— Posted in To The Geek Life, To The Good Life, Zotz!

When is a Dress Too Short for Work?, What’s Modern?, What Shoes Work?, and How to Deal if You’re Tall or Short? + Dress Length/Hemline Guide

Poll: How short is too short for a skirt? (09/16/2008 by Kat)

2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on how short is too short for a skirt at the office — but you may also want to check out our more recent discussion on when is a dress too short for work (including what’s a modern length, and if the perfect skirt length is different for tall or short people).

How short is too short for a skirt at the office? Can you wear shorter skirts if you wear dark tights? Does it matter if you wear heels or flats with your dark tights? Conversation was sparked by yesterday’s workwear report, and we thought it might be a good idea to try and get a consensus on this:  how short of a skirt can a professional woman get away with?  See our uber-fancy diagram, and vote below.

Kat’s $.02 — D would probably be my limit, but only with dark tights… I heard a rule long ago that the higher your skirt the lower your heel should be; I’ve always found success with that.

2017 Update: The vote is closed! The official question to readers: when does a skirt become too short for the workplace? The answers:

  • 31% of readers said the skirt length shown at C is fine — just above the knee.
  • 18% of readers said the skirt length shown at D — about one hand above the knee
  • 12% of readers said the skirt length shown at D is fine, but ONLY if you’re wearing dark tights
  • 6% of readers thought the skirt length shown at F was fine (fingertip length!)
  • 4% of readers thought any skirt length for work was fine
  • 4% of readers thought the skirt length shown at E was appropriate for work — about one hand longer than fingertip length
  • 5% of readers thought the skirt length shown at B was fine — mid-knee
  • 4% of readers thought the skirt length shown at
  • 3% of readers thought the skirt length shown at E was fine, but only with dark tights
  • 2% of readers thought the skirt length shown at F was ok, but only with tights
  • 1% of readers thought the skirt length shown at A was the only acceptable answer (phew!)

Ladies, let’s discuss further — when do you start to worry about skirt length? How short is too short for a skirt for work?

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As the weather warms up, tights and boots start to go away, and skirts and dresses come out of the closet more. When is a dress too short for work? Does a slightly longer hem length feel more “modern” to you? What shoes do you wear with different dresses and skirts? And, if you’re tall or short, how do the rules change? 

(Pictured at top: short / longer / longest)

Dress Lengths: When Is Your Dress Too Short for Work?

What Skirt Length Feels Modern Now?

First, for dress lengths — our last poll on this still feels pretty appropriate to me, with most people agreeing that “just above the knee” is the right length for most skirts for work (“C” in the image at right). Still, the more recent midi-trend is so strong that even some of the age-old best-selling sheath dresses (like the middle option, at top) all look a bit short, while longer styles (like the third option at top) look a bit more modern.

Which Shoes to Wear With Different Dresses and Skirts?

Which shoes to wear with dresses is an entirely separate subject. Which shoes do you like to wear best with different lengths of skirts? See the chart below. To my eye:

  • with shorter shift dresses (like Option 1, below): The shorter the skirt, the lower and/or thicker the heel — a slightly pointy-toed ballet flat, a wedge, a newer block heel, or an architectural heel all work with shorter skirt lengths. Even a low sandal/bootie hybrid or a lace-up flat would work well (but know your office!).
  • with classic sheath dresses (like Option 2, below ): The most classic look is a skinny heel, even if it’s a kitten heel — but anything too high (4″ or over) may look weird given current trends. If you’re going to go with a flat here it should be sleek — a slightly pointed toe, or for some reason I like the idea of a smoking slipper/loafer/mule (with a fairly “delicate” tongue, like this loafer).
  • with trendier midi dresses (like Option 3, below): A higher heel always works best here, whether it’s a block heel or a classic stiletto. If you’ve really got a casual day ahead, a bootie or a sandal/bootie/lace-up hybrid might work with a midi skirt, but it’s hard to make it anything but a trendy look
  • with fit and flare dresses (like Option 4, below): I think this is one of the most versatile styles for dresses. If we need to play favorites, a sleek wedge or flat might work best, but really almost any style of shoe will work here.


Pictured above: shift dress (1) / sheath dress (2) / midi dress (3) / fit & flare (4)
(updated because it was confusing having two charts with letters!)

Special Considerations: Dress Lengths for Tall Women and Short Women?

For taller women, we’ve rounded up workwear for tall women and suits in tall sizes in the past — but readers who are taller, let’s hear your thoughts: Do any special rules apply to tall women and skirts? Any favorite spots to get skirts and dresses that “get you” as a tall lady?

From a short person’s perspective: Perhaps because I’m short (5’4″), I’ve always assumed if a dress or skirt is shown on the model as being a hand above the knee, it will be A-OK for me at work because it’ll just be an inch or so above my knee. (Obviously, trying things on may change that perception! But I tend to regularly order regular length dresses and skirts, even if I tend to prefer short/petite pants.)

Readers, over to you: When is a dress too short for work? What do you think the perfect length is for a dress for work these days? Which shoes do you like to wear with different dresses? If you’re taller, what do you think the rules are for tall women wearing dresses — and where are your favorite places to stock up on the best tall women’s dresses for work? 

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Dress Length/ Hemline Guide

Dresses come in several different lengths/hemlines. And different lengths mean different styles, that all are suitable for different occasions. Do you know the different dress styles, their typical lengths/hemlines and what occcasions they are suitable for? Let us help you!

Looking for Dress Size Chart?

Looking for a ordinary dress size chart to determine your dress size? See here to determine USUK or EU dress size from waist, hips and bust measurements.

But now; let us talk about dress lengths and styles…

Dress Length Illustration

Dress length is the length from transition between shoulder and neck and down to the hemline of the dress. Dress length is sometimes reffered to as hemline (but then it is most often measured from the floor and up.)

See illustration below for different dress lengths. These are typical dress lengths used by many dress manufacturers. Note: some brands may also use different dress lengths.

Dress Length Chart:

DRESS LENGTHS
Micro dress
Typical dress Length: 30”-32”, 76-82 cm

Very short dress for party/night club use. Do not wear a micro dress in a formal setting.

When is it to short? A thumb rule: put your arms down at your sides. If hemline falls below you fingertips (you don´t need to stretch your fingers), it is safe to wear!

Mini dress
Typical dress Length: 34”-35”, 86-88 cm

Short dress. Hemline falls mid-thigh. Perfect for party nights. Never use a mini dress in formal occasions.

When is it to short? Again: put your arms down at your sides. If hemline falls below you fingertips (you don´t need to stretch your fingers), it is safe to wear!

Just above knee (Cocktail dress)
Typical dress Length: 41”-43”, 90-92 cm

This dress ends few inches above knee. Ideal for cocktail parties. Be careful showing off knees in formal settings!

Knee length dress
Typical dress Length: 39”-40”, 99-102 cm

Hemline ends at knee height. Can be used in the office (formal style, usually black). Also Ideal for cocktail parties or garden parties. May also be used in other semi-formal settings.

Just below knee
Typical dress Length: 39”-40”, 104-109 cm

Hemline ends just below knee. Knees are hidden, which means you can use these dresses for all business use and in semi formal settings.

Calf length (Tea length dress)
Typical dress Length: 45”-47”, 114-119 cm

Hemline ends mid-calf. Also called Tea length dress og Tea dress. Perfect for evening parties (not gala). Might actually also be used by bridesmaids.

Ankle length dress
Typical dress Length: 55”-57”, 140-144 cm

Guess what: hemline ends at the ankle 🙂 Ankle length dresses are ideal for formal evening parties, balls and galas.

Floor length dress
Typical dress Length: 60”-62”, 152-157 cm

This dress goes all the way down to the floor. The most formal dress of them all. It actually makes you feel like a princess. Use for black tie galas, wedding (your own?) and very special parties!


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