Skirting the Issue
Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are. - Quentin Crisp
So wouldn't you agree that the lithe and lovely Ms. Paltrow looks far more elegant, but no less sexy, in the longer skirt? And if an award-winning actress with a splendid figure and access to professional stylists can be rendered "less than her best" by the whims of current fashion, then how do we regular folks stay fashionable, without becoming fashion victims?
Being "on trend" today means wearing your skirt 5 inches above your knee, a la "The Real Housewives." But should you? Shapely legs and dress codes aside, will that short skirt actually create a flattering -- both becoming and appropriate -- overall look?
Allow me to demonstrate:
Which skirt length do you think looks best? Or, more precisely, which is most becoming to me, the wearer? Keep in mind the wearer here is a middle-aged mother of three, and not an ingenue, movie star, or exotic dancer.
Unretouched photos were taken using a tripod and timer. I stood on a marked spot each time, and did my best to strike a similar pose.
Surprisingly, I did not grow progressively sleeker with each drop of the hemline. Rather, as the Project Runway judges like to say, it's all about proportion. This means that blanket statements like "I only look good in short skirts" or "I can't wear short skirts" don't hold true. The reality is more subtle.
I'd say A and B both qualify as short skirts. But look at my waist! The more reasonable View-B length is not nearly as flattering as the almost-obscene View-A length. A mere 2 inches (5cm) make quite a difference. Why? Look at the shapes.
The View-B skirt and top are the same length, forming squares -- one over my hips, one over my torso. Together, they shorten and widen me. No, thanks.
So should I opt for View A? Well, just because you can doesn't mean you should. And unless I'm planning to end my evening with an exchange of payment, well, that's not an appropriate look for me at this stage of the game.
View C is fine. No one would call me frumpy or arrest me for solicitation. But is it as good as it can get? Perhaps at a distance, but not up close. My lumpy knees do not need highlighting, and because the skirt ends right at the trouble zone, it calls attention there. Sure, View A exposes those same knees, but that's not what you're looking at, is it?
All things considered, I'd argue that view D is the most flattering option.*
This proportion phenomenon holds true regardless of your size, your height, and whatever figure specifics you consider your finest feature or fatal flaw. Your shape is uniquely yours. What flatters me might not do the same for you. And, vice versa.
Still, while length, waistline and hemline placement, and fabric type and pattern need tweaking for each of us, there are a few universal truths. And one of these is that absolutely no one looks good in a box.
And if your skirt is a square -- straight from hip to hem and wide as it is long -- it probably will not flatter. Wear a box, you look boxy.
I can't offer you examples from my own closet, as I've gone through and had every boxy skirt pegged by my seamstress -- an easy, inexpensive fix well worth the time and money.
And while I've found several excellent examples of less-than-flattering skirts on fashion and sewing blogs (and have had fun lengthening and tapering them in PhotoShop), I don't think the owners would appreciate my using those before and after images as illustration.
Instead, look at this woman:
Doesn't she look terrific? Proof positive that a slim skirt does not require a particularly slim wearer.
Now, here she is with her skirt PhotoShop'd to form a straight line from hip to hem:
The elongating, figure-defining effect is lost. She goes from curvy to dumpy dowdy. Now imagine that straight line stopping 5 inches above her knee, forming a box shape over her hips. Not good.
So buyer beware. Just because something is advertised as a pencil skirt, doesn't mean it will act like one:
To qualify, the cut must be long enough, and narrow enough, all the way down, to flatter. You want a brand new, sharpened pencil, not a nub. The exact cut will depend on the width of your hips, relative to your thighs, calves and ankles.
A straight skirt falling from wide hips over narrow calves will create a flapping sail of stiff fabric that makes you look larger. A gentle taper will serve to balance you out. Conversely, if you have a boyish, straight shape, then a slightly shorter, straighter cut, so long as it's chicly snug (no pulling across the belly or bottom), will work better for you, adding a bit of curve.
Women tend to prefer looser-fitting, boxier, straight skirts because they provide ease of movement. It's hard to run in a tapered or properly fitted skirt, true. But that's why we have workout clothes. You don't need to be quite so comfortable with your real clothes on. No, you don't want to be hobbled or walk like a penguin. But unless you're running from the law, you needn't take enormous steps.
* In the best of all possible worlds, there would be a view E. It would be a couple inches longer, just as narrow, and place the emphasis on the slimmest, rather than the fullest, part of my (ample) calves, like this:
But considering my skirt cost $19, is machine washable, serves as a stand-in neutral bottom for Lola the Mannequin, and coordinates with everything from silk blouses to floppy sweaters, I will live with its slight length imperfection and enjoy it as long as it lasts. It is not vintage. I anticipate a relatively brief affair.