankle-length pants, I know. And in some cases how high a pair of pants rides at the waist and how high your heels are may nudge them over the edge into ankle-length or just-a-touch-too-short-length. In my opinion, the key here is that we see the entire bridge of the foot and the hem hits at ankle height. You can go a bit higher or lower than this, too, and still be in ankle-length territory. Notice that one of the key differences between these ankle-length pants and the straight legs above is that this pair is slightly tapered.

Ankle pants at correct length for flats

Ankle pants at correct length for flats

If you’re doing flats with your ankle pants, ideally they should show a bit more ankle. Why? Because when they’re longer they’ll look just like the straight-legs above. Ankle-length pants are meant to look a bit short and show a little peek of skin. When you’re wearing flat shoes and the bridge of your foot is parallel to the ground and therefore downplayed, showing more of your ankle makes this style of pant look fun and intentional. This is especially true if you go for oxfords which cover your foot entirely. 

Skinny pants that are too long

Skinny pants that are too long

These are very mild examples, but show the issues that can arise with truly skinny pants. Now, if you’re tucking into boots, your skinnies can be miles too long and it won’t matter a bit. Cuff them and tuck them into your socks. Bam. But if you’re wearing super slim-fitting pants with heels and they bunch up at your ankles, they will look too long. If you’re doing skinnies with flats, same deal. With denim and pants made from fabrics that are slightly stiff, you can just tuck some of the pant length back into the pant leg itself for a French cuff and no one will be the wiser. No hemming needed, no bunching visible.

Skinny pants at correct length

skinny pants right length

Skinny pants that are worn untucked with either heels or flats will look the most polished and chic worn at ankle length or above. No bunching, no knocking into your foot’s bridge, a clean, neat finish.

Fit issues with full-length tapered styles

Fit issues with tapered pants

Based on what I’ve read and seen, full-length, slouchy, pleated, tapered pants are meant to pool a little at the ankle, so the pair on the left is fine. The pair on the right is tapered but not skin-tight at the ankle, so tucking it into ankle boots looks a bit off. There’s some pooching and bunching, and the curve of the ankle is obscured. Probably better to untuck your tapered pants or even cuff them so they hit at ankle height or above instead. Which segues nicely into …

Detailed hemlines make pants look intentional

gather_tie_cuff

Shorter length pants with gathers, ties, and cuffs are GREAT options because they broadcast intentionality. The bottom line is that no matter how long or short your pants are, you want to look like you’ve chosen their length on purpose. They’re not this long because you’re wearing your heels-length pants with flats today and they’re not this short because they’ve had an encounter with Hot Dryer. When they’re finished with hemline details, you’re telling the world that you know exactly how long your pants are meant to be and exactly where you’d like them to hit on your leg line.

Is all this written in stone? Will you burst into flames if you don’t follow these guidelines to the letter, measuring down to the centimeter where your pant hem hits on your ankle or foot’s bridge? Am I saying that these are the only ways to wear any kinds of pants correctly? Is getting your pant length just right going to make or break you as a fashionable person? No. Also no. Hells no. And allow me to give you a giant heaping pile of NO. The Pant Hem Police are especially lax these days because SO much comes down to personal style and preferences, and even if they weren’t this is seriously nit-picky, granular stuff. But since questions about the “right” length for various styles of pants worn with various styles/heights of shoes are posed to me on a near-weekly basis by clients, readers, and Corset customers, I wanted to outline the current guidelines as I understand and employ them myself. None of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

So! Was this helpful? Do the guidelines make sense? What combinations of pant-length and shoe-style are you most likely to wear? Are you wearing ankle-length pants these days? They certainly are the dominant style, it seems. Anything you’d add? Anyone wearing straight-legs and have some additional input for making them look great? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments!

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All images courtesy Nordstrom

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Reader Request: Styling a Denim Jacket

how to style a denim jacket

Reader Laurel sent this request to me via e-mail:

I was wondering if you would be willing to do a post about how to style jean jackets. With Spring finally starting to thaw, the season of lightweight jackets is upon us, and with ’90s fashion being a big trend right now, I’ve been looking at my jean jacket again, but really don’t know what to do with it. Mine is your kind of typical jean jacket – medium wash, hits at the waist, a little boxy – definitely not high fashion. Any suggestions?

I remember including a denim jacket on my own personal wardrobe must-have list a couple of years ago and having several readers laugh at me. But I’ve stuck to my denim-y guns! My jean jacket doesn’t get loads of wear, but I’ve had the same one for several years and I end up reaching for it at least a couple of times per season. Here are my tips for making a denim jacket look chic and contemporary.

Make sure it fits

So Laurel may curse me for saying this, but that standard-issue 90s denim jacket in all it’s glorious boxiness? It’ll be harder to style than an updated version. Denim is stiff and thick, so few jackets will truly hug your figure, but the ones on the racks now will be a bit more fitted than many vintage styles. Boxy jackets are big for spring, of course, and there are ways to make them work … but if your jean jacket really swamps your figure or totally masks your curves and you’d rather show your body’s form a bit more, springing for an updated one might help. Even thrifting a jacket that was made in the past two to three years may help.

Consider proportion

Since even denim jackets with spandex and princess seams will fit a little loose and boxy on most folks, heeding the proportions of your outfit is key. In most cases, this means making sure your bottom half is relatively well defined, either by a slim pair of pants or a skirt that shows a little leg. Depending on how it fits and how you’re built, your jacket may work beautifully with flowy bottoms, too, like maxi skirts and wide-legged pants. But if you find that you look a little square and curve-free up top, consider balancing the boxy with a figure-highlighting bottom.

Play with juxtaposition

Denim jackets are quintessentially rugged and casual, which means they work wonderfully paired with items that are a bit dressy, frilly, or otherwise not-rugged and casual. Try your denim jacket with a floaty sundress or a sequined tee and miniskirt. Do a fluid blouse and tuxedo pants or a diaphanous tiered maxi dress. Anything that’s traditionally feminine or sparkly or the antithesis of utilitarian Americana.

Go West

Since warm weather is on its way, my inner cowgirl is clawing to get out and I do love seeing denim jackets in Western mixes. Think Sundance Catalog, with long necklaces, dusty boots, and piles of bracelets. Or go for a weathered graphic tee, chino skirt, and fun sandals. Anything that draws in a little bit of rugged ranch life and a little bit of sleek urban chic.

Embrace the unexpected

Looking back over some of my own outfits, I found that I’ve tended to pair my denim jacket with my weird pants. Case in point: The outfit above. I love those pants, but they are definitely cargo sweats with a REALLY tall ankle cuff. Denim jackets are classic and ever so American, so they can work really well with arty, funky, sculptural pieces. So long as the proportions work, that is.

Would love your input, too, of course! How do you style your denim jacket? Is this a classic piece in your opinion, or one you can live without? Other tips for making jean jackets look contemporary?

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Making the Most of Your Wardrobe with a Changing Body

weightchange_with text

Since high school, my body has gone from a size 16 and 200 pound body to a size 10/12 and 150 pound body, and bounced up to a size 20 and 235 pound body.  Currently, I’m hovering around a size 18 and about my high school weight.  I’ve been on the path to developing a healthy and fit body, whatever that size may be. (Above: the same two dresses, two size different sizes… and not a whole lot of difference.)

This means that over the last 10 years, my closet has gone through some dramatic overhauls– ones that I’d like to prevent happening in my future.  It’s hard for me to practice what I preach of buying quality, beautiful garments I’ll keep forever when I can’t fit into them 4 years later.

I’m not sure if this bouncing is drastic for most women, but I imagine when you consider aging and pregnancy, that it’s not unusual for women to go through some dramatic weight shifts over the course of their lives.  And like most women, I’m on a budget: I don’t have the time or money to replace my wardrobe entirely each time my body goes up or down a size.

Knits:

Knits are lovely. They’re easy to care for and are generally more forgiving fit wise than non-stretch fabrics can be.  In my experience, you can also get more size range out of a knit piece than a rayon or silk one.  My size Large Gap t-shirt may fitted at a size 16, become relaxed at a size 14, and loose on a size 12 body.  The stretch and ease makes it easier to accommodate subtle shifts in your body, without making you feel self-conscious. There are many wonderful knits that can dress up or down (like linen knits or ponte knits).  This helps keep your wardrobe look more polished while your body changes.

Shop: Trashy Diva Jenny Dress; eShakti knit tops; City Chic Ponte Knit pieces

Elastic Waists:

Not just for ya gramma!  It took me a while to accept elastic waists, and occasionally I still feel a bit dumpy or insecure in them.  WHICH IS RIDICULOUS. Overall, a bit of elastic can go a long ways for helping with fit.  I love a dress with a little slip of elastic in the waist, or a skirt with a back panel of elastic.  It creates ease and comfort when sitting, especially in more structured or stiff fabrics. It also makes it easier for skirts to transition between sizes– an elastic waistband with a fuller skirt can help you transition between sizes easily.

Shop: ASOS Curve Shirt Dress

Shape & Silhouette:

As much as I love a 1940s shape, it’s very fitted and defined.  If it’s too big or too small, it’s not quite as forgiving as a shirt dress, swing dress, or wrap dress.  A playful circle skirt can be worn at your natural waist and then shift to your hips (or vice versa) with a loss or gain in weight.

In general, I’m haven’t been a fan of wearing oversized pieces– it reminds me of high school Ashley who wore XL and XXL t-shirts to hide her body.  That being said, I’ve begun to love a loose button-up blouse because it has a little bit of Katherine Hepburn-esque ease and class, while giving me flexibility to create a better silhouette.

Shop: ASOS Curve Swing Dress; Modcloth Grand Tour Top

Belts & Layers:

If the weather permits, layers can be a great way to disguise a piece during a transitional period. A cardigan over a button-up top can hide a button that keeps popping open or that a shirt has become baggy and shows your bra (because face it: these things happen to ALL of us).  A pretty camisole can make a button-up blouse or dress wearable in a pinch when your bust outgrows the shirt.

Similarly, a belt, simple as it may be, can help hold up the skirt that has gotten a little too loose, or add definition to a swing dress.  It can pull together two voluminous pieces (like a circle skirt & blouse).

Shop: ASOS Belts;

These are the ways that I’ve been maneuvering through my weight loss while keeping my wardrobe feeling fresh and “put together.”  When I’ve picked up new pieces, I’ve purchased them with transition in mind: how can this be styled to fit a shrinking body (or if I slip up and gain a few pounds).

Whether you’ve gone through bodily changes due to pregnancy, illness, weight gain or loss, I’d love to hear how you’ve made your wardrobe work through the changes!

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Call her Ash, Ashe, or Ashley– she doesn’t mind! Already Pretty contributor Ashley began blogging in 2007 about fashion and style to fill a void in her life while living in the wintery tundra of Indiana. Her blog Dramatis Personae focuses on food, life & style.  As a plus-sized woman, she loves promoting fashion for all women and shops that want to make all ladies feel beautiful.

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