{Petite Fitting} Head-to-Toe

When I started blogging about women's sewing, I fell hook line and sinker for the idea that different body shapes should wear different styles. It's a position that's evolved (or devolved?) greatly since then, to where I now believe that *most* styles flatter *most* people, so long as they FIT. 

So imagine my surprise when I caught myself, excitedly coordinating a "we'll all be in Richmond!!" blog collaboration opportunity, saying things like "let's do a series on petite style, and what we should or shouldn't wear!" 

.......Yeah. I said it It was me. 2017, (d?)evolved me. 

My fabulous co-hosts (to be announced shortly! I don't want to spoil that surprise just yet!) and I decided on a "Petite Fitting: Head to Toe" theme - one taking neck/shoulders, one taking bust/waist, and yours truly taking over bottoms, and hem lengths.  All was going swimmingly until I took up my "petite" hem length research... and read things like...

  • "Petites shouldn't wear midi skirts"
  • "Petites shouldn't wear maxi skirts"
  • "Petites shouldn't wear cuffed pants"
  • "Petites shouldn't wear shoes with ankle straps"

Here's where you find me sobbing desperately in the corner. Sure, it stings when my love of "crotchless yoga pants" takes a blow - but my shoes?? That's just cruel!

Then the stubborn-me started echoing in my mind "forget all this, petites don't need a list of what TO or NOT TO wear, they need reminding of HOW clothes should fit them, and WHERE hems should fall." (And really, don't we all?) The vast majority of us (Mindy Kaling excluded) don't have personal tailors - we're wearing clothes off the rack and hoping for the best. Now that we're making them for ourselves? It's super easy to nail the basics: 

  • Where should shoulder seams hit? 
  • Is this bust dart too low? too high? too far apart? 
  • Where is my "waistline" anyway? 
  • I can hem this skirt at any length - how do I know which one is for me?

Petite or not, read on my friends. Between the three of us, we'll cover your most basic "correct fit looks like" questions. Happy reading!


Click the images below to go to each blog post, or keep scrolling for my "Hips & Hem" info! 

Ah, hems. Most often the last step in finishing a garment. We rush through it, fold - press - pin - stitch - rip it off the machine - maybe (MAYBE) clip the threads, then never give it a second thought. And your patterns? They rush through it too. It's usually the shortest instruction in the whole tutorial - and that's a shame. Because it's so much more thoughtful then that. 

"You tried REALLY hard to use any word but 'Complicated' just now, didn't you?"

Guilty! But I stand by it. It's not complicated in the sense that you need new tools, new methods, or $$$. It's complicated in that it requires extra thought. Fore thought. Like "how do I intend to use this garment?" thought. Because there is *one* right hem length for each garment, and it depends on how it will be worn, and with what. Starting from the top, and working our way down...

Shirts (source, source)

Your shirts have two hems: Sleeves, and body.

  • Long sleeves end just past the wrist bone
  • 3/4 length sleeves end at high hip
  • Half sleeves end at the elbow
  • Short sleeves end at the bust
  • Cap sleeves end just past the shoulder

The body of your shirt should be no longer than "mid hip", aka the fullest part of your hip. Anything longer will visually lengthen your trunk and shorten your legs. 

Pants (source, source)

  • Shorts should pass the "finger tip test", roughly a 4 inch inseam. This should bypass the constant urge to tug your shorts hem down. They *should* fall back to place on their own when you stand up from a seated position. If they don't, they're too short or too tight (or both!).
  • Bermuda shorts should be 2 inches above the knee
  • Cropped pants should hit at the bottom of your calf muscle
  • Ankle, Skinny Jeans, & J/Leggings (+ flats) should hit at the ankle bone.
  • Ankle, Skinny Jeans & J/Leggings (+ heels) should hit just below the ankle bone.
  • Straight leg  jeans/trousers should hit the top of the foot with little or no break. 
  • Wide leg trousers, Boot cut jeans, Maxi skirts should be hemmed between 1/2-1 inch off the ground - just short enough that you can see the top of your shoe with some "break," not so long that the shoe is hidden or the pant leg drags on the floor.
“Break” is the fold/creasing that occurs in the front/bottom of your garment when your hem hits the top of your foot. 

It's also one of those rare times (perhaps the only?) in tailoring when a fold/wrinkle is expected and desired in the quest for good fit. Think about it - if "break" wasn't meant to be there, we'd sew all our longer garments with "hi-lo" hems. 


Before I talk more about skirts - let's dig into this "heel or no heel" conversation. Why does it matter, anyway? Because ideal hem lengths are proportional to your total leg length. And not like "my inseam is 30 inches" leg length. But visual leg length. That is - how long your legs look. Which is impacted by a number of factors (height of the waistband, vertical stripes in fabric, color of your shoes, whether or not your shirt is tucked in) - but none so obvious as heels. If you wear heels with a garment intended to be worn with flats, your hem line will hover inches off the ground and end up shortening the perceived length of your legs. Never the goal of a well fitted garment.

As I talk about some of those suggested "proportional" hem lengths, keep the flats/heels concept in mind. I'll illustrate both options

50/50 method (source)

Settle the "at, above, or below my knee cap??" debate once and for all with this trick! The best "balanced" hem length for a skirt is one which shows 50% leg and 50% skirt. This will be a custom length every time, as you'll need to take into account how high the skirt rests on the torso, as well as how "long" your shoes make your leg. Take for instance the Colette Zinnia. I've superimposed the line drawing on a silhouette of my body. Left is my body in flats, right is my body in heels. The first slide shows the original skirt length per pattern drawing (drafted for 5'5). The second shows the skirt hemmed to a 50/50 leg to skirt ratio. The last slide shows the difference between the two. 

Based on these graphics, I need casual knee length skirts hemmed 2 inches above the kneecap center. I need formal (or heel-appropriate) ones at the kneecap. (Side views give you a better idea of where the knee cap is.)

The "Golden Ratio" (source)

Here's another "ideal skirt length" method that will take your whole body into consideration. Measure from your shoulder to the floor, and divide that number by 1.618. Here, I've illustrated the Golden Ratio method by overlaying the line drawing for the Seamwork Brooklyn over a silhouette from my shoulders, down, in flats (left) and heels (right). Again - first slide is the "original" line drawing, second is the hem moved up to the suggested length, and third shows the difference. 

As you can see - there's not much different about the results of these two methods for me. However, if you have an especially long torso or shorter legs, I imagine you'll see much different results.

Go Short or Go Home!

If you like to show more skin, the "experts" are (mostly) in agreement. The best length for your mini skirt is at finger tip length. Now - before you go thinking I've turned all grade-school-principal on you, there is a mathematical reason behind this cut, too. The idea is you'll horizontally cut your body at a trimmer part of your thighs, while also avoiding wardobe malfunctions.

(Again, first is original line drawing from the Chi-town Chino skirt, second is the suggested "finger tip" length, third is the difference. 

Now of course - fashion and modesty are very subjective. Just because it's "suggested" for you doesn't mean you have to feel comfortable in it. And if you have the confidence to go shorter - live it up for those of us who either don't, or can't commit to modest behavior in our own clumsiness or our child wrangling. I'm just here to tell you what *should* be most flattering, not what you *have* to wear.

Bring it DOWN

The ONLY time you hem garments at the floor (or 1/4 off the ground) is when you're wearing gowns. And since I've not yet been cast as an extra in the various period dramas being filmed around Richmond, I've had precious few occasions to wear gowns. Bummer. But you can file that one away should you ever get the opportunity!

I'm sort of "punting" on the whole "hips" part of my self-selected "hips and hems" topic. But A. this post is getting super long, and B. there's nothing about proper fit around hips/bum that Heather of Closet Case Files hasn't already said better. So I'll close with a reminder: Fit Red Flags look like fabric that wrinkles, pulls, "frowns," "smiles," and otherwise makes you tug like mad to keep them on. You can see what these hip fit problems look like, and how to fix them, via that link above. (Plus, I'm blogging 6 pairs of shorts and their muslins/adjustments - so you'll see plenty of that here in the coming weeks. Details on that later this week!)

Special thanks to Mac and Holli for joining me on this spontaneous blog "tour"! It was so much fun "geeking out" with you over fabric sources and our mutual affinity for the sewing world! I cannot wait to skip over now and see what you've written for the series. I hope my readers do, too!