For most of us, the first and last conversation we had about hemlines was a young girl, when our mother (or grandmother) gave us The Golden Rule of Hemlines: Put your arms down at your sides. If your hemline falls below your fingertips, it’s safe to wear.
The good news is that there is no such thing as a mandatory hemline. Although there is an interesting theory about the how hemlines correlate with, of all things, the economy. It’s called the “Hemline Index.” In 1926, Wharton economist George Taylor posited that hemlines rise and fall in lockstep with stock prices, and his idea stuck. Thus the Roaring ’20s and go-go ’60s saw skirt lengths shrink, while the Crash of ’29, and the recession of the 1970s brought them tumbling back down toward the pavement. Non-peer-reviewed research in 2010 supported the correlation, suggesting that “the economic cycle leads the hemline with about three years.”
Market factors aside, there are so much more to hemlines! Here’s a brief guide to the main types of hemlines and the appropriate occasions for each.
Above the Knee
A skirt that hits just a few inches above the knee is the most versatile of the bunch – and is appropriate for practically any occasion. It works with heels or flats, with a flouncy or straight skirt, day or night. And it’s also one of the most widely flattering.
The always-appropriate knee-length skirt is perhaps the most conservative hemline, even more so than something that sweeps the floor, and that’s because it look so completely no-nonsense. Knee length is best for formal daytime occasions and the rest of the outfit should be equally sophisticated and polished.
One caveat: If you’re on the short side or don’t feel like your legs are your best asset, this is a hemline you probably want stay away from. However, if you have a knee length skirt that you love, bring it to us and we can modify it. And it doesn’t take much – a few extra inches above or below the knee will do wonders to make your legs look longer and be more flattering overall.
A “tea length” dress got it’s name from the famous social and manners guidance of Emily Post – a tea length dress is what a woman would wear to the tea table in the 1920s. This hemline falls about three to four inches below the knee and has lately become a great evening alternative to the floor-sweeping gown (see below). This is a look best left to evening- whether it is a hip hugging skirt or free flowing dress. Tea length hemlines are also making a return as a hemline for bridesmaid dresses.
In addition to flattering all body types, this style can be dressed up or down. Floor length gowns can make you feel like Cinderella at black tie events, weddings and other classic occasions. “The fabric should just touch the floor you’re standing on or leave a small train behind you. Anything in between will just look like you forgot to go to the tailor,” says Glamour magazine’s Tracey Lester. On the flipside of the formal floor length gown is the casual, sweeping maxi dress, a style that seems to be made for casual-yet-flattering summertime wear.