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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 too short for workAs 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?

how short is too short for a skirt at work?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? 

is my dress too short for work Dresses for work can be easy -- but tricky! If you've ever asked "is my dress too short for work," or "which shoes go best with different types of dresses," or even where to find the best dresses for tall women, this is the post for you! | Corporette

Comments

  1. As a tall lady, I tend to follow the fingertip rule that was established in high school. I’m more comfortable if a hem length is within a couple inches of the top of my knee, but if I can find something that fits well and is flattering but is longer than my fingertips (~7″ above my kneecap), it will still be in consideration.

    • Northern NJ table flipper :

      I’m 5-4. I think I need to be above the knee, but fingertip would be way too short for me. I walk up a lot of stairs. And I gesture wildly. I think that a fingertip-length skirt would move crazy up my thighs as I do stairs or begin teaching a CLE (or flipping tables over).

      • Anonymous :

        I am 5″5″ with a long torso and short arms. On me, fingertip length means I am in danger of flashing people with the slightest movement.

        And I also like to be able to flip tables over. Preferably while teaching CLE.

        • Anonymous :

          That’s 5’5″. Not 10″.

          • That’s why height matters. I’m 5’10”. Fingertip length on me means that about 50% of my thigh is completely covered. If I was wearing shorts, they’d have a solid 7-8″ inseam on them.

            However, this is why I hated the fingertip rule in middle and high school. Girls who were of average or below average height could wear the stylish shorts of the day, whereas it was impossible for me to find shorts in the juniors section that were long enough that I could wear them. It works well enough for me now that I’m an adult in professional offices though; I’ve only ever received compliments on my level of dress in the workplace.

        • I am 5’6″ with a long torso and short arms and heavyset. Fingertip length on me means about 3″ below my gluteal fold. I don’t know about you, but that is nowhere near long enough for me to comfortably flip tables in the middle of a CLE. My preference is skirts of A, C, or D length based on the picture in the post. For some reason I don’t like skirts that hit right at the knee, so B is out. But thankfully most skirts that would hit right at the knee can be worn a little higher or lower on the waist to avoid that issue.

    • Anonymous :

      I’m tall as well, and in the same boat. It’s incredibly difficult to find skirts (even in the long/tall length) that actually hit my knees. I buy the longest dresses I can find, but many of my dresses are around 3 inches above the knee. That’s definitely what most non-tall people consider too short for work, but it’s pretty much all I can do. I end up wearing ballet flats with just about everything as a result, because I feel like it mitigates a slightly-too-short skirt.

      • Exactly. I’ve bought several tall skirts from BR, and they still are 1-2″ above my knees. I actually love that midi-length skirts are in style because they end up being knee- or just-below-knee-length on me. I own exactly one vintage pencil skirt that comes below my kneecaps, which I think was a lightning bolt of luck the day I found it.

        • Different body shapes can affect how a skirt hangs and sits…I’m about 5’9″, but shorter in the body and longer in the legs. I am also a pear shape and generally skirts that hit above the knee can look very short on me if I’m moving about or sitting down – I can suddenly feel like my entire leg is on display! Often skirts which look knee length on a slim-hipped person will sit higher on someone with curvier hips and consequently look shorter – when shopping I always check the side view and how short they go when sitting down. If in doubt i size up in skirts and then take them in on the waist. (Luckily I’m a dressmaker too, so that helps!)

    • 5’8″, but short torso/ long legs. I also follow the fingertip rule, which frequently leaves a good 4-5″ of above the knee showing. Some of my shift-style sweater dresses are a little shorter given that they are always worn with tights in the winter. I am super self-conscious about wearing dresses that are too short, but even on days where I am “on the fence” my colleagues have assured me the dresses look fine (and they are people who would (and have) told me if they aren’t). It probably helps that the rest of my dress is relatively modest and that I tend to wear almost exclusively flats – I think there is a bit of a perception thing going on. For people (cough, summer associates) who wear things that aren’t always what one might deem professional, that tends to skew my perception of something that would be borderline. We also have some younger associates who wear much shorter items, so that does tend to make me look better by comparison.

      • Yes, I was going to make the same point about tights. I’m 5’9″ and my winter skirts and dresses are a bit shorter than what I wear the rest of the year because wearing them with tights, I feel more covered up.

  2. There is something wonky with the assignment of A, B,… F. The text says describes option A as shorter (and the picture below agrees) but the diagram on the right has A as the longest option.

  3. Was struggling at work today, this is something that started over the weekend. I look younger than I am by about ten years based on what people estimate my age to be, last year I was going through a very difficult time in my life, can’t go into detail because it’s too long–but several people made comments that in retrospect were somewhat patronizing and condescending re: I should be farther along in my career, should be married etc. FWIW I’m 37. I now have a position I have wanted for a long time and even though I’m not married I’m okay with that for now. But these negative voices are in my head and today was somehow really hard since one of these individuals who made the comments posted that they got married on the weekend. The saving grace was a colleague down the hall inviting me for coffee, they have an espresso maker in their office–and I got to sit for a while and chat with them and their students, the person is a Prof. I am normally very confident and I am happier than I have been for a long time but I want to come up with a strategy for silencing that negativity from my past in a better way. Unfollowing people on social media is one way and I have already done that but what do other people do? I’ve thought of therapy and will make a point of making enquiries since I’m in a new area. I make a point of being as social as I can and maintaining a healthy lifestyle but today threw me for a loop because if it wasn’t for this person’s kindness I would have been feeling bad all day, and can’t be my best at work. Suggestions? Thank you.

    • I’m sorry you’re having a rough day. The one thing that helps for me is making gratitude lists. I just try to go through all the things I am grateful for in my head. It can be anything and everything, small or big. Supportive parents growing up. Friend X. No line in the coffee place today. That bad thing that taught me a really great lesson when I was in school. My dog. Whatever.

      I also try to be grateful in the moment. So if I get a seat on the subway I try to remember to recognize it as something good that happened. Doing nice things for others also helps. Somehow extending kindness to others tends to make you feel better, even if the kindness is not necessarily acknowledged or returned.

      • What a nice post AIMS.

        I agree with all of it.

        And to the OP – congrats on getting to where you are. There will be days like this. But tomorrow can be better.

        And just…. stay off Facebook altogether. Just live your life.

    • I’m a big believer in smiling at strangers when they or someone else has done something nice (or just smiling at strangers). I take the bus occasionally, and the other day a gentleman in a wheelchair included me in his round of greetings. I responded. A week later, I saw him at the post office; he recognized me from the bus and struck up a conversation about how nice it was to see a smiling face and how we all needed to band together and positive attitudes and stuff. He was so nice, so enthusiastic. We exchanged names and he even gave me his card so we could get coffee some time. It’s such a pick-me-up, and yet so simple.

      I too have had some horrible times in the last two years (separation, his suicide, moving house, etc.), and I need all the positive interaction I can get.

  4. As a petite woman of 5’1″ with short legs, I just can’t do the midi length. I know it’s something to do with the ratio of calf to thigh? Or some other body length ratio? But anything longer than above the knee makes my legs look super stumpy.

    • Same. Somewhere in the letter C-D is ideal for me. Longer or shorter makes me look stumpy or dumpy in various ways. I can do E for casual if its something straight like a shift. A fit and flare looks really bizarre on me if it’s short. Like I’m some kind of overgrown doll or a woman dressed in a child’s dress. Not flattering.

      • Northern NJ table flipper :

        I hear you — I think of midi is a bit of a Juniper Creek length. And makes me look both shorter, dumpier, and frumpier. It’s a hat trick of Nope.

    • AAs a tall person I feel the same way…basically I don’t think the midi length is flattering on most people.

    • I love the midi trend . . . but only because I’m so tall that it’s the only way I can get a skirt to be knee-length.

    • Trial and error is really how you have to figure out what midi length works for you. I’m short as well around 5’2″ and I found out most midi dresses actually hit me right below the biggest part of my calf somewhere around my shins. with a good pair of heels, an a line or a fluttery skirt midi that can actually be really lengthening because it almost is like a maxi, and the heels lengthen your ankle and foot. So the next time you come across a midi skirt, give it a shot. Doesn’t work as well with sheaths, obv

  5. Anonymous :

    Midi is horribly unflattering on nearly everyone because it hits at the widest part of the lower leg and because the length of the skirt and the length of exposed leg are unbalanced.

    • Except for tall women, where it hits at knee and looks great. And is one of the only ways us tall ladies can buy work-appropriate dresses. I hope the midi trend stays forever!

    • Then why does Clare from house of cards look so amazing at her below the knee… not quite midi… skirts? Because they are all totally tailored sheath skirts/dresses? Because of her sky high heels and skinny physique?

    • Agree!!!! It only looks ok with a stiletto heel but frankly, above the knee is so much prettier and I’d much rather wear a wedge or chunkier heel.

  6. I’m quite tall, and finding long enough but still professional skirts and dresses is really difficult. Very few stores carry tall lengths. And some of them that do, tend to have their tall sizes still quite above the knee on me. Banana Republic and Ann Taylor have been especially hit or miss on this — I recently ordered a dress from Banana that was from their suiting section in a tall length, and once it arrived I measured it and it was only 37″ long. That’s literally 5″ above the knee for me, and completely not work appropriate. I’ve had better luck with J. Crew’s tall length dresses, and I love that they give the length measurements online (so I know that they’re actually long enough before I order them).

    • Have you tried Boden? Their tall dresses are usually 40 – 43 inches long.

      • I’ve tried both Boden and Land’s End’s talls. They’re actually long enough sometimes and are good quality, but unfortunately I’ve had zero luck getting the fit right with my body shape (I’m a pear). Lots of gaping up top on everything I’ve tried, which seems hard to tailor.

        • Yeah, Boden, like most British retailers, are built on a very straight shape. I’m a small petite and have the same problem with gaping on top. Oddly, though, so much of the petites styles are too short – not because I’m not petite (5’1″), but rather they seem to think short women like high waisted, super short baby doll clothes? It’s frustrating, and I’ve completely stopped looking at Boden although it’s one of the few UK retailers that offers specialty sizing.

  7. Option A would be really, really short sitting down for me, and I’m not even that tall (only 5’6″). I would only wear a skirt that short either with tights, or in a looser skirt (A line or flared) to mitigate the huge swathes of thigh that would poke out when sitting. In a dress it would just be a no go, because dresses ride up higher.

    Otherwise, I wear flats all the time and had no idea certain heel shapes were supposed to correspond to certain skirt lengths. This is really a thing?

    • Anonymous :

      Some of this is nitpicking IMO. Generally I think that anything below the knee or midi length looks better with a heel because as someone above said, midi lengths hit at the widest part of the leg so a flat shoe will look frumpy. For knee length and shorter lengths, then flats or heels can work, depending on the look you are going for i.e. dressy and formal or a more casual look. Also on your own body type e.g. tall or short, thin legs or thick calves etc. Saying certain heel shapes are only good with certain skirt lengths just makes dressing sound more complicated than it really is.

    • My personal rule is the longer the skirt, the higher the heel (and conversely the shorter the skirt, the lower the heel)

  8. My preference (for me) is option B in the first picture. Slightly covering the kneecap but not as long as midi. Slightly below the kneecap is fine too. On my frame, that generally amounts to a 25′ length skirt or 40′ dress.

  9. Anonymous :

    I wear opaque black tights with all work dresses/skirts (have skin discoloring that has brought about too many comments from clients & coworkers to even consider going without or wearing sheer black/nude tights) and have found that doing so mitigates the visual effect of a skirt being too short by a few inches because there’s no skin to be seen. This might not work as the warmer months approach, but it has worked well for me so far and I’ve never felt inappropriately dressed in professional settings.

    • Anonymous :

      Agree! I wear hose almost every day. They fix a lot of imperfections and take a lot of worry away. I just view them as part of the work uniform and enjoy a lot of benefits–smoothing, coverage, warmth etc.

    • I agree with this too!

      I only wear pants in spring/summer as I don’t feel comfortable baring my legs. And all winter I love my black tights, and slightly shorter skirts with heels that look very work appropriate.

  10. I am 5’10”. Work in Business Casual office. I just wear maxidresses. Then I do not have to worry about length.

    • Anonymous :

      Where do your favorite maxidresses come from? I’m about your height and I’ve been struggling to find ones that are long enough!

      • As I am plus size-I get most of them from Avenue. I have bought a few from Old Navy. But eshakti- pricey but wow. I love the way you can customize them with sleeves and lengths.

      • Miss Rumphius :

        Felicity and Coco at Nordstrom (worth the money!) or Old Navy talls. I’m 5’10 and need maxi dresses that are 59″ in length or its a no go.

  11. Anonymous :

    Could I wear this pearl blush AT dress with AGL pointy toe flats?
    https://www.anntaylor.com/petite-cotton-sateen-button-tab-sheath-dress/431795

    • Jolynne Smyth :

      That’s a beautiful dress as that seems like it would look great with pointy toed flats. :)

  12. I’m 5’5″, and my Nordstrom personal shopper has everything tailored to hit me at B. I’m 50, dress more of ‘sophisticated but conservative’ – at least that’s how I requested , and she seems to get it right for me consistently. (I’m a consultant, and work a lot in public sector. I wanted to be taken seriously, but not be too stodgy and NOT look like I spent a ton on clothes.)

    I can’t imagine wearing any other length now.

  13. I think both dresses on the left are too short. If the average woman bought them they might be long enough but if your entire knee cap and some thigh are showing, that’s not a business formal professional length.

  14. Squiggles :

    I am average height, but am plus sized. Have a bum knee (aka always swollen, sometimes more so than normal and I will limp). I love my skirts and dresses especially in the summer, but will do them with tights in the winter. Absolutely all of them needs to cover the knee. It just stops unwanted comments and possible issues when it goes wonky and I start limping, things can ride up.

  15. Squiggles :

    I am average height, but am plus sized. Have a bum knee (aka always swollen, sometimes more so than normal and I will limp). I love my skirts and dresses especially in the summer, but will do them with tights in the winter. Absolutely all of them needs to cover the knee. It just stops unwanted comments and possible issues when it goes wonky and I start limping, things can ride up.

  16. Anonymous :

    All the tall ladies out there, what are your tips for finding skirts and dresses that are long enough? Favorite brands/stores? The Limited had been one of my favorite places for tall-length skirts, but now that they’re gone I have no idea what to do.

  17. Dealtwiththis :

    I’m sad that there aren’t more comments on this thread. I guess it shows that only a few of us are dealing with this problem. I’m 5’8 and regularly struggle with trying to find dresses and skirts that are long enough. I have a whole collection of dresses that are about 3-4 inches above the knee and I only feel that I can wear them to work with black tights (ie. in the winter. Which isn’t very often in Houston).

    It’s frustrating and I always wondered why more clothing retailers didn’t offer longer sizes but I guess now I know, there isn’t a large need for it. :(

    • Anonymous :

      It’s definitely not just a few of us! Every single woman I know who is 5’8 or taller has difficulty finding dresses and skirts that go all the way to the knee. I think a lot of us have just given up and decided to regularly wear skirts that are a few inches above the knee (today, in one of my longest dresses, I’m 2 inches above the knee).

      And it’s so weird about the retailer thing — the few stores that sell tall lengths in women’s business wear (namely Banana Republic, J Crew, and Ann Taylor) frequently sell out of the tall sizes well before they sell out of normal and petite sizes. You’d think they’d take that as a sign to make more tall things for us!

  18. I prefer C and D – and I am a biglaw lawyer with 10+ years of experience. I hate knee length and especially hate midi dresses. They look frumpy to me. I am taller than average (5’7″) and have long legs. I think longer dresses and skirts make my legs look strange. I like to dress to play up my biggest attributes and since I have nice legs, I have trouble getting used to items that hide them or make them look shorter. I don’t tend to wear heels higher than 3″ which helps keep things professional, but every time I wear a dress that reaches the knee or below, I feel matronly.

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