Posts Categorized: tutorial

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 It’s five years later and ankle pants are almost more common than full-length, so some of my tips are definitely outdated.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


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


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


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: Boho Professional

Reader Lena made a request on the AP Facebook page for some Boho professional options. “Harem pants go to work!” she said. Shortly thereafter, Alison at Wardrobe Oxygen did a fabulous post on the very same topic, so I’ve GOTTA point you there, too. (Especially since Allie has a much broader Boho streak than I do.) But I’m happy to weigh in as well!

Certain Bohemian staples just won’t fly in many office environments: Torn or super faded jeans, broomstick skirts, and blousy tunics can work in creative or casual environments, but only the most flexible of business casual offices will accept them on days that aren’t Casual Fridays. But plenty of other Boho faves can be mixed with conservative and structured pieces to create office-friendly looks. Let’s peek at some examples:

Boho at the Office 1

A dress with a fairly Boho print – bold paisley – in a floaty, diaphanous material can work in professional settings if the dress design is trim and neat. Add a structured blazer to the mix to create balance and pick boots or shoes that are more sleek than casual. Then duck back in with accessories like a voluminous scarf and some beaded, dangly earrings to inject a bit more boho into your look. Keeping your palette in warm tones also keeps the vibe going, as cool and super bright colors don’t generally work with this aesthetic.

Boho at the Office 2

Cool tones are not impossible, of course, and using gray as your neutral means you can bring some lovely greens or blues into the mix. A great way to do Boho at the office is to create a fairly conservative backdrop – a flowy cardigan may lend a little Stevie Nicks to your look, but a stately silk shell and classic wide-legged slacks are more subdued – and then layer on some amazing jewelry. An outsized pendant and chunky cuff bracelet can both work in this mix since everything else is so understated. Pick smaller earrings, though, so you don’t hit jewelry overload.

Boho at the Office 3

Maxi dresses just won’t fly at many offices, but if you can get away with them at yours and want to try for a Boho-professional mix, go one of two routes: Pick a maxi with a fairly straight skirt and slim fit (like the one shown here) but in a relatively heavy, non-clingy material like ponte. With this sleek piece as your focal point, you can add a drapey jacket or cardigan, embellished belt, and funky lace-up boots which will just peek out at your hemline. A chunky necklace works in this mix, too. OR if the maxi dress you’ve picked is flowy and/or printed, tone it down with a solid colored jacket, blazer, or cardigan. Pick classic or conservative footwear like flats or pumps and keep jewelry simple to balance out the major shot of Boho that such a dress provides.

Other notes:

  • Use blazers and jackets to add structure to otherwise flowy mixes. They will inject work-friendliness into most outfits.
  • Try to limit yourself to one flowy, diaphanous item per ensemble. Two can sometimes work depending on the mix, but be careful you don’t swamp your figure.
  • As noted above, jewelry and accessories will be key and can make an otherwise plain outfit feel wonderfully arty and Bohemian.
  • Scarves add softness and flow, and are a great addition to outfits of this kind.
  • Boots of just about any kind will enhance a Boho vibe. So long as the rest of the outfit has prints, accessories, or other hints at this aesthetic, lace-ups, knee-highs, booties, grannies, slouches, just about every style of boot will augment the feel. (Cowgirls are questionable in many workplaces, though, so beware.)
  • Use prints sparingly and balance them with solids. This style utilizes so many lovely prints, but print overload may feel too wild for some working environments.

Since I’m not a terribly Boho gal myself, I’ll stop right there. I’d love to hear from those of you who gravitate toward this aesthetic! How do YOU do Boho professional?

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Picking Your Cold-weather Dressing Battles

Already Pretty outfit featuring striped dress, black cardigan, magenta tights, Rebecca Minkoff Logan, Gudrun Sjödén scarf

Lovely reader Mary e-mailed me lamenting the dearth of long-sleeved garments available today. I have DEFINITELY noticed that long sleeves are in short supply, especially when it comes to dresses but also among tops, many of which tend toward 3/4 instead of full sleeves. I know this irritates many of you readers, including plenty of folks who live in climates warmer than mine! I haven’t been able to find any research or confirmation, but my theory is that this shift to shorter or no sleeves is related to our country’s obsession with youth. Short-sleeved and sleeveless garments seem to be marketed to younger women who aren’t as self-conscious about their arms (supposedly). Older gals are left to either wear those same styles in hopes of emulating their younger counterparts, or scramble to find the limited sleeved options on the market. Mary pointed out that cost savings for the manufacturers may also factor in.

She went on to ask, “What do you suggest for a woman who wants to stay warm yet look good?”

Looking good is subjective and staying warm is relative, of course. In my experience, most women who lament winter dressing options do so because piling on loads of layers in order to keep your body warm adds bulk and volume to your outfits. Assuming this is the primary concern – balancing bodily warmth with visible bulk – I suggest you pick your cold-weather dressing battles.

Most humans have Cold Weather Weak Spots – body parts and areas that MUST be covered in order for the body to feel warm and comfortable. Common ones are hands, feet, and necks, but anything is fair game. In Mary’s case, she is hella warmer in actual long sleeves than 3/4 ones; She needs her arms covered to feel truly warm. In my case, it all comes down to my feet and neck. My legs don’t get terribly cold and my core is usually just fine so long as my extremities are covered. When my feet and neck are warm, most of the rest of me is just fine. So I’m totally willing to go out in a shortish skirt, 3/4-sleeve top, and tights so long as I’ve got warm boots and a scarf on. I will admit that I do frequently wear sleeveless dresses under my blazers and cardigans because they’re what I have on-hand, but also because my blazer sleeves fit better when I do. If I cover my neck and feet/ankles, I’m usually fine.

If, like Mary, your arms need to be covered to keep you truly warm, stick to full-sleeved blazers and sweaters and consider compromises elsewhere, like lower necklines or tights with skirts instead of pants. If your core needs to be covered and warm, go for warm, wooly sweaters but pair them with fitted bottoms like pencil skirts or slim-fitting jeans. If your lower half is the danger zone, wear longjohns and pants but try for a fitted blazer on top. The same principles apply here as do whenever you’re dealing with voluminous garments: If you do volume in one half of your body, do sleek in the other.

(An aside that has nothing to do with volume or proportion: Investing in fibers like silk and cashmere will definitely help. Both add minimal bulk and help you retain body heat better than cotton and poly blends, and are less itchy than wool. Possibly excepting merino, which can be pretty darned soft. But we’re mostly focused on coverage and balance, here, so you can read more about my fiber recommendations here.)

NOW. This is all fine and good so long as “cold weather” means “around 20 degrees or warmer,” at least in my case. My Cold Weather Weak Spots theory only holds true so long as it’s cold but not my-snot-has-frozen-inside-my-nostrils cold. If your climate regularly gets so cold that the weather gurus issue wind chill warnings OR if you are just plain freezing all winter long and being warm is your top priority, I suggest investing in a few Whatever Sweaters: Sweaters so big, thick, and warm that they can handle subzero temps. You can see mine here, here, and here. They are super bulky and super warm and I bust them out when temps hit the negative digits. (Most are foreign-born or handmade. Try Aran Sweater Market, Etsy, or Nordicstore if you can’t find anything locally.) You’ll notice that I still pair them with fitted bottoms – thick leggings, skinnies, and jeggings – and I definitely encourage you to do the same whenever possible. Whatever Sweaters can still work within the volume/sleekness balance principle. But if your legs need more coverage, go for it – jeans and silk longjohns make a great team.

Bottom line: If you’re miserable and freezing you won’t look your best no matter WHAT you’re wearing. If you can identify your Cold Weather Weak Spots and keep them covered while compromising elsewhere, do it. Pick your cold weather dressing battles. If it’s horrifyingly cold or you only feel comfortable when you’re encased in wool, silk, and loads of layers, that’s totally fine. Winter is hard enough to endure without suffering for fashion.

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How many of you can name your Cold Weather Weak Spots right off the bat? Does keeping them covered mean you can go with less coverage elsewhere? Or are you someone who needs loads of layers and coverage at all times? Other resources for truly warm winter sweaters or other garb? Do tell!

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