Legs, Skirts, and Footwear

A long leg line is one of my personal figure flattery priorities. I don’t always stick to it, but nine times out of ten I’ll choose outfit options that make my legs look as long and shapely as possible. And I’ve gotten many questions about how shoes and hemlines affect the leg line, so lemme boil it down for ya:

Basically, you want to consider your ankles and knees. If you’re wearing shoes that disguise the curve of your ankle, your legs will look more shapely if you can show your knees.


If you’re wearing a skirt that covers the curve of your knees, your legs will look more shapely if you can show your ankles:


If you reveal both ankles and knees, your legs will look both long and shapely:

Already Pretty outfit featuring COS layered dress, Antelope sandals, Rebecca Minkoff Jealous bag, bib necklace

The idea is to avoid making your legs appear as if they’re one unbroken circumference from hip to foot. Allowing the observing eye access to AT LEAST one of the places where your leg curves gives a more complete impression of how your legs are shaped.

As always, these are not follow-or-die rules, merely guidelines. It’s best to know what your clothes may do to your figure so you can decide how you want to deploy them. And if you don’t feel like abiding these suggestions constantly, sometimes, or ever, that is most definitely your prerogative!

Originally posted 2011-02-01 06:06:55.

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45 Responses to “Legs, Skirts, and Footwear”

  1. Pam@over50feeling40

    These looks are great ideas for legs…since I tend to hide in pants…the best way for me to elongate my legs is to SHOW THEM!! I am trying to do more of that and return to the world of dresses and skirts…it is a great world that I abandoned for a while!!

    Please come over to my site and enter my contest…it is vintage inspired!

  2. Sarah

    I have the knobbliest knees in the world and lovely ankles so I try to cover the knobbly mountains and show off the ankles. Also I find that boots that end anywhere on my calf make my legs look stumpy, disproportionate and weird. The boots have to be right on the ankle or right at the knee – no in betweenies.

    Great post – thank you Sal!

    Sarah xxx

  3. Toby Wollin

    I usually use the ‘same color tights and shoes’ trick, though I’m a little bit flummoxed now. I finally got around to buying a pair of nude colored shoes and have no idea what to wear them with (in terms of dresses – does this color shoe need a more formal/fancy look? Prints ok or not? Long/short or in between?).

      • Miss T

        Interesting about the nude shoes. I own a few pairs, actually, and they really work well for me. I think the reason is because 1) I am very fair skinned, 2) I don’t like tights, and prefer sheer (i.e., “nude”) hosery, and 3) I am petite (5’1″). So, the end result for me is definitely a long-legged look. I have a pair of nude Prada pumps with silver rubber heels that I ADORE — they make any outfit look polished (and me long-legged). I find that I wear nude shoes with hard-to-match lighter colors (like some blues) when I want a more professional (i.e., not summery) look.

    • spacegeek

      I’m working to find “the perfect” nude shoe for spring! I have a nude shoe in a casual wedge strappy sandal, and am looking for a more work-appropriate version this time around. I think they are great with almost everything that you want to “lighten up”, which means they are great for the winter-to-spring transition! All black dress w/ nudies if you have some skin on top okay. Works great with navy-colored trousers or skirts, esp if you don’t want to draw attention to your footwear or wear colored shoes. The nude shoe is a great leg elongator, IMO.

  4. AW

    Your rules totally make sense. I find that, for me, showing my knees works best, because I’ve got short little legs that still look short and little even with the ankle exposed. Somehow showing the knee makes them look longer.

  5. Bubu

    Great tips! (I think you may have touched on some of these themes in an earlier post about boot shapes and I found them enormously helpful). I’ve also found trying to find shoes with a tapered toe, not necessarily pointy, helps to elongate the overall leg rather than square or rounded toes.

  6. A.

    So, is there a rule anymore that your tights should match your shoes or your hem? Or, am I years behind the times and only remembering what my mother taught me in 1995?

    Also, how short is too short for a skirt (for work)?

    (That middle dress is ADORABLE!)

    • Sal

      Wow, if there is such a rule, nobody told me! Matching your tights to your shoes will elongate your legs further by creating an unbroken line all the way down to the ground … but I LOVE wearing contrasting tights. The hem thing just straight up baffles me – matching tights to your dress and shoes seems really restrictive.

      As for skirt length, it depends on your personal comfort level, office environment, and the season. The mini I’m wearing in this post is appropriate for me because: I’m comfortable in it, I work in a relaxed office, and it’s cold enough for tights. Generally speaking, minis aren’t a great idea for work unless you can also wear tights, in my opinion. Anything longer than a mini, same questions as above: Comfort, environment, season.

      • Katharine

        It’s an old rule, about the same vintage as the “no white after Labour Day,” and “large women should never, ever wear horizontal stripes.” Even your mother, A., was behind the times, since the black tight with neon shoe look was the hottest when I was in high school in the 80s.

  7. Miss T

    There’s also the aesthetic rule of “2/3” to consider: the most obvious visual area should consist 2/3 of one’s body, i.e., you don’t want to ever be visually “cut in two” (i.e, 2 visually equal areas). This can be accomplished through color blocking, hemline length, boot height, etc. You’ve done that here (esp. obvious in pics 1 and 2, with the short sweaters). Just another way of looking at it.

  8. Erin

    These rules make perfect sense. I even went “ahhhh! yes, OK!” in my head. I’ve never really thought about it but I do tend to want my knees showing when I wear boots!

  9. Elissa

    Thanks for these tips. They all make sense and are really, really helpful. Do you have any suggestions for mid-calf length skirts? I think they’re called princess length. I recently bought a gorgeous blue suede vintage mid calf-length pencil skirt, and have on clue what shoes to pair it with. Kitten heels look too dainty. Boots are too chunky. I’m also on the petite side which doesn’t help. Advice?

    • Sal

      Mid-calf skirts are tough if leg elongation is a priority for you. Unless your legs are naturally very long, this length will shorten you up considerably. But if that’s no big deal, then just choose a shoe that will show you ankles – pumps work especially well. Since your knee is well covered, showing that ankle curve will give a better impression of how your legs are truly shaped.

    • spacegeek

      Well apparently today is the day I’m not following Ms. Sal’s rules! I like the princess length myself and most of my dresses are at least below the knee. I like this length with higher heels (2.75+ for me!) and depending upon the look you are going for, either a very pointed toe mule or else a round toe vintage feel. Mary janes would be awesome.

      • Eliza

        I like this length, even though, according to the skirt length formula posted below, I should be right around knee length. In the winter, I usually pair my longer skirts with heeled oxfords and dark tights. The oxfords are a little chunkier than other shoes, and (paired with the tights) look almost like boots, but are much more flattering to my ankles than real boots would be.

  10. Sid

    As a more frequent pant wear-er..I perfer to elongate legs by wearing (slightly longer) striaight cut pants with heels. Flares and skinny jeans don’t do it for me.

  11. tiny junco

    in my experience, where the leg is ‘cu’t (by hem, top of shoe/boot, or socks) is most important to leg flattery….somewhere (i forget!) i heard it put as ‘looking for your diamonds’.

    stand so your legs just touch each other along the inside, in front of a mirror. you should see wider gaps above your ankles, below your knees, and someplace between your thighs (well, not me, but…). these gaps will form a diamond shape. any horizontal lines that hit in these ‘diamonds’ will be most flattering to your legs. to get a feel for these ‘sweet spots’, stand in front of a mirror and play around with a long skirt or even a towel. move it up and down, and you’ll see the places where your legs really ‘pop’. make a note, take pictures, or have a friend measure from the floor (skirt lengths won’t hit at the same place on your leg if the waistbands don’t sit at the same exact place on your body).

    another way of thinking about it is to have your horizontal lines hit where the leg is slimmest at ankle, knee, or thigh…most of the time this area is a few inches long so you have some room to play. but a lot of ladies find there are a few very precise ‘cut lines’ that they like best, and even a couple of inches can make a big difference. if leg flattery is ‘your thing’, paying attention to where you leg is ‘cut’ can really pay off. steph

  12. Style Odyssey

    these are great, and one can definitely see what you mean- you do look long and lean. i never considered these tips but will surely be doing so when it gets warm enough (for me) to wear dresses on a regular basis.
    i’m short. so for a long, lean look, i wear a lot of skinny or slim-cut pants, keeping the entire silhouette close to the body but not tight; and i wear monochromes, mostly black.
    great post, Sal!

  13. Anne @ The Frump Factor

    Those rules make sense — I’ll have to test them! I find that I can never tell what will be most flattering until I try on — but I expect the results have something to do with the rules you stated, as well as those put forth by tiny junco. Some combination thereof?

    I also depend heavily on the matching-tights-to-shoes rule, which is probably a lazy, reflex habit…. but it does seem to work.

  14. Laurel

    Any advice for really tall boots? I’ve got one pair that comes just to the top of my knees, and another which is a couple inches above. Usually I wear them with pants tucked in or with a miniskirt that still allows skin to show, but other options would be great!

  15. Linda

    Hmm, for me personally, nothing that shows my knees is a good look under any circumstances ever. I’d far rather look short-legged than expose my knees. And I have trouble bestirring myself to worry that boots will make my legs look unshapely. I figure I will just look like I’m wearing boots. But then, my legs are simply not a good feature and I’ve given up worrying about them, really.

    To the commenter with the suede pencil skirt, I would wear Fluevog-ish heels!

  16. Nanina

    LOL I own both eerily similar boots and pumps like you wear in the first two pictures! And I covet the ones in the third! And I seriously doubt that we shop in the same stores, as there is an ocean between us, and then some! πŸ™‚ Love your blog!

  17. Frankincensy

    This probably won’t be news to you, but I recently read about “finding your ideal skirt length” based on the ratio between your thigh and calf lengths – here’s the original post and here’s Extra Petite’s take on it, with photos. I measured myself and found I’m definitely in the long-thigh/short-calf camp, and that’s probably why just-below-the-knee skirts make my calves look shorter and thicker than they are. I like to play up my longish legs so I’m planning on hemming a few of my skirts to above-the-knee, which I feel is a more flattering length on me.

    • Sal

      Fascinating! And accurate – I’m a short shinner, and VASTLY prefer slightly above-the-knee skirts.

    • Ann V

      Very interesting! I’m an extra-long shinner (over-the-knee boots have been a godsend for me, I can finally wear knee high boots!) but I still prefer to wear skirts at or just above my knees for the reasons Sal outlines here. I guess I might be able to get away with longer skirts more easily than someone with different proportions, but I still feel like showing my knee is the most flattering.

  18. Katy

    I completely agree with the long leg line. And the the first picture of you is a stunning example of how well that works, even with tall boots and a dress. Kinda loving the blue boots!! – Katy

  19. Ann V

    I definitely follow the advice to show the knee or ankle curve. I am all about having shapely legs.

    However, whenever I read leg lengthening advice, I wonder if you can ever have too much of a good thing. I’m very tall, with really long legs. But if one part of you is disproportionally long, another part is going to have to be disproportionately short, and as a result I have a really short crotch-to-boob length. I sometimes wonder if I run the risk of looking like a circus performer on stilts. I feel like I have to avoid anything with a high waist, or else I look like boobs on sticks. I also don’t think I can wear a miniskirt, because even if everything’s covered I feel like it’s obscene, even in tights. Or can you just never have enough legs?

    • Gracey

      Ann, I can totally commiserate. I am also very tall and my height is mostly legs. I don’t think you can ever be too leggy, not as far as the current standard of beauty is concerned. But, I rarely wear mini-skirts either. For me it’s comfort thing as well as a practical thing (I ride my bike to work).

      And the good news about all this leg lengthening advice is if you are uncomfortable with your long legs you can do the opposite and it will make your legs appear shorter. The outfit I posted yesterday is an example of that. It worked for me because I am six-foot tall, but the combination of hem-length and boot-height definitely made my legs appear shorter and is not one I’d recommend for anyone who doesn’t have naturally long legs, but if you’re looking to make your legs look shorter, it might work for you.

  20. Emma at Daily Clothes Fix

    Hi Sal. I would say you have summed this up perfectly. I have slouchy boots and it took me a while to learn that they look bad (and so do my legs) if I’m not showing my knees and some thigh in them. When I do that they look elegantly slouchy. When I don’t my legs look like tree trunks. πŸ™‚

  21. Cynthia

    First – cats should never be optional. Just sayin’.

    Second – I’m with you, Ann V. Except that I’m just a bit above average height – but my legs are very long, and as a result I find myself avoiding short skirts, even though I’d love to wear them sometimes.

  22. Queen of Sheba

    Just gonna say thanks for consistently reminding us that our figure flattery priorities can be all our own. As strange as it sounds, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before I started reading your blog.

  23. Shoe

    The cat is totally necessary!

    Great rules! I never realised such rules existed before, but they make perfect sense, so I’ll now try to follow them. I’m short (1.55cm, is that like, 5.1?), so it’s very hard for me to make my legs look shapely. The one rules I generally follow that seems to work for me is that anything that covers my calves has to cover them very closely. I.e. Jeans must be tight at the calves, as must boots (no slouchy boots, unfortch) and I don’t buy shoes that cut me off at mid-calf like boots that go up halfway. Thanks for this very enlightening post! πŸ˜€

  24. Starfire

    Interesting post Sally – and your suggestions all make a lot of sense for someone with “normal” legs. I can’t help wondering though what you’d recommend skirt-wise for someone with very thick, solid legs?

    I have a cosmetic condition that means the lymph in my lower legs doesn’t drain properly – so my legs aren’t quite one solid line from thigh to ankle, but they feel that way sometimes, and they’re often fairly balloony. On top of that, they’re seriously short… standing up, I’m 5’3″ to my husband’s 6′, but when we sit next to each other, there’s only a couple of inches height difference between us :-S

    At the moment, I tend to either wear long pants, or long flowy ankle length skirts that completely hide my legs away, and instead wear fitted or stretchy tops that accentuate the curve of my waist for shape (I’m kind of hourglassy there at least!) I’d love to be able to find something different to wear below the waist though that didn’t make me feel horribly self-conscious about my legs, and wondered if you had any suggestions?

    Many thanks – Starfire

    • Sal

      Starfire, I think it depends on your comfort level. It sounds like you’d rather not expose your legs too much, and so long skirts and pants are good choices. I’d advise maxi skirts that flare at the bottom instead of straight ones, if you’re naturally hourglass-y up top. If you’re interested in evening out your overall/torso proportions, high-waisted skirts and pants or wearing a belt above your waistline will help.

      But in terms of skirts, with legs that have a fairly even circumference all around it’s difficult to create a traditionally flattering line with shorter skirts. Mini skirts will make your legs appear longer, especially worn with heels or platforms, but I’m not sure you’d be comfortable with that length. Even with dark tights, which should help a bit, too.

      So I guess I’d say try a slightly above-the-knee length and see what you think. That length is flattering on many, many body and leg types. Belt high or tuck in to even out your torso. I hate to think of you feeling ashamed of your legs! If it makes you miserable, though, forget it. There are a million fabulous pairs of pants out there, and it’s not worth feeling yucky over.

      • Starfire

        Awesome, thank you so much for your ideas πŸ™‚ Yes, I totally love maxi skirts… they make me feel much more feminine than my standard jeans or pants ensembles. I need to wear them more often!

        I’d love to get the point where I feel comfortable wearing a mini-skirt. I’ve promised myself that when I’ve completed the Oxfam Trailwalker (a 100km-in-36-hours walk for charity I’m doing in April) I’m going to buy myself a short mini-length skirt to wear with tights, on the basis that legs that have walked 100km seriously *deserve* to be shown off with pride, regardless of whether they fit the media’s definition of “shapely” or not πŸ™‚

        But meanwhile, I like the idea of at least looking around for an above-the-knee skirt that I could wear to work… it’s a new year, and I really like the idea of trying something that’s… for me… completely new to go with it πŸ™‚

        Thanks again for your ideas πŸ˜€


  25. Astra

    I live your guidelines on hemlines. Extremely useful!!!

    I noticed you went with very colorful pantyhose. When wearing a business skirt with knee high dress boots, are there any rules or guidelines on what color pantyhose one should wear so as to bring attention to one’s exposed knee?

    If my skirt is black and my boots are black, what color pantyhose should I wear?

  26. Jenni

    this is super helpful! i’m filing it under “what i learned new today”. πŸ™‚ thanks!