How To Wear A Full Skirt

No, not like this.
After Tuesday’s post showing some of Talbots Spring 2011 looks, several of you made the case in comments that the full skirts shown couldn’t be worn by most of us either because of age or proportions.  Now maybe that’s true for the really stiff, bulky, gathered skirts, but I’m a little teapot, short and stout, and in the past I’ve worn versions of fuller, longer skirts and loved them, loved the grace and movement they bring.
First, let’s work on banishing the knee-jerk, “I can’t wear X” from our style vocabulary. Or as Wendy B says, “never say never.”  If something just plain doesn’t appeal to you or makes you feel too self-conscious, that’s one thing, but with the right cut, fabric and styling, you’d be amazed at what you can wear and look great.

Second, let’s quit using models in photo shoots as the only standard for how the clothes “should” look on.  Have you ever been in the same room with an actual model?  I have, and they’re genetically abnormal.  I really don’t mean that in a disparaging way, but they are just built differently than 98% of women you will ever meet.   Not just thin, but tall, very very tall, and small-boned.  Not to mention that in photo shoots they are made up, perfectly lit, and the clothing has probably been altered within an inch of its life, and pinned with clothespins in the back to fit them perfectly.  Then the pictures are photoshopped to erase creases and bulges.  Especially when you’re purchasing off-the-rack clothing, it’s never going to look like that.  Do I wish retailers used clothing models that were actually closer to how most of us are really constructed?  Heck yes.  But in the meantime, we need to recognize that the clothes are going to look different on models than on most of us (yes, even Juliette Binoche).  That doesn’t mean the clothes look better on the models, necessarily, just different.

And if you need further evidence that Yes We Can wear fuller skirts, Materfamilias shows how it’s done:
Doesn’t she look gorgeous in this??  Here’s why I think this works:  1) the fabric is soft and drapes well, and 2) the yoke keeps volume below the waist and top of hips.  She has the length just right too.

Another wearable option is to look for skirts with bias-cut panels and that flare toward the hem, which will also provide graceful movement and the look of fullness, but without bulk where you don’t want it.  Especially for those of us who are short or thick waisted, avoiding bulk at the waist and top of hips is key.

I’m not arguing that not every look will be flattering for every body.  But I do think longer, fuller skirts can be graceful, feminine and flattering; it’s just a matter of finding the right versions for our bodies, and paying attention to styling.  Maybe the particular skirts shown in the Talbots collection won’t look good on some of us, but I’d bet that if you like the look, you can find another one out there that will.

Have you ever tried a style you’d previously written off, only to find that it really worked for you?

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  1. And, for those of us who sew (or even those of us who feel their sewing machine skills are not exactly couture), there are a lot of options with patterns in the Big Four sites: skirts with yokes, skirts with godets, skirts with 6 panels that start off skinny at the top and flare out toward the bottom, swirly skirts where the panels curve around the skirt like a barber pole and get wider as they go. All we need to do is find the right fabric: lighter weight knits, challis, anything drapey. Lots of options here, too.

  2. I’ve waited all my life for full skirts to come back in vogue, and 2 years for the LV trend to trickle down. (My local Vuitton doesn’t sell clothes, and I doubt I could afford one even if they did.)

    That Talbots collection is orgasmic. My only fear is that the materials used will be something atrocious.


  3. I have found myself being drawn to the longer, fuller skirts this season – haven’t worn this style since I was a teenager, so I’m a little nervous. Wendy’s right though – never say never – and having seen how lovely Materfamilias looks, I might just go for it. Thanks for the sound advice!

  4. First, let’s work on banishing the knee-jerk, “I can’t wear X” from our style vocabulary.

    Second, let’s quit using models in photo shoots as the only standard for how the clothes “should” look on.


    I love both of these suggestions! It’s exhausting to constantly read comments dismissing certain styles out of hand for these two reasons. Yeah, perhaps a given garment won’t look good, but maybe it will. I have friends of all different sizes, and I’m amazed sometimes at what looks great on them.

    Real style comes from being able to take a look and make it your own.

  5. Unlike Anonymous, I’ve worn full skirts in vogue or not, and found you can always find them if you look. And ma looks great! If you do not wish to tuck in, a top that ends at the high hip is necessary to avoid too much bulk. Also, a v-neck or at least open collar works better if you have a bust, as it accentuates the vertical.

    I can’t wear pastels, I’m just too imposing and look like I borrowed the item,

  6. Like you I’m short and getting stouter, but I know I could wear that blue Talbots skirt you showed in the second photo.

    It’s pleated not gathered, which narrows the look. And it’s not stiff, it’s got some drape. I might wear it with a less contrasting top to give more height illusion.

    I also had a summer skirt that had a yoke as Materfamilias example. Kudos to her for styling this lovely example!

    As you mentioned, getting the skirt to exactly the right length makes all the difference. There’s a ‘sweet spot’ that balances the shape of each skirt with the rest of your body. But you’ve probably always known that being short yourself;)

  7. I do have some full skirts, and I love them. What I was reacting to in my previous negative post a couple days ago, was the skirts with pleats beginning at the waist. My skirts have yokes, bias panels, etc. And I have a skirt that has the swirly panels that Toby mentioned, I always get compliments when I wear it.

  8. Thanks, Pseu, for the kind words — I’ve noticed an immediate spike in the stats over my way; your influence, of course!
    Your comments about adapting looks rather than rejecting them are spot-on — and I think it’s worth adding that if at first (you know this part) . . . try, try again. As well as this skirt works on me as is, it doesn’t look good at all with the crisp white shirt I’d love. But trying again with a very simple, neatly-fitting v-neck — success!

  9. Mater does look great and I think it’s because she kept the fullness only to the skirt and kept everything else slimmer so the skirt is the focus and is balanced…
    she herself is in fine trim form!

    I have a silk (black background with yellows and white) skirt very much like mater’s which I wear with a black tank top, and a shrug of a sweater.
    It was a leap of faith for me…have had compliments so it can’t be too wrong and I am height challenged!

  10. Mater’s top is relatively close-fitting. It balances the fullness of the skirt. It’s important to see a piece of clothing as part of the complete look and to evaluate it accordingly.

  11. Duchesse,

    I said “in vogue” because now that they are I can find them in the stores! Previously, I could only find them in vintage stores and, well, whenever I wore one I felt like I was in a costume.

    Now that they are more mainstream (sort of, thank you Mad Men!) perhaps I will have more of a selection to choose from.

    I am younger than you, so if I wear something too out of the ordinary I look like I am playing dress up.

  12. I did buy a full skirt last spring. It had a yoke at the waist that fit smoothly at my hips and was gathered from there. The skirt was dark dark navy (almost black) with several colorful stripes before the hem.

    I wore the skirt with a close fitting knit top with three quarter sleeves.

    It was surprisingly flattering, but I did feel just a bit self conscious. Actually, I should have worn it more. I will try to do that this coming spring.

    It is possible that the skirt is just a bit shorter than it should be. Not SHORT, but shorter than the most flattering length.

  13. I couldn’t agree more. And Mater does look great. Like EM, I’ve been waiting ages for full skirts and I couldn’t wait for the trend to trickle down.

  14. Ditto on the need to keep tops simple and on the “short and narrow” to make this work look — I don’t tuck things in, but I have a couple of beautiful full summer skirts (and have just realized that I think of this as a summer style, so there’s another knee-jerk to banish) that I wear with knit tops that are high-hip and close to the body. I always want to give a little twirl when I’ve got them on.

  15. What a great post! Full skirts are a staple in my wardrobe, despite the fact that I have fairly wide hips. I love how graceful and feminine I feel in them. I actually think that a half circle skirt is the most flattering shape to the largest number of women, because it has a very graceful flare to it. I do think a lot of people have trouble with them because they pair them with the same tops they wear with pants. But long shirts that hit mid-hip tend to make full skirts look dumpy. You really need either a tucked in top, or a top that hits at the high hip.

  16. I love that outfit on mater and I am CRAZY for Talbots Spring 2010. I will be ordering a lot of that collection once it is out.

  17. Wow!! This must be the best picture I have ever seen of materfamilias! The coloring is perfect for her. She might even pass as an European; )!
    About full skirts in general. I would not wear one, unless it curved inside towards the hemline. As my humble opinion, these dresses belonged to the 50´s and good so. Small girls however still look cute wearing full skirts. Just right now I like the tulip shape ( in dresses too ), and some sort of irregularity. I know that it is easy for me to just drop my opinions, as I only own 3 dresses, which have these qualities ; ))!!

  18. Ha! I read the first sentence, immediately thought of Materfamilias, and here she is! I love this picture of her and was impressed that the full skirt looks so nice as she isn’t tall. It didn’t occur to me that the yolk helps make it work, but I see your point.

  19. Personally, I like the way a full skirt feels. I STRIDE when I wear one rather than take the mincing steps other skirts require.

  20. I think this is when it’s helpful to know what brands of clothing you’ve had success with in the past.

    Even though a 13/14 from Forever 21 may snap around my waist it’s unlikely to look good. It’ll be gathered directly on the wasteband and puff right out over my spare tire and not be full enough across the upper thigh.

    Another manufacturer might show a full skirt with a yoke and a bit of extra room in the seat and it’ll be a winner for me.

    I feel like you can save yourself fitting room grief by going where you know you’re chances are better.

  21. Toby Wollin – those are all great ideas!

    EM – I just love these looks, but yes, the fabrics will really make or break the collection.

    That’s Not My Age – let us know if you find any great options.

    Nancy DaQ – “Real style comes from being able to take a look and make it your own.” Well said!!

    Duchesse – those are great tips, thank you. I think you’re right that where the top ends (if one doesn’t tuck) is critical.

    Northmoon – great point about the length! And length is relatively easy to alter too.

  22. Rita – I agree that the skirts with gathers right at the waist are the most difficult. I just didn’t want us to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

    materfamilias – thank you for being willing to try these looks and experiment and share them with us. Once again you’ve provided style inspiration!

    hostess – your skirt sounds lovely, maybe you’ll share a pic with us soon?

    SewingLibrarian – great points!

    Susan – can you lengthen the skirt? With the fuller skirts, I’ve generally found the most flattering length to be just at the bottom of the knee. But everyone’s proportions are different, and we’re all going to have our own sweet spot.

    LBR – knowing your style, I’m not surprised these Talbots pieces appeal to you.

    LPC – now we just have to keep fingers crossed for decent fabrics and construction…

    metscan – you definitely know your own style! That’s always the most important thing.

    Susan Tiner – isn’t mater an inspiration? She has such a great eye for interesting pieces and styles them so well.

    Rubiatonta – you’re right about the importance of balance. And I’m with you on the twirl!

  23. Terri – These Skirts Were Made For Walking? 🙂 I agree though, they do lend themselves to really stepping out.

    Marianne – that’s an interesting point about needing to pair with different tops than one would wear with pants. But I think it’s true that the top needs to be narrow to balance the fullness of the skirt. If you see pictures of Carolina Herrera who almost always wears a full skirt and white blouse, her white blouse is extremely fitted and the sleeves are narrow too.

    RoseAG – that’s a great point about knowing brands and how they’re cut. It will be interesting to see how the retailers interpret and cut these.

    WendyB – your post about models and fit was really a great reminder and got me thinking about this. I think Materfamilias really hit it out of the park with this look.