One of the topics that comes up continually in my classes, lectures, and client sessions is top length. Specifically the idea that when it comes to untucked tops, shorter tops work better with skirts while longer tops work better with pants.

Let’s take a look at two figures:

Correct length for tops worn with skirts and pants

These guys illustrate what we’ve come to expect, proportion-wise, from skirt and pant outfits. Skirts tend to fall at the natural waist and we expect a shorter torso silhouette with them, either a tucked-and-belted look or an untucked top that hits about two fingers’ width below the navel. Pants waistbands generally fall lower on the body (unless they are high-waisted), and we expect a longer torso silhouette with them. Untucked tops that hit approximately three fingers’ width above the crotchpoint are harmonious with most pants. (These are approximations, of course. What works for YOUR figure will all depend on your proportions, curves, and fit preferences.)

Here’s what happens if we reverse them:

Nothing catastrophic, of course, but both figures look just slightly off. The blouse falls too far into the skirt’s line and the lacy top hits a bit too high on those slacks.

If your separates-based outfits are feeling slightly off and you can’t figure out why, see if it might have to do with top length. With skirts, untucked tops should be short. With pants, untucked tops should be long. This also means that if you have very long or short legs and wish to create balance, you can do so by varying your untucked top length and determining which bottoms look and work best. If, like me, long tops fight with your hips, consider shirttail hems as a workaround; They’re long in front, but curve up at the sides which can help accommodate hips. And naturally, there will be considerable variation depending on your height, proportions, curves, and preferences.*

NOW. Here’s the historical aspect of this post. Consider how pant rises have changed over the decades.

jeans high rise low rise

Between the 1970s when Farrah Fawcett wore her high-rise jeans and the 1990s when Gwen Stefani wore her super low-rise jeans, huge shifts in expectations of the female silhouette took place. At this point, high, low, and mid-rise styles are all available, but back in the 90s the only jeans you could find that rode above your hip bones were either vintage or marketed to older women. And my guess is that the advent of super low-rise pants and jeans influenced our current visual expectations: We want to see longer tops worn with pants because we expect women to be wearing pants that fall below their natural waists, even if the pant waistband is being obscured by an untucked top.

Low-rise skirts never really caught on – at least, not with the prevalence of low-rise pants – so our expectation for skirts has remained mostly static: Skirts hit at the natural waist, so we expect a shorter torso line when skirts are involved. Tucking works, but shorter length untucked tops can work too.

That’s my take, anyways. Anyone else have a theory? Why do we want to see shorter tops and higher waists with skirts, but prefer longer tops and lower waists with pants? Do you find that this guideline works for you, do you tweak it to work with your figure, or even do the opposite?

*As always, 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.

Farrah via Mail Online, Gwen via Seventeen

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