Reader Request: How to Style a Full Skirt

How to style a full skirt

Reader Marina sent me this question in an e-mail:

I’ve noticed recently how many lovely, full-skirts you rock (whether as parts of dresses or actual skirts), and I’m wondering if you might consider one of your reader request posts for similar outfits. Particularly for long-torso’d people. I’m thinking how to match full-skirts with tops that aren’t just blouses or button ups, and/or full-skirted tall dresses.

When I first started wearing skirts, pencils and A-lines dominated. My first full skirt was an orange pleated one from Banana Republic that still gets loads of wear to this day, and I remember wondering how on earth to style it when it first came into my possession. Now full skirts are my go-to style, and I’m delighted to share my tips for making them work.

But first some quick definitions: A pencil skirt is shaped to the figure at the waist and hips and generally curves in at the knees a bit. An A-line skirt takes the shape of a capital letter A when laid flat, so it flares out from the low hip. A true full skirt is A-shaped, too, but can have pleats, gathers, or other design features that cause it to have more fabric below the waistline than an A-line. This adds volume, motion, and a certain flippy-ness to full skirts. And, in my opinion, makes them incredibly fun to wear.

Now let’s look at some guidelines for wear:

Fitted tops generally work best

Already Pretty outfit featuring red cardigan, floral print midi skirt, cognac wedges, navy blue handbag, tagua nut necklace

By their very nature, full skirts have a lot of volume. To create balance in your outfits and show the true shape of your figure, it generally works best to balance fullness in one half with fitted-ness in the other.

Naturally, “fitted” doesn’t need to mean “skin tight” and also doesn’t always equate to a single, thin, clingy layer. Feel free to opt for a fitted blouse, sweater, or tee with your full skirt, but a fitted, structured blazer or jacket can work beautifully, too, so long as it’s the right length. Which leads me to my next point …

Tuck or opt for short tops

Already Pretty outfit featuring plaid scarf, navy sweater, olive green pleated skirt, Frye Vera Slouch boots

Since full skirts have more bulk and flare than A-lines, it’s essential that your top not interfere with the skirt’s natural shape. So make sure to either tuck your top in (and add a belt to complete your look!) or choose a top that’s short enough that it won’t grab onto any pleats, folds, or gathers.

Sweaters with short bodies are marvelous for wearing with full skirts, and offer an alternative to blouses and button-fronts. The shorter-length rule also applies to jackets and blazers: Boyfriend-style and longer jackets will cause full skirts to bunch up, so pick one that hits at high hip or above.

Some busty women are intimidated by full skirts as they have natural figure volume up top and are loathe to add outfit volume on the bottom. This really comes down to personal preference. A fitted top in a short but not cropped length and a full skirt can look absolutely marvelous on a busty woman, but she has to love the look and be comfortable with an outfit that has lots of serious curves. Also some full skirts are fuller than others, so choosing versions that sit a bit flatter or are made from thinner materials can help ease the bottom bulk. More on fibers shortly.

Separates draw the eye to where they meet, so bear that in mind here. If you love and want to draw attention to your waist, go for high-contrast colors (hot pink top, navy skirt) and a bold belt. If you’d rather not show off your waist, opt for low-contrast colors (cobalt top, navy skirt) and a belt that blends a bit more.

Mind your fabric weights


Floaty, unstructured tops can work with full skirts, but you’ll need to create some balance in the weights of your fibers. A sheer diaphanous blouse with a lightweight silk full skirt may look elegant and romantic, but it also might also look a little loosey-goosey depending on the construction of the two pieces.

All that floaty-ness might overwhelm your figure or create an outfit that looks somewhat droopy. If your skirt is lightweight, it will frequently pair well with more structured tops – everything from sturdy knits to stiff leather jackets. If your skirt is made from stiffer stuff, floaty lightweight tops can work beautifully in contrast. (This is my beloved orange skirt, mentioned above!)

In dresses, make sure the waist hits correctly


If you’re doing a dress with a full skirt – and many fit-and-flare styles will feature full skirts – you’ll want to make sure the waist hits where you want it to. An inch can be worked around with clever belting, but if a full-skirted dress has a waistline that hits well above or below where you’d like it to, your proportions will be thrown way off. In most cases you want the dress waistline to hit at your natural waist – the smallest part of your torso.

This means the skirt nips in where you’re smallest and flares out over your hips. If you have pronounced hips and try on a full-skirted dress that hits BELOW your natural waist, the fullness will be exaggerated when it gets pushed out by your hips. Regardless of your proportions, a full-skirted dress that hits ABOVE your natural waist may add gobs of volume below your bustline making you look bigger than you actually are.

Now, Marina was specifically interested in tips for long-waisted gals, and here’s where some exceptions come in. If your natural waist falls low on your torso and you’d like to play around with proportion a bit, full skirts or full-skirted dresses that hit above your natural waist can help. They’ll move your waistline up, visually speaking, and make you look like your waist and hips fall higher on your frame.

If you’re tall and long-waisted, make sure your hemline is still long enough for your preferences; Higher waists often mean the entire dress shifts upward, so consider exploring full midis as needed. ASOS has dozens. If you have a long waist and a large bust, moving the waist of a full skirt northward may cause your bust and hips/waist to visually group, making you look bigger. Be aware of that possibility.

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.

How many of you are full skirt fans? Do you have preferences for which tops to pair with them? Anyone long-waisted and have other tips to share for making this style work? Do tell!

Image courtesy Nordstrom // cc

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2014-08-20 06:44:52.

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10 Responses to “Reader Request: How to Style a Full Skirt”

  1. Keisha

    What if you have a short torso, but love full skirts? I tend to do dresses in petite sizes (even though I’m not petite) just to get the shorter torso, but skirts never look right since they sit right under my bust!

    • Sally McGraw

      I hear ya, Keisha. Look for full skirts with a yoke, which will give you a little bit more room between your bust and the skirt’s pleats. (The orange skirt above has a yoke.) Then grab a skinny belt and place it about an inch below where skirt and tucked-in top meet. This will move your perceived waistline down a bit, visually and balance your proportions a bit. Hope that helps! (P.S. Other tips for balancing a short torso here, in case you missed them:

  2. Lisa Wong

    I LOVE full skirts and I’ve been wearing them all spring/summer:

    They’re so much cooler, comfier, and less restrictive than pencil skirts when it’s hot outside, plus they don’t highlight heat-induced bloating. :/ As for what to pair with them, I know Marina was looking for ideas that weren’t just “blouses or button ups,” but in my experience changing the fabric/style of the button-up can change the whole vibe of a full-skirt ensemble. Long sleeves rolled up or sleeveless? Plaid, silk, chambray, or crisp white cotton? The gamut can run from casual to ladylike.

  3. Not quite anonymous

    Sally, I love the outfit with the olive skirt and navy top. I think you’ve mentioned that your style has been evolving lately to a more rocker aesthetic since your haircut. However, that outfit is a great example of the style that initially drew me to your blog–more of a classic/preppy style, and a silhouette that I love. That was my aspirational style for last winter, but I failed because it was a harsh winter and too cold for skirts. Maybe I’ll try again this winter.

    For Keisha, that olive skirt outfit of Sally’s that I’m drooling over is actually a great example of how I manage skirts despite having a short torso. I like skirts with a yoke. (Thank you, Sally, for that useful bit of vocabulary.) I choose a shirt that ends below my natural waist and leave the shirt untucked. The untucked shirt is especially helpful because the skirt rides up to my bustline when I sit, but people can’t tell because they can’t see the skirt waist. Also, I don’t wear too long of a skirt because then the skirt dominates the outfit and dwarfs my torso. Just above the knee usually works well for me. I think the vertical length of my shirt is then about the same as the exposed vertical length of skirt.

  4. Sonja

    I have an hourglass figure and avoid full skirts like the pest, because to me they visually add too much volume to my hips and make me look unbalanced. Since I’ve understood that, it’s only A-line skirts without any pleats for me. A pity, because the skirt in the first photo, for example, the one with the parrot, is so beautiful! And I’m stilll envious of your Pretty Woman dress, Sally!

  5. Nutella Nutterson

    I’m curious about equating long-torsos with being long-waisted. I’m very long in the torso, but the smallest part is above my belly button – and my belly button is fairly high up.

    Perhaps I’m an odd duck in this regard. I’ve recently discovered the magic of tall-cut blouses and jackets, which means that any small-of-the-back detailing finally hits in the right place, but that’s still lower than my natural waist.

    thanks for any ideas you might have – especially of how to describe this well enough that I can search more effectively for styling tips!

    • Sally McGraw

      Good point! In most cases a long torso/short legs means a long/low waist, but clearly that isn’t always the case. Glad the tall tops are working, at least mostly. Depending on how tall you are overall, the combination of long torso and high waist may mean that bespoke tops will be the best possible fit. (Though spendy, of course.) Dresses are likely a bit easier since there’s some variety in styles and waistband placement.

      I’d say you could describe yourself as long-torsoed and high- or short-waisted. Search for “long torso high waist” may get you lots of high-waisted jeans, but possibly some other suggestions, too. Hope that helps a bit! And thanks for pointing out that long torsos and long waists aren’t always coupled.

      • Incognita

        I have a fairly long torso, probably because I’m 5’9″, but I’m short-waisted for my height, with a resulting long rise. I’m also a pear/hourglass with a small waist. And I LOVE full skirts. They look best for me with a wide or very wide natural-waist waistband. That seems counter-intuitive, because a wide band ought to shorten my waist even more. But instead, it seems to define the separation between my hips and bust, whereas narrow waists/belts seem to lose waist definition.

  6. colormehappy

    You are killing me with that parrot skirt, which I decided I need to have, until I clicked on the link and saw that it was over $2K. Oh well, some other lifetime; some other price-point. 🙂 Great post!

  7. Marina

    Thanks so much, Sally, for answering my request! It’s a thrill to see my name here (!!!) and as always you have thoughtful suggestions. Looking forward to trying a full skirt out this fall. My absolute favourite outfit above is the Boden dress with jean jacket and tough boots, and that’s one I think I will emulate.