The Way of Skirts

“A good sermon should be like a woman’s skirt:
short enough to arouse interest
but long enough to cover the essentials.”
~Ronald Knox~

My fascination for skirts is renewed every season as skirts remain an all time favorite item of clothing worldwide. Interestingly, skirts have been around since the evolution of mankind. The rectangular piece of animal skin, leaves interwoven together and the earliest form of fabric – loosely woven tartans; all used to be wrapped around the waist and were the initial basic form of skirts.

chinese mini-skirtIn fact the first recorded use of skirts was in 3900 B.C. in Armenia. Now get this, the first mini-skirts were  worn by the Miao people of southwest China in the early 1700s, perhaps even earlier. The Duan Qun Miao, which literally meant “short skirt Miao” in Chinese and was in reference to the short miniskirts “that barely cover the buttocks” worn by women of the tribe.

The skirt is a garment so distinctly feminine that in the 1800s, the word itself was slang for woman. For hundreds of years, a long skirt was the very definition of luxury, mainly because fabric was so expensive. Women wore long skirts mostly as a matter of modesty and prestige. The narrowness of a woman’s waist was a sign of beauty and status, hence the fashion of expanding the skirts through hoops and petticoats and perhaps even a padded derriere

Beginning around 1915, hemlines for daytime dresses left the floor for good and for the next fifty years, hemlines went up, then down, and then up again. Since the 1970s  no one skirt length has dominated fashion for long, with short and ankle-length styles often appearing side-by-side in fashion magazines and catalogs. You can read a more comprehensive history of skirts here and here.

Today, a skirt’s design is all about personal style. Skirts, like pants, are a great wardrobe expander. The wide variety of shapes, styles and lengths; coupled with an almost limitless array of fabrics, colors, patterns and textures means there’s a skirt for every occasion, personality, age and body shape.

My Private Stylist from Image Innovators is Sister House’s recommended source for much of the below information on styling

Fit is Paramount

Great fit is just as important as buying the right style for your shape. Ignore the size on the label as there is no consistency of size between labels – correct fit is what matters most. If the number on the label worries you – cut it off.

Constant creasing is often blamed on poor fabric quality when often poor fit is often the culprit.

When you are in the fitting room go through the following fit checks:
• Expect that the skirt may need to be altered to fit you perfectly. Alterations can make all the different to the look and comfort of the skirt. If they are required, have them done without delay. I’d go so far as to say, do not to take them out of your car unless they are going into the alteration store.
• If the skirt is fitted or straight, fit the hips first; generally everything else can be altered to fit.
• Bend, stretch and move – if you feel the need to pull-down or rearrange your skirt after sitting or walking, select another style or go up one size.
• There should be enough ease for you to be able to place two fingers comfortably in the waistband and be able to slide the skirt 360 degrees around your body.
• Panty lines should not be visible.

Two Basic Shapes

There are two basic skirt shapes:
1. Straight
2. A-Line
From these basic shapes all skirt styles arise.

basic skirt shapesStraight

Seen every day in every situation straight skirts and their derviatives classic and timeless. Their clean shape co-ordinates easily with a multitude of tops and jackets and when the hem is at, or just above the knee. As long as they are not too fitted/tight they are unobtrusive and appropriate for most business environments and flattering on most women.

Each can be transformed by fashion into many different looks through the use of fabric, fit and embellishments. From casual in a chunky knee length tweed, to elegant and formal in a calf length silk to a sensual number if a thigh high split is added. The longer a straight skirt is the more it will restrict movement. To compensate for this vents or side-splits are added or they are styled as a wrap.

Classic styles derived from the straight skirt are pencil and contoured styles. As they becomes more fitted the look becomes sleek and sexy and as such are best reserved for non-business occasions. Some straight styles include: tulip, wrap, sarong, tiered, fishtail, peplum and pleated.

straight skirt stylesA-Line

Named after their shape, A-line skirts allow unrestricted movement. The wider the A shape the shorter in height you may appear and this visual shortening in turn can result in making the you appear wider/heavier. The taller, more slender and long legged the wearer is the more flattering a full A-line skirt will appear. If you are not blessed with height, long legs or a slender figure opt for subtle A-lines and add medium to high heels and you’ll look every bit as good as your long legged friends.

Some A-line styles include: gathered, inverted front pleat, circle, wrap, kilt, godet, bubble and dirndl.

a-line skirt variations


Skirt Vocabulary

Knowing the basic skirt shape is just the beginning. The variations are endless and each particular shape is a fashion statement until itself as we see below. Pick the silhouette that compliments your shape. Click here for a description of each skirt shape.

skirt vocabulatoryKey Elements


Today skirts can have many different shaped hemlines. Straight remains the only shape that is classic – everything else will eventually fall out of fashion. If your legs are not your best asset fancy hemlines will not be a good choice for you as they are often become the focal point of your outfit – highlighting your legs. To counteract this add hosiery in a color that will minimse the color contrast between the hemline and your legs.

skirt hemline stylesWaistbands

Like hemlines, waistbands are best plain or not present as in the case of waistbandless skirts. If you have any mid torso challenges only the plainest of waistbands will be the ones to choose. Ties, belts and fancy waistbands all require short or tucked in tops and will add awkard bulk if any tops are worn over them.  Waistbandless skirts give a clean line and elongate the torso however; they do have a tendency to stretch over time.

waistbandless skirts


Your best skirt length will depend on:
• the length of your legs,
• if you have any leg challenges i.e large calves, knobbly knees etc.
• the style, toe shape and height of your shoe
• the color contrast created between your hemline, legs and shoes.

Although the picture below was created for another purpose, there’s a certain amount of truth to be learned when you think about it.

Skirt lengths

Long skirts look best on tall and long legged women. They can work for almost everyone else if medium to high heels are worn.

Skirts which skim the top of the knee are always current, appropriate and flattering on almost every woman. If you are concerned about the look of your knees or legs, wear for hosiery that blends with the color of your hemline, legs and shoes.

When mini shirts are in fashion, for modesty opt for skirts that are longer than they are wide. By adding opaque hosiery a short hemline can be made to appear more modest and flattering.

Experiment by combining different hem lengths and shoe styles, heel heights and hosiery colors. A multitude of challenges can be camouflaged with skilful coordination.

skirts with hose


While skirts can be any color it is only the neutral range of colors that are truly versatile. Color affects both your apparent proportions and weight. A light or bright colored long skirt will focus attention on the lower half of the body making the wearer appear shorter and wider. Darker colors recede and visually slim the hips, thighs and backside.

Short skirts in light colors appear to be shorter than they really are and are best worn slightly a little longer to compensate, while dark colored short skirts have the opposite effect and thus can be worn slightly shorter. The more color difference there is between your skirt and legs the more attention will be focused on your legs, especially at the hemline.

skirt colors-neutralPattern and Texture

Skirts with bold patterns, particularly checks and wide stripes can be difficult to pull-off if you are not slim or tall. If patterned skirts are your thing and you have a full lower body for opt colors and patterns that are subtle and match with a top that carries one of the colours upward, or wear white with a statement necklace.

The use of evening fabrics will transform a skirt from day wear to evening wear.
Texture tends to increase perceived weight and in most cases immediately places the skirt into a new image. For example a straight skirt in high quality, lightweight wool can move freely from the office to home to evening wear, whereas if it is in tweed immediately it will take on a country, casual air relegating it to the weekends. Shiny textured surfaces in the same way render the skirt too glamorous for most work environments.

skirts with patternsFabrics for skirts

The fabric of the skirt largely depends on the season. If you are wearing a skirt in summers, it will be in
• Light to Medium weight 100% cotton fabrics such as poplin, sheeting, linen or denims in 5 oz. to 8.oz.
• A few kinds of skirts are also made in the lighter weight cotton like cambric and voile or in polyester fabrics like georgettes, chiffons or net. However, skirts made in light weight and transparent fabrics are normally lined to provide additional strength and prevent too much transparency. Also due to the fabric strength limitation, these are normally not converted into very tight fitting designs.
• For the colder months, skirts may be made in heavier weight cotton fabrics such as canvas, twills and denims in weight 8 oz. to 12 oz. heavier weights and tighter constructions of poplins and sheetings are also common.
• Warmer fabrics which are less permeable and trap air like silk, satin, taffeta or heavier fabrics like worsted wool , different wales corduroy, uncut corduroy, velvet are also good choices for skirts for colder months. To give added warmth to the wearer, skirts can also be teamed up with leggings and stockings.
• Skirts in knit fabrics such as cotton, viscose or a blend of viscose/lycra, cotton lycra are also very popular. Knit gives the benefit of taking the shape of the wearer.

Now that you know all the basics about skirts, head on over to the Library How To Section and learn How to Choose the Right Skirt for your Figure.

But wait, there’s more. Choosing the right shoe for your skirt length is also important to create just that right look. Imogene Lamport from the insideoutstyle blog gives us some helpful hints in the infographic and notes below.

skirt length and shoe guide


Mini or Above the Knee on the Mid-Thigh – best shoes are flat, the only exception would be an ankle bootie style.

On the Knee – here you can get away with both flats and heels

Below the Knee on the top of the Calf – as we don’t see you knees you start needing some leg lengthening heel, or at least a wedge/platform

Mid calf or Midi length – now we really get the leg shortening of this skirt (or cropped pant) length, so go for heels, wedges or a boot with heels

Maxi – because this is full length you can easily wear a flat shoe or wedge, no need for heels, unless you want to wear them.

Final Points

• Choose lengths that best suit you; do not be persuaded by a designer’s whim or a girl friends nagging to wear anything else.
• Lined skirts last longer and look better – buy them whenever possible.
• Wear jackets/sweaters and skirts that are well proportioned to each other. Long over short or short over long. Skirt and jacket combinations that are exactly 50/50 are in most cases uninspired and boring.
• Shoes with low vamps (exposes lots of foot), fine to medium soles and heels, and slightly pointed shoes will all make legs look slimmer and longer.
• Discover what styles suit your shape and you’ll find shopping and looking great everyday easier than you ever imagined. My Private Stylist is the only online style program that will teach you about all the aspects of all garments and accessories that will best suit you. See our ad in the Dressing Room.


Image Acknowledgements:
• Gilt
• SSence
• Shop Style



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