Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tips & Tricks: How to Decide Your Ideal Skirt Length (Part 2)

Hi again, everybody! In my previous post I mentioned that one of the things I learned in my years in the "high-end rag trade" was how to size and fit my customers proportionally correctly.  Believe it or not, your 'ideal skirt length' is something you can figure out to an exact mathematically-perfect measurement.  It's worth taking the time to do, because you're going to present your most well-groomed, elegant self when your skirts are proportionally correct for your body.

In a female body with ideal leg proportions (like the cute gal at left), the length of the upper leg (top of hipbone to mid-kneecap) and the length of the lower leg (mid-kneecap to mid-ankle bone) would be identical numbers.  But this body type -- we'll call her the "neutral-shinner" -- is pretty rare.  Almost all of us have some significant difference between our upper leg and the lower leg measurements.  The most common "leg type" among American women is long upper leg-short lower leg, which is what I have.  Call us "short-shinners".  The less common leg type is short upper leg-long lower leg ("long-shinners"). 

The result of our varying leg proportions is that we don't all look equally fabulous in the same skirt lengths, and you're about to understand why.

Don't assume you know your leg proportions just because of your height, by the way.  Whether you're short-shinned or long-shinned is not connected to how tall you are.  Go grab your tape measure and take your leg measurements (with a helper, if needed).  Here's how to do it:
  • First, place your fingertip right on the protruding knobby outer part of your hipbone just below the navel.  (If you're having trouble finding this spot, think of your pelvic bone and hips as being shaped like a pair of "Mickey Mouse" ears, and now put your fingertip on the top outer edge of the Mickey Mouse ear.)
  • Next, take your measuring tape, and measure precisely from the place where your fingertip is resting on your hipbone straight down the outside of your leg to the middle of your kneecap.  This is your upper leg length.  Mine's 17 inches.
  • Now place your fingertip onto the middle of your kneecap -- right where you ended the upper leg measurement -- and slide your fingertip out carefully from there, in a straight line, to the outside edge of your kneecap.  Starting from that exact place, measure straight down to the middle of your ankle bone.  That's your lower leg length.  Mine's 13 inches.  I have 4 inches less leg on the bottom than on the top.  I am a classic short-shinner.
Now, try to imagine me in a skirt -- any style -- that hits me at my knee or hovers just below my knee.  No matter what shoes I am wearing, I will still look like I'm Ms. Frump standing in a hole.  This is because when you look at me, I'm all skirt.  Visually, my legs seem to appear out from underneath this long piece of fabric and abruptly disappear too soon!

I'll use myself as an example to illustrate how to use the formula for figuring out how long your skirts should be:
  • LONGER leg length (for me, that's the upper leg at 17 inches) minus SHORTER leg length (for me, that's the lower leg at 13 inches) = DIFFERENCE (for me, 4 inches) -- This is the "discrepancy" between your leg proportions.
  • Half of DIFFERENCE (for me, 4) = YOUR MAGIC NUMBER.  For me, the MAGIC NUMBER is 2 inches -- In other words, if my shins were 2 inches longer and my thighs were 2 inches shorter, my upper and lower legs would be perfectly proportional.
  • To VISUALLY correct your leg proportions if you're a short-shinner:  Raise your skirt hem ABOVE the middle of your kneecap exactly the same number of inches as your "MAGIC NUMBER."
  • To VISUALLY correct your leg proportions if you're a long-shinner:  Drop your hemline BELOW the middle of your kneecap by exactly the same number of inches as your "MAGIC NUMBER". 
      Thus, for me, if I place my skirt hem 2 inches above the middle of my kneecap, then when you look at my leg silhouette you see 50% skirt and 50% leg.  A visually-perfected, more eye-pleasing proportion!  When I figured this out,

      Once I understood my "MAGIC NUMBER", I applied it to all of my clothes.  Miniskirts and 5"-inseam shorts became my friends for life.  (And by the way, this little mystery was forever solved for me:  Why I Look Like Crap in Bermuda Shorts. ;-))  I do keep a couple of business suits hemmed just a shade longer because there are certainly situations in which we need to err on the side of conservative clothing. 

      If you're a long-shinner, you need to wear your skirts longer to visually correct the proportions of your short thighs and long shins.  You look great in Bermuda shorts, too, but not shorter shorts for the same mathematical and visual reason.

      Try these tips for yourselves, everybody.  I promise you it will change the way you strategically view your entire lower-body wardrobe.  Short-shinners, pin up some of your knee-length skirts.  Long-shinners, put away your 5" shorts and minis and try on a pair of Bermudas or a pencil skirt.  Now  look in the mirror at the difference.  Hem your skirts to your "correct length" if they need hemming.  Pay for it if you don't sew.  I'll tell you what I told my clothing customers for years:  If you pay top dollar for a great skirt and it looks mediocre on you, you've wasted every nickel.  But if you spend an extra $15 to have that skirt hemmed to the perfect length for your body, your off-the-rack great skirt will look like a $1,000 custom-tailored skirt. 
       
      That's the basics, y'all!  If you have any specific questions feel free to comment or e-mail me at jcauncmom@gmail.com.   Hope this has been a fun and helpful read, and happy measuring!!
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      33 comments:

      1. OMG. I am a long-shinner. That is why everyone and their brother says to wear pencil skirts. You have blown me away with this info! I always wondered why someone shorter than me would have a skirt be shorter than them than on me...because they are short shinners. Amazing info, all of which I appreciate. When I do a post on skirts (whenever that happens), I hope to remember to link to this post...

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      2. BTW, all grammar errors in the above comment are because it is late and all of my body (not just my long shins) are tired. ;)

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      3. More than fantastic-o. I have added this to my "helpful links" post on my blog.

        And not to worry. I don't completely cover my knee in the pursuit of looking more conservative for certain occasions. That's just dowdy on me. Now I know why ;-)

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      4. You're so welcome, everybody! I post here so infrequently that I really wondered whether anyone would see this. I know this tip's been ridiculously useful for me so I hope you'll all find it useful, too, and pass it along. Gi Gi, I never worry about your fashion savvy -- you have got it going ON. :-) And Dina, hope those gorgeous long shins got some rest!!!

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      5. This is great info! I am going to go measure right now! I just happened upon your site from another JCA link and am so excited to read your previous posts. Being a 50 YO College mom also, I have been looking for a blog that will focus on the more "mature" JCrew fan.

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      6. Hey TXMom! Always delighted to see another college mom, especially one who loves JC!! :-) Where do your kid(s) go to school?

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      7. Forgot to add for Gi Gi -- I hope I'm correctly spelling your name Gi Gi and not Gigi, but if not PLEASE sing out! I noticed on an e-mail from you that your name came thru spelled "Gi Gi" and I REALLY want to get this right, sweetie. Not only because it's polite but because you are one of my flat-out blog idols. ;-) Gi Gi Fan Club members, report here!!! LOL!

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      8. My son's a senior at UT (Texas) and freshman daughter at Harvard....I have a good friend with a Junior son at UNC. He absolutely LOVES it there. I am still only about two weeks into the "empty nester" mode and have been spending lots of time catching up on JCA news.

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      9. Aw, TXMom, I know how you're feeling about now! Our younger son has just started his sophomore year, and DS #1 is home (taking the MCAT today) but leaving next week for 10 weeks of rockclimbing and hiking and general cross-country putzing around with 3 of his college pals. So our nest will be empty again after a full summer. It wasn't an easy adjustment for me last year, but I kept myself busy (and the wonderful blogs I found helped a LOT) and after a month or two DH and I honestly began to enjoy ourselves. You will, too, if you're not already!

        Congratulations on obviously raising two very accomplished children! WONDERFUL colleges and wonderful college towns, too! My BFF (the long-shinner mentioned in my post :-)) has a 24-year-old daughter who graduated from UT-Austin last year and I cannot TELL you how much she, and they, adored Austin and the school. And one of DH's and my oldest pals (we've been friends with him and his wife for 30 years -- we were puppy lawyers all together) went to Harvard for 7 years), straight thru law school, and he ended up loving Harvard and Boston so much (even with the winters -- and this after he'd grown up in Jax, FLA!) that their daughter just couldn't help but go to Boston for college, too. She graduated from Northeastern last year and couldn't wait to find a job so that she could stay in Boston.

        Hope to see you around all the great JCA blogs! Are you writing one yourself? If so I'd love to "follow" you!

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      10. Wonderful information! I'm a short-shinner, too :) Nice to see you have a blog...I am now a follower! Thanks so much for sharing!

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      11. Another short shinner here: thank you for the great info! I usually avoid skirts because I can never find the "right" length. Now I feel more hopeful that I just might find a length that works for me!

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      12. Thanks for this--I think I know without measuring--I am a short-shinner-LOL! I already determined years ago that somehow I needed shorter skirts and shorts to look better yet it seemed strange for my height. Thanks for clearing things up!! Great read.

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      13. Wow! This post was so super informative. You gave such insightful and thoughtful tips about skirt lengths!!! Thank you for sharing. :)

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      14. Well, JCAUNCMom, I meausured and I am a short shinner, too. I haven't bought many JC skirts but now I know to try petite sizes since my magic number is 1 3/4. Very interesting!

        No blog for now, although it might be a good way to help fill the empty nester hours...unless I go back to work to help pay that tuition bill (and support my shopping habit)! How to combine the "empty nester-shopping-JCrew-cooking for two again" theme...?

        Luckily we live in Austin and see our DS fairly often, though not as much during football season as he is busy with school, his fraternity, Silver Spurs and going to as many games (home and away) that he can. It's hard having DD 2000 miles away, but as long as she's happy (and she is so far!), I'm happy.

        I have only commented here and there on the JCA blog...when I have been to the B&M in my area and seen something significant, but will try to contribute more. In fact, if I have time later today, I will post some comments on the "sizing blog". JCrew t-shirts in particular are hard to guess without trying on!More later.

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      15. Omg I love this post! Thanks so much for the info. I'll be pulling out my measuring tape tonight! Do you have any other tips on clothing lengths? Like were a mini
        should hit or a top?

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      16. Hi everybody! How fun to see you all enjoying this tip. :-)

        Shannon, I've got a few more tricks up my sleeve and I'll post them over the next couple of days.

        TXMom, love hearing more from you. I could TOTALLY have written this, new friend: "No blog for now, although it might be a good way to help fill the empty nester hours...unless I go back to work to help pay that tuition bill (and support my shopping habit)! How to combine the "empty nester-shopping-JCrew-cooking for two again" theme...?" So true, so true!! Looking forward to hearing your comments on JC sizing, too. It's tricky stuff, I find!

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      17. Thanks for the fantastic tip! I am going to get the tape out and measure with daughters help. I know, in advance that I must be a short-shinner due to that bermuda shorts look!

        Thanks again!

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      18. I passed along your tips to two friends in my swimming group this morning...they were very intrigued by the concept!

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      19. This is so interesting! I just measured and my upper and lower legs are the same length (there's like a .5" difference) - no wonder skirts that hit at my knee are the most flattering!

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      20. Very informative. I didn't know it scientifically, but this explains why i have had my skirts hemmed above the knee when taking them for alterations. Occasionally, i have had to have splits readjusted, too, for those really long pencil skirts.

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      21. Very helpful, thanks! This explains why my shorter pencil skirts look a little more flattering than my longer ones. While a short-shinner, I have been told I have very nice calves when wearing said pencil skirts!

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      22. HA! I would have sworn just from reading that I would be a long shinner given my height, 5'10" but after measuring I am a cool 18" above and below.

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      23. Read this with interest- it definitely makes sense! But I have one question- my measurements are almost exactly the same above and below (so I'm proportional). Does that mean skirts that hit mid-knee cap would be best? I've actually always felt like I can wear short skirts, longer, bermuda shorts, etc, but I'm confused! Thanks so much.

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      24. Hi ellis! If you (like MaryMoo) are exactly the same above and below the knee, you are SPECIAL, girl! :-) I can't remember anymore the percentage of American women with that even-steven proportion, but it's quite small. What that means for you is that you don't have to VISUALLY CORRECT anything with your skirt/shorts length, unlike long-shinners and short-shinners. You should be able to wear your skirts and shorts at mid-knee and look wonderful, like the J. Crew models, and you can visually get away with a bit shorter skirts and shorts, too. Enjoy!!

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      25. This is so fantastic!

        Now, does this equate with capris? Is there math to the right length of capris/crop pants? I have never--as in, ever--had any because I have no idea how long they should be on me, even though lots of women my height (5'3'' with, now I know, a short-shinner with a magic number of 1) look all sorts of cute in them.

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      26. Thanks for this very helpful post! I'm going to be measuring when I get home!

        P.S. Nice to see that you are a Tarheel! Me too :)

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      27. I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.
        謝謝你的文章分享,請你有空到我

        參觀,Thanks

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      28. this is great! for the top measurement, are you talking about the top of the hip above the bellybutton or lower down? i'm coming up with 21" on top and 14" on the bottom which seems crazy?

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      29. I finally understand why petite skirts seem so much more flattering on me! I am a short shinner, and am 5'7". I can tell that the slightly shorter length looks better, and I thought that to be weird, since the shortness is in my shins, not the thigh. I assumed that since my thighs are longer, that it would make more sense that I would need a longer skirt. Yet, I can tell visually that isn't the case. Your little formula clears it all up!

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      30. Help! I can't figure out where to start measuring on my hip - from the top of the pelvic bone (on the same general horizontal line as my navel), or from the lower end of the pelvic bone, where it sticks out the most, where my thigh bone joins the hip bone (same general horizontal line as my crotch)?

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      31. I don't know why I'm surprised to find that there's SCIENCE! (or at least MATH!) behind my realization earlier this year that I look best in skirts that hit right at the top of my kneecap. I'm longer of thigh by three inches, and an inch and a half from the middle of my kneecap hits right at the top. It also explains why, when I have on a full skirt worn high-waisted, I prefer to hike it up a tiny bit above the kneecap...because using the high waist visually extends my upper leg, and wearing the skirt shorter counteracts that. AND, it explains why when I'm wearing a pencil skirt worn at the middle of the knee (I need that extra inch or so for modesty when I sit down in a straight skirt, thank you huge backside), I have to at least wear a slight heel - it visually extends my lower leg!

        Who knew??

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      32. And what happens, when you wear heels? How does it change proportions? Is there any formula for this?

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      33. Woo hoo! It's time for my super short-shinned self to figure out how to finally wear skirts this summer! Thank you!

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      Welcome! Your comments are invited and I look forward to seeing you here!