Style Crisis: Pencil skirt length and legwear

Fibonacci and the golden ratio - Pencil skirt length


Never ones to hold back, I’m always grateful and regularly inspired by family and friends who make it their business to keep me on track. A raised eyebrow, a pertinent question or a pointed (even barbed) comment, will test my resolve and prompt me to take a second look. Never more so than with my clothing choices; I’ve recounted a few such encounters in my Style Crisis posts (mostly courtesy of the oft-mentioned Rebecca – but she’s not alone).

That doesn’t mean to say that I’m ever pressured into wearing or not wearing anything. Good grief, no. I’m perfectly capable of stepping out in something completely – unexpected, shall we say – and making it my own, thank you very much. How else to learn from painful experience?

Recent months have provided me with a completely new and unexpected source of opinion and inspiration – the comments on my Style Crisis blogs. I genuinely had no idea that they would prove to be the invaluable source of insight and incitement that they have become. Equalled in number and encouragement only by the personal emails that I’ve received following many of my posts; I’m incredibly grateful.

My Trying out a skirt post was a case in point. Not only did I receive lots of positive spurrings-on – a couple of the comments in particular addressed specific questions I’d posed. Namely:

  • The length of my grey flannel pencil skirt – was it a couple of inches too long?
  • What to wear on my legs (and feet too) since that conundrum often discouraged me from wearing a skirt.

Theory: Pencil skirt length

On the first question, Diaana (notable for calling ClothSpot one afternoon to urge ‘don’t make that navy blue shirt!) suggested that I consider the Fibonacci’s ‘Golden Ratio’ in determining my best pencil skirt length.

Like many of you, I recall learning about the Fibonnacci Sequence at school. A quick reminder – it’s this sequence of numbers…

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc…

…which is achieved by adding the last two numbers in the sequence in order to create the next number. It can be used to create shapes using spirals or tiles – and crops up throughout history in architecture and art composition, for example:

Pencil skirt length architecture golden ratio
The Golden Ratio informs classical architecture

as well as the natural world.

Golden ratio in nature pencil skirt length
The Golden Ratio is found throughout nature

It also crops up in other unexpected places. Including, apparently, pencil skirts – who knew?

The formula for calculating your perfect pencil skirt length is as follows:

  1. Measure from your waist to the floor with flat shoes or no shoes.
  2. Divide that number by 8.
  3. Multiply that number by 5
  4. The result, Di explains, should be a length which should look proportionally pleasing, particularly for a pencil skirt.

Di also reports it works for other types of garment  – and of course the beauty is that it’s based on individual body measurements so can be used by anyone regardless of size.

I applied the calculation to my skirt and extraordinarily enough – it was just shy of two inches over the length that the Golden Ratio suggested it should be. The eye, it appears, does not deceive.

There’s a great educational resource here if you want to know more about the Fibonnacci and the Golden Ratio but meanwhile the next lesson in my pencil skirt learning experience came from Cate at Vintage Gal.

Theory: Pencil skirt legwear

A mine of information about dressing with elegance and flair, Cate had these words of wisdom regarding my choice of legwear.

In terms of the whole tights, and skirt thing, I have a rule I (generally) live by as it suits me better. If the skirt is below the knee then it should be natural tights or bare legs, but it the skirt is above the knee then it should be dark tights.

My original photographs saw me in my new burgundy mid-heel boots and matching tights. I’d learned from these pictures that the height of the boot and the straight top were very effective at cutting off my legs just above the ankle. Not quite the sleek look I’d anticipated so they’ve been assigned to ‘wearing with trousers’ duty. Cate’s suggestion was therefore most welcome.

Practical experiment: Method

So what else would a girl do but put all this sterling advice and insight into practice? Without further ado, here’s my photoshoot of all these different options.

Inevitably there’s a soundtrack for this photo session. For goodness’ sake there’s only so much dressing and undressing a girl can do in aid of research without some decent music to keep her pecker up.

Hence – I Got Clothes by A Certain Ratio – an excellent double-pun opportunity as well as a decent groove.

A handbag to dance around and I’m away…  I was once asked if I’d ever managed to ‘pick anyone up’ on the dancefloor.

‘Certainly not’ I answered.

‘I’m not surprised’ came the reply.

Who cares. Here goes…

Practical experiment: Results

Pencil skirt length long with black tights
Longer length with black opaques


Pencil skirt length long with sheer tights
Longer length with sheer tights

*****(Interlude while I scuttle off, unpick the hem and take it up by 4.5cm or 1 3/4″)*****


Pencil skirt length short with black tights
Tada! Shorter length with opaques 


Pencil skirt length short with sheer tights
Shorter length with sheer tights

(Is that a knee? And is it OK to stop grinning now?)

The black court heels here aren’t what I’ll be wearing (they get about two outings a year) but they seemed the most appropriate ‘neutral’ option in order that I could focus on the legwear and skirt length.

Practical experiment: Conclusion

What’s the verdict? I definitely like the shorter version as it hits that point just below the knee where the calf finishes curving inwards. Surely that’s not just coincidence? It certainly feels much more like me – far more energetic. Seriously! You wouldn’t imagine that less than two inches off a hemline would make as much difference to how a garment feels to wear. (Bear in mind here that I’m having to rein myself in a little as I have a penchant for very short jersey skirts-over-leggings. However I recognise we’re not in that territory and in order to be a pencil skirt we have to stop somewhere around the knee.)

On the tights front I think I agree with Cate that a sheer tight works much better on the longer length. Certainly with a longer skirt, black opaques are rather funereal. The sheer tights feel very grown up, which is new territory for me but hey, it’s a pencil skirt and not a pair of dungarees. However as the length goes up, the black tights don’t seem quite so dour. Or is it my imagination?

References & peer review

Thank you again to Di and Cate for their guidance on these issues; I love a practical experiment. It takes me right back to ‘O’ Level Physics… (Is it possible to calculate the velocity of a pencil skirt, or perhaps to state its ease requirements in Newtons?)

Do we have a firm formula for wearing a pencil skirt? Let me know what you think regarding the length and the legwear. Am I counting angels on a pinhead or is there as much difference as I feel there to be?

Are there any other ‘golden rules’ that I might want to consider?

In my next post…

…I’ll be ‘fessing up about a recent off-piste striped jersey excursion that hit the skids… Brace yourselves.

15 thoughts on “Style Crisis: Pencil skirt length and legwear

  1. andrea thompson says:

    Interesting blog post. Im never sure where a longer length skirt should end on me, so I usually go for short with woolly tights and boots. The shorter length certainly makes you look younger!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Credit for the inspiration goes to others, Andrea – but I’m pleased you found my experiment of interest! Like you I was never quite sure what to do with a longer skirt – and like you too, short skirts, thick tights and boots are my go-to (she says, looking down and seeing precisely that… 😉 as I feel more ‘ready for action’.

  2. Gill Troup says:

    Alice you look great in the shorter version with either of those tights. Think I’m going to slash a couple of inches off a few of my skirts!

  3. Marion George says:

    I’m with the tights things, definitely the dark with the short and the natural with the long. Now is the question of tight colour. Black with a navy skirt? Really? Navy, maybe, burgundy or nearly black might look good. It might be it bit 90s to match one’s tights with one’s outfit but there is a reason. Keeping the colours similar has the visual effect of lengthening the body, it doesn’t chop it up into sections. That is, of cause, unless that’s the intention. The problem , I think, of navy with black is that it reminds me of a bloke trying to look as if he’s wearing a suit made up of black trousers and a navy jacket. Burgundy tights would team in with your blouse would also work nicely. My experience of coloured tights was to at all cost avoid green, my legs looked as if I had verdigrese.

    As to which I prefer on you, it’s the shorter one. It is a better proportioned. The longer one is perhaps a little more ‘poshed up’. And yes the formula works a treat, I have just tried it after reading your last blog.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello there Marion – I completely agree with you about the burgundy tights – I tried that in my original blog images but the only matching shoes I had were my burgundy boots that really don’t work with a skirt, I discovered. (They come up too high and are cut straight-across as opposed to in a cowboy-boot style like my other pair). You’re right – I should have tried charcoal tights to tone with the skirt – you see – total dead loss when spotting the obvious! My skirt isn’t navy though – it’s charcoal – you see that? Did I misunderstand? Or does your computer screen need adjustment? (No don’t throw it at me!) *Love* your comment about green tights – verdigris wasn’t my first point of comparison but yours is probably more publishable. My only pair of green tights was used to dress up my son as Peter Pan on National Book Day. He still hasn’t forgiven me.

      However I will bear in mind the suggestion of not breaking up the line with different colour tights if possible. I hadn’t thought of that (again, missing the bleedin’ obvious, now you mention it…)

      Glad your test of the theory worked too – ‘poshed up’ isn’t my usual state, suffice to say!

  4. Di says:

    Well, I’m with Cate on the colour/type of tights/long boots, and I think the shorter pencil skirt, using the Golden Ratio (GR) as a guide, is more flattering, particularly with the darker tights. Makes your legs look longer. You could run for a bus in that skirt !! Love the nature photo’s etc at the start of your blog. So pleasing to the eye.
    We humans are a miracle of nature so the GR applies to us too. Just as a starter, ( so your eyes don’t glaze over) the height of the average human head from top to chin divides into the body seven and a half to eight times. It doesn’t stop there but applies throughout the whole body.
    I’d quite forgotten about that weekend call. I was having IT problems so thought to ring and leave a message on your answerphone (I’d assumed there was one). Quite a surprise Alice when you answered. One thing led to another but yes, I did say that it wouldn’t be a good idea to make that navy linen? shirt. I recall it was the colour choice that bothered me.
    Be interesting to read what others think about the tights/skirts.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Di – I’m so pleased my experiment met with your approval – thank you again for the inspiration and guidance! As you can see from the comments here, lots of other people have tried it out and you have kicked off an international movement of scissor-wielding. Glad you liked the pictures I found – and although the bus service in our neck of the woods is non-existent, my shorter length will certainly see me striding out with confidence!

      Your ‘7.5 heads to a body’ is ringing a bell from my art classes and yes indeed – I understand that it applies with hands/arms and feet/legs too. (Finally, an explanation of my Size 8s. Although I need to double-check that with my Dad as he says he’d be taller if he didn’t have as much ‘turned under’!)

      I still have that length of navy linen set by – but I hear your wise words of warning every time I’m drawn to it. It will have its day at some point, but I promise not until I have found a way to ‘lift’ it. Thank you again!

      • Di says:

        Glad to be of assistance and spread the word about ratio’s. I agree with Jenny about maths covering all of life. Can’t think who said that you can prove anything with it–not that I’d want to try !!

  5. Jenny says:

    I totally agree that the shorter skirt with opaque tights works best. No matter what the fashion trends, the rules work. Was it entirely coincidence that the mini skirt appeared about the same time as opaque tights became available?

    This post is spookily timely for me. I’ve been dithering over a pattern for my gorgeous Cadogan wool fabric for ages. My usual patterns had too many panels or weren’t quite right. Then a couple of weeks ago I suddenly remembered an old skirt which fits perfectly and I have loved for about 3 years, but which was relegated to housework and gardening as it was so worn out. I cut it up and made a pattern from it. I’ve just done the ratio thing on it and guess what …… yes, the formula works!!!

    Now here’s the other thing. Something was holding me back from actually cutting into the fabric. The original was a cotton print (with parrots and perfectly placed pockets) and worn bare legged in summer, so I dug out a nice cotton print from my stash to make a wearable toile, thinking it will be nice for my holiday in April. Then I would try the real fabric but would probably make it a bit shorter to wear with opaque tights! The theory is spot on!

    I have some thick soled loafers to complete the look. And I haven’t been entirely lazy, I’ve made a top from the ochre rib jersey I got with the wool and have almost completed a knitted grey cardigan.

    When I did A level maths I tried to convince my friends of the way maths covers all of life (my favourite was the beauty of Pascal’s triangle, even though I can’t remember it now). I have a hazy memory of being told in music about the intervals between the notes of a chord always being 3 and 5, and if you swapped them round it became a minor chord, challenging the harmony of the major chord and giving interest. I may be totally ‘off key’ about the numbers, it was over 50 years ago.

    Anyway, it’s good to challenge these things so my skirt will be a bit shorter, despite my skinny shapeless legs.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Jenny – I’m delighted your experimentation also proved the theory – and that your old favourite skirt lives on in the form of a pattern! My grandmother was a great advocate of cutting up old clothes to recreate a new version – she would definitely have approved – and what better end for a worn-out treasure?

      I am in awe of your having tackled A-Level maths – and my knowledge of harmonics is zero, as anyone who’s heard me in the shower or in the car will testify. However I have a couple of musician friends and I’ll be intrigued to take that up with them – thank you for the new perspective. I love it when things connect unexpectedly.

      So pleased you have that ochre rib to work with the ‘Cadogan’ – we thought they were a classic combination and it’s so gratifying to know we’re not alone. I’d be intrigued to know where you found your thick-soled loafers – they sound like a great way of wearing a flat without it being a ballet flat (not with my feet…) or a lace-up.

      I hadn’t thought about the advent of opaque tights corresponding with the arrival of the mini-skirt. You’re probably right (although I’ve seen many an image suggesting that plenty of young gals didn’t bother!)

      I hope your new outfit works – do let us know how you get on (we love a picture 🙂 and thank you again.

      • Jenny says:

        The shoes are from a local boutique, the make is Lisa Kay. I’ve had them almost a year and I love them – ballet flats seem too flimsy to me. The owner has tried to get more but they have changed the style slightly. I should be either getting on with my sewing or tackling the garden before the weeds start to grow fast, but I have been just browsing on the internet for over an hour with Sounds of the Sixties in the background!

        • aliceclothspot says:

          Ooh I see those chunky loafers, Jenny – and I like the look of them, thank you! Absolutely agree with you re: ballet flats. My feet/actions destroy them. Enjoy your browsing and sewing – it’s been far too inclement to garden (phew!) although the birds are singing now and those weeds will be appearing in no time I don’t doubt…

  6. Julia Droy says:

    I like shorter length with opaque’s. I will bear in mind the equation on the length of skirt, didn’t know that lesson learned. Looking forward to the off-piste striped jersey something.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Striped ‘something’ is an apt way of describing it, Julia! No further disclosure this week as the blog’s on a week out – but planned for next Friday. Thank you for the vote of ‘short with dark’ – definitely the consensus! Hope you’re doing well and back on your feet BTW.

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