Classic clothes are the backbone of your wardrobe – here’s what to look for in skirts.
Skirts come in all shapes and styles, but there are certain skirt styles that don’t date easily, so if you have three or four of these in your wardrobe in usable neutrals, you should get endless wear out of them.
When you come to try on a skirt, don’t buy it too tight – you should be able to slide two fingers inside your waistband easily, and this is especially important if you’re prone to bloating. If your figure fluctuates or you retain water before your period, look for skirts with an elasticated back waist. Avoid those with elastic at the front though, unless you plan to always hide the waistband.
Pencil. Best worn at knee length for endless versatility, the pencil skirt is a classic that works in virtually any colour or fabric. For daytime it’s great in a dark wool with some stretch, while a black velvet one will take you from day to evening. It’s the best shape for a mini, works well at ankle-length with a back slit, but is less flattering at mid-calf-length unless you’re very tall and very thin. Opt for one without a waistband, if you can find it, and 4 to 6 gores, especially a front panel like this one (right) from La Redoute. If you have a tummy, consider a skirt with a built-in tummy support, or a slip in the same style to be worn underneath, or opt for a pencil with two tiny pleats at the front.
If you find a pencil skirt but it needs to be shortened to the right length for you, it will probably also need to be nipped a little at the side seams to avoid a bulky silhouette, so take it to a tailor unless you’re an experienced seamstress.
Straight. A popular skirt, but actually quite difficult to wear unless you’re slim. If you like straight skirts, keep them shortish – at a longer length they can look very frumpy, especially in a heavy fabric. Pencil skirts and A-lines are generally more flattering.
A-line. The most forgiving skirt for daily wear, especially on British women, who tend to be ‘hippy’, an A-line skirt glides easily over your hips and thighs. It can be any length, and those with 4, 6, or 8 gores, or with a button-down front, give verticality to your silhouette, as seen in this version from Monsoon (right). An A-line skirt should fit neatly at the waist, with or without a waistband, but get one without pleats, which add needless bulk.
Bias-cut. Bias cutting simply means turning a woven fabric to 45 degrees so that it stretches, and it can be used for any style of garment. The bias cut when used in a skirt is very feminine and floaty, but it creates cling, especially around the backside. Bias cut skirts are very flattering if you have slim hips and a flat stomach, but are unforgiving to those with large hips, thighs or tummy.
If you like the flare created at the bottom of a bias skirt but have saddlebags, you can get a similar effect without the cling by wearing a gored ‘tulip’ skirt, where the fabric is cut in straight panels that then flare out from the knee to give a bit of a kick. This suedette one from Damart (right) also has a forgiving elasticated back.
Tiered. Skirts in multiple tiers are always available, though they move in and out of fashion. Always reflecting their bohemian origins, these skirts work best on those with an arty disposition, and it also helps if you’re tall enough to carry off their width. The gypsy skirt is a fun option for casual or evening wear, but those in one colour are more elegant, or try one with some vertical broomsticking in the fabric to offset the horizontal trimmings. This purple version is from La Redoute.
Pleated skirt. Possibly the most unflattering skirt shape for anyone who isn’t tall, thin and has a defined waist, this is also the most popular style for middle-aged women. This would be inexplicable if this style was not so comfortable. Although always modelled on a tall, thin woman, in real life it’s seen far and wide on portly women, including with a full elasticated waist, which only creates even more bulk. If you really MUST wear a pleated skirt, make sure it flares rather than dropping straight down (ie: a style such as a sunray pleat), and buy one with a flat front waistband.
Circle skirt. A very feminine style of skirt which flares on the bias from waist to hem. Popular in the 1950s at mid calf length, it moves in and out of fashion at varying lengths. At knee length, in a relatively heavy fabric so that it doesn’t fly away, it can be a useful option for women who aren’t keen on A-line skirts. In a light chiffon, it’s a sexy choice for evening, while longer, as here, it’s fun and retro. Always keep your top half simple and short with this style of skirt and only wear it if you have a well-defined waist.
Kilt. The traditional kilt can create a huge amount of bulk around a feminine silhouette, though the flat front panel can also be flattering and the weight of the garment makes it a useful winter option. Kilts work if you’re tall, thin and have no waist, but should be avoided by other figure types, especially short women, heavy women and hourglass silhouettes. Sadly, plain kilts are in short supply: if you buy one in plaid (a Scottish, rather than an Irish kilt), watch out for the size of the ‘sett’ – a large tartan can create a strong horizontal that cancels out the verticality of the pleat, particularly if the kilt is pleated ‘to the stripe’. This ‘kilted skirt’ is from Heritage of Scotland.