Proportion Play

It is absolutely amazing how much difference an inch can make. What? Oh, get your MIND out of the GUTTER, I’m talking about clothing! Here, check this out.

This skirt falls slightly above my natural waist:

It doesn’t make me look disproportionate but since it’s got a high hemline, it DOES visually shorten my torso.

This skirt sits right atop my hip bones:

Similar shape to the previous skirt, but because the waistline is lower itΒ  creates the appearance of a slightly longer torso. It’s also quite short overall, so my proportions aren’t completely distorted nor are my legs shortened.

This outfit features an untucked shirt that, in my opinion, is slightly too long to be worn with a skirt at all. (Hey, we all have our off days!):

And my perceived torso length is yet longer! Again, the hemline is a bit above the knee so I still look more or less proportionate but were edging toward distorted territory.

Let’s see all three lined up:

Check out that migrating waistline. Interestingly, although the center look may seem like it would be the most balanced of the three, it isn’t my favorite. I prefer to emphasize both my legs and my waist when I dress, so the look on the far left is the one I’m most likely to re-create.

The difference between these three skirts is absolutely tiny. Mere inches. None of these skirts is extremely high- or low-waisted, and even the look with the untucked shirt isn’t all that extreme. And yet the impact on how my figure is perceived is noticeable. Those of you who seek to visually balance long or short legs, or a long or short torso will likely already be aware of how placement and length affect proportion. Skirts that hit above, at, and below the knee will play with your leg proportions. Pants that sit at your natural waist, at your bellybutton/wearing waist, and at your hip bones will monkey with your torso and leg proportions. Cropped shirts, shirts that hit at your hip bones, and shirts that slide down past your butt will affect your torso and height proportions. And playing around with those proportions is not only fun and fascinating, but a great way to learn about your figure and how you’d like to present it.

Originally posted 2011-10-03 06:14:21.

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40 Responses to “Proportion Play”

  1. Debbie

    Totally agree. The first look is awesome…this is one of my all-time favorite looks for you and what it does for your body! The other two looks? Meh. They leave me a bit cold.

    Funny how a few tweaks can really make a difference. Awesome post!

  2. Cynthia

    Being short-torsoed, I would probably wear something like the white t-shirt look with a longer top (although probably something more structured. Or at least I would have a year ago. Now I don’t know.)

    I definitely change the proportions of things — I get skirts/dresses shortened if they’re longer than the sweet spot right below my knee. I don’t really play around much with shorter skirts though, one of my personal prime directives is that bare leg skin doesn’t touch the chair when I sit down at work.

  3. Kathryn from Schoolmarmstyle

    I totally agree that look one is the most flattering. I too like to add length to my legs and curve to my body by wearing things tucked at the natural waist. Once I discovered that trick I stopped wearing untucked shirts almost entirely.

  4. Dianne

    I do like the outfit on the left best, as I think it does accentuate your waist and legs very nicely. I am playing around with proportions, but tend to get frustrated with ready-to-wear clothes, as they generally don’t fit my rectangular, short torso (shoulders & hips about same measurements, waist about 7 inches less, about 1.5 inches between my lowest rib and top of hip bone) set on long legs. I tend to like the look of a dropped waist in pants, am having trouble with skirts and dresses. (If the waist fits, the hips are miles too big, or vice versa.)

    I read your blog all the time, and have been inspired to try new combinations of tops, bottoms, and accessories. Keep up the excellent work!

  5. Leslie

    The first look is by far my fave on you. I adore it! I learn toward #3 more for myself, though. I haven’t tucked in a shirt since the early 90s. I’m just not done comfortable doing so even though I would love to achieve your first look.

  6. Victoria

    I’d love to play with my proportions, but I confess i’m still baffled by figuring out where I fit. Seems silly to admit it now that I’m in my 30s, but I’m a late bloomer with these things. πŸ™‚

    So how does a petite gal (5’0″, 34-27-35), whom everyone tells is ‘perfectly proportioned’, figure out if her torso is long or short? Is there some magic mathematical equation?

      • Victoria

        Thanks Sal! I hit the site, and pulled out my measuring tape to find out… that I’m short-waisted and long-legged. Now if only the petite recc’s didn’t clash with some of the short-waisted suggestions, which don’t line up with all the hourglass ideas. Oh, fashion. How you baffle me πŸ™‚

    • Aya

      I think a lot of it depends on what you feel makes you look your best. In addition to the proportions of your body, you may have curves or other features you want to accentuate.

      I’m 5’2″ and noticed recently all of my tops were clingy and long to accentuate the curvature of my lower back. My jeans in return were all low-slung hip jeans. Thanks to Already Pretty I’m playing around with skirts that have a natural or high waist and even tucking in(!) some shirts. I think both looks are nice, they just highlight different figure features. If you’re lucky and proportioned nicely, it probably means you can rock a variety of waistline styles.

      (Long and short torso may also depend on ethnicity. I’ve noticed gals of Asian descent tend to have shorter legs, proportionally, than Caucasian and black gals. I think we also are longer in the waist/lower back.)

  7. Eliza

    I also prefer look one. It’s also the same waistline that works best for my body but I’ve been a little shy about wearing skirts/dresses that high. I like my clothes to fit closely (not tight, but with an hourglass(ish) figure I have to compromise between fitting my chest and my waist). I always worry that I look like my clothing is too small if it’s snug at the bodice and high at the waist, but if I go up a size, the waistline is less flattering and often the rest of the dress is too big. I suppose I should go to a tailor, but I’m worried he’d pretty much have to remake the dress in the smaller size. Any words of wisdom?

    • Sal

      Hmmm. In my experience, there’s a spectrum of snug-to-tight. But my guidelines are if something creates loads of visible pull lines or gaps in any way, it’s not fitting properly. I assume you’re already using lots of belts if you’re choosing to fit your bust and go a little looser in the waist. Aside from that, sadly, tailoring may be your best bet. Also I recommend this line for hourglassy women:

  8. Laurel

    I think look #1 is just one of those perfect outfits. The fit is right on and very complementary on you. The other important part that I really like is the colors – bold, daring really, and very complimentary on you. Me, I’d be fidgiting around with the tucked in shirt…
    For me, really, a sweet road racing bike makes the biggest difference in my proportions! Ok, perhaps I should pay more attention to this…

  9. Amy

    Thanks thanks thanks for posting this! It’s a trick I keep trying to explain to my friends when I’m in their closets, and the pics are so helpful. Awesome.

  10. Sarah

    I love look #1 too. Makes you look very balanced to me and has such pretty colors! I am only 5’3″, slightly short-waisted with what I *think* are long legs. Or maybe they are just skinny legs? πŸ™‚ For example. I am not afraid to wear a pencil skirt with a hem below the knee with a longer (fitted) top to lengthen my torso (and a belt to give curves), if I also wear something like nude heels to keep my legs looking proportionate. I’ve recently read that “midi” length is challenging for most women, but I think I’ll stick with it because again, with the heels paired with bean poll legs, I think it still works.

  11. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    These visuals are so helpful, Sal. I’ve read these guidelines in other places, but they make *sense* when I see them. I enjoy playing with my waistlines vs. hemlines, and then heel height makes a difference too.

  12. Anne

    Sally this is great. One of my frustrations in updating the wardrobe is that buying one new item leads to buying several because the proportions of one item affect the others. Hence buying new pant begets buying new tops and often new shoes. I had an interesting revelation last year when I discovered that I actually look better in shorter shorts. Bermuda shorts down to my knees make me look and feel stumpy (which in turn made me feel like I had to wear heels with them) A 5″ inseam makes me look downright leggy.

    I think many of us get frustrated with the proportion game because initially there will be several nos before we get to the yeses. The key I suppose is to keep experimenting and some how document the successes.

  13. Bethanne

    Love what you’ve done in this post with analyzing a few of your past looks and smooshing them together to illustrate a larger point. More of this type of post, please! πŸ™‚

  14. JB

    Wow, I guess I’m in the minority here. I love a lot of things about the first look – the colors, the fit – but I do think it makes you look a bit scrunched up top. Look number three, while less stylistically sophisticated, looks more proportionate to my (admittedly inexpert) eye.

    Speaking of playing with proportions, Demi went a little overboard here:

    • Trystan

      I agree – I love how the third look elongates Sal’s torso & makes her look super-mega skinny! It doesn’t emphasize her legs like the first outfit, but it gives her the teeniest waist imaginable. Look #1 is a bit stumpy in the waist, for all the leggy-ness. #2 is more balanced, tho the skirt is a smidge low.

      Just depends on what you want to emphasize.

  15. Mel

    I love how you posted those pics side by side. Really brings your point home. More comparisons like this, please!

    I agree that the left photo is the best look between the three. Although now I’m thinking about what could be done differently with outfits 2 & 3 to bring those outfits up to the level of #1.

    What’s needed for #3? To bring the eye up? To make the outfit more lively?? A belt? Would it be a color? How wide would it be? What about a necklace or scarf, or both? Is the problem that the eye really has nowhere to land with that outfit? There’s nothing that stands out? It’s too bland? Could you add a third component….a shrug or something? I guess besides the shirt being a little long, white’s not your best color for next to your face. I think I’d add something to the neckline that WAS in one of your better colors, but I’m undecided about the weight of the neck thing. A scarf might be too much.

    Or, now that you have short hair, you could add kicky ear-rings. I also think that your short hair would change the look of the latter two outfits cuz it will change the overall balance.

    I can see possiblities with #3 to better it. I can’t visualize for #2 what I’d do differently. Ah, well, I guess you can’t have ALL your outfits be stellar. πŸ™‚

  16. susan

    I really love your blog! I looked at the vertical body tutorial link and found it helpful. But it occurs to me that the amount of difference between top and bottom halves of the body must really matter. One inch, or 7 inches? I mean, it must really make a big difference as to how to balance proportions. Also, its possible to be short waisted with a long neck (I’m not). In that case, two parts of the body are opposing each other as far as what to do to balance legs/torso. I wonder how many of us have opposing issues to consider, in addition to the usual issues of proportion, fit and color. Wow, its quite the puzzle!

    • Sal

      All good questions, Susan, and I think it depends on the woman. One inch isn’t going to make a huge difference on most, but more than two will start to affect proportions. And remember, too, that a lot of this is down to personal preference. If you don’t care or have never noticed how long/short your torso is, it’s likely that what you’re doing now works just fine!

      And yes, I think the short/long waistedness can be balanced/cancelled out in some cases by other features. It’s all very individual!

      • Sarah

        Well, as one who used the tutorial (thanks!) I discovered whoa… there’s a solid 7-8 inch difference between top and bottom half (I apparently *am* long legged, not just skinny-legged!). And guess what’s shortening my upper half? My mid-section (collar bone region mirrors my leg proportions). Very educational – thanks!

        • susan

          I think Sarah is a good example of someone who is short waisted, but would probably use a different method to balance her proportions. Awesome to have a long neck and long legs!

          I wonder if certain times don’t have extreme proportions. It would have been hard to have a longer torso/shorter waist as a flapper in the 20’s, maybe. Or easier? I don’t know.

          • Sarah

            Susan – very interesting to ponder different eras. I am going to guess the 20’s would be tougher for someone with my figure. I imagine every era is harder on some body types than others, and that it switches up.

  17. Bethany

    Thank you for posting the pictures side by side! Such a helpful visual!

    I don’t pay too much attention to proportions, but sometimes an outfit of mine just doesn’t ‘work’, and I’m betting that is why.

  18. hellotampon

    This can be hard when you don’t know your own body shape. I’m 5’2″ and I know that I’m definitely short-waisted, but I can’t tell if my legs are long or short for my height. I’ve seen 2 guides to vertical body composition and if I follow one of them and measure my legs from my crotch down, they’re shorter than my top half. If I follow the other guide and measure from my hip down, they’re longer. I also can’t tell what my shape is… my measuring tape says hourglass, but I’m no Marilyn Monroe and when I look in the mirror I see a “shape” that resembles a lump of pizza dough. I don’t think I actually have any idea what I really look like.

  19. Piper Alexander

    I also prefer the 1st look on you. I actually don’t mind shortening my torso (a lot of people have an issue with it) – I try to lengthen my whole body, more specifically my legs, in dressing. I wear a lot of high waisted items and if I wear shorts, they have to be short.

  20. lisa

    I like your use of visual aids to illustrate this concept, Sal!

    Hmm like you, I dress to shorten my torso and lengthen my legs rather than dress to accentuate my natural waistline.

  21. Jen

    While I agree that the one on the left looks most proportionate and makes you look the thinnest, I have the one on the right bookmarked as one of my favorite all time looks. I don’t know if it’s the casual/fancy/boho/all American thing that I like or the “oh I could actually recreate this myself” or something else, but it’s one of my favorites. But the light green shirt, I’m sorry to say, appears to make you look like Casper. Maybe a bright scarf near the face next time you wear it? But I like your shape in all three. I’m going to have to try photographing my outfits more often to see how I really look in stuff. Mostly I go, it fits, check, it’s an ok color for me, check, out the door.

  22. tess


    the red/magenta combo is deadly (in a great way) with your pale coloring and the tailoring complements with your cute figure,

    sadly, the green and the white washes out your pretty face,

    I’m pale myself & notice that a high contrast works best for me, don’t know how that will play out as I get wrinkly, maybe softer blacks (gray), etc

    Photos are highly instructional, so would be looking in a full length mirror, I’ve gone out with crooked buttons & even mismatching shoes (yes, not just socks)

  23. Court

    I think this skirt looks perfect on you! Also love the color combination, I would never think to put these colors together.

  24. Barbara

    Such an interesting study of proportion! I like the first outfit better, too. And those two colors together make me happy. Love it! β™₯

  25. Debbie

    Can you do one with pant lengths? I feel I cannot wear capris because my legs look super stumpy.

    Same boot height. Short ankle boots are awful, mid-calf cut my legs but right under the knee boots look lengthening.

    I hope you do more of these side by side comparisons!

  26. Paula

    Months ago I commented on an Outfit how the short jacket shortens your torso … it’s nice to finally receive an answer to my comment … in this posting.