Horizontals That Add Pounds

While most women scrupulously avoid any and all horizontal stripes — unnecessarily in my opinion, but more on that another day — we often overlook other horizontals design elements — especially those low on the body — that can sneak up and sabotage a look.

Hemlines form unexpected horizontal lines, and the fuller the skirt, pant leg or top, the more horizontal the effect.  Keeping garments narrower, dressing in color (or color value) columns and color-toning hosiery to the garment can minimize that widening effect.

We’ve talked before about color columns, but what is a color VALUE column?  It is a top + bottom combination where the pieces are differenct colors, but approximately equal in color value.  Whether darker tones, lighter ones or something in the middle, the similarity of the values works to minimize the horizontal visual impact of the color change.

Hemlines that end at awkward spots on your body are especially challenging horizontals.  For skirts, just above your knee is attractive if you are young and slim.  More mature gals or those of us with a few extra pounds look better with a hemline that casts its shadow just below the knee.  The fuller area of the calf is “no man’s land” for hemlines, but the pont where the calf narrows again is typically a flattering length.

Skirts should almost always be hemmed to create a longer-than-wide visual proportion.  Otherwise the entire garment becomes a horizontal profile – yikes!

For pants, longer is better for typical leg styles.

  • Ideally the hem should fall about 3/4″ from the floor in back and break just slightly over the shoe in front. Hemming the pants on a slight angle – a bit shorter in front – will minimize the break.
  • Too-short “flood pants” anchor sideways emphasis at or above your ankles, often exposing a gap of pale skin — anything but sleek looking.
  • A fuller pant leg can fall over the front of the shoe without any break.
  • A cuffed pant can’t be hemmed on a slant, so usually will have to be a bit shorter or have a full break.  A cuff is a itself a low horizontal detail, so think carefully about incorporating that style detail even when it cycles into fashion.
  • A skinny pant leg obviously can’t fit down over the foot that way, but its narrow profile minimizes that hemline horizontal problem anyway.  The same applies to narrower shorts and  narrower capris.

In the same realm, a jacket or over-shirt hemline needs to hit at a flattering spot on your body.  For example, by trying to bring a jacket or top down far enough to cover wider hips you could end up creating a horizontal line near the mid-point of your height — making your legs look shorter and your entire body look heavier.  Try a shorter  length instead, and/or minimize the vertical emphasis by choosing uneven or asymetrical hemline shapes like these …

If you pair tall boots with a skirt in cooler weather, avoid the potential horizontal “gaposis” by wearing coordinating tights.

And regardless of seasonal footwear trends, be very careful about shoes with ankle straps or other horizontal detailing that visually shortens your legs.

Horizontal details at your wrist can also be distracting, since they fall right at the hipline when your arms are at your sides.  Think twice about decorative or flip-back cuffs and chunky bangle bracelets.

How can you improve the outfit you’re wearing today by minimizing distracting horizontal effects?  We’d love to hear about it.

About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.


  1. Claudette Barber on July 11, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Post #21 is packed full of great information!
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge,

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 11, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      Glad you found it valuable – there is so much to know about design, isn’t there?

      • Claudette Barber on July 25, 2017 at 7:17 pm

        While not as permanent and important, sewing and fashion design requires as much detail and knowledge as architecture/engineering. 🙂 Claudette

        • Nancy Nix Rice on July 25, 2017 at 9:20 pm

          Given how much women are empowered by confidence in their appearance — and the great things that empowered women do in the world — it might well be just as important as those more technical disciplines.

  2. Valerie Menges on July 16, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    I know that ankle boots and shoes are the rage now, why are they so popular? You’ve just pointed out that shortens the leg dramatically. Fashion does what it wants to get people to buy something that isn’t flattering to any woman.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 17, 2017 at 8:34 am

      Ankle boots are popular because the are comfy, I suspect. And I’ll admit they are darned cute. But you are so right that they shorten the leg. Choosing boots with cut-out toes or sling-backs exposes more skin ad minimizes the negative element. (Clearly those are boots for style, not boots for snowy weather practicality.) And of course in cooler weather, pairing short boots with color-toned or matching tights counteracts the horizontal color break entirely. Look for lots more about legwear/footwear in future posts as we get into accessorizing.

  3. Marlette on July 17, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Thanks for these tips, especially the one with the angled tunic top. I like to wear leggings for comfort and my fashion conscious, 19 y/o granddaughter thinks I look good in them. But, since my legs are just a tad short for my total height ( 5’8″ and 30″ inseam) I’m always a bit concerned that the longer tops make my legs look shorter. I’ll have to sew up some angled hem tops or redesign some of my existing ones.

    One redesign method I’ve done for regular T’s is to sew a 4″piece of clear elastic vertically from the hem stretching it up to
    5 1/2″ from the hem give or take a bit. I’ve done it on both side fronts and also, a little forward of the left side seam for an asymmetrical look.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 17, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      You must be in great shape, because our kids (and grandkids) won’t hesitate to tell us if we are making a bad fashion choice. Those angled hems are magic. I’m 5″ shorter than your enviable 5’8″ … and still look almost willowy wearing an tangled-hem top. In fact that’s the only exception I make to my own under/over 2-layer tops rule.

      • Marlette on July 17, 2017 at 9:38 pm

        I’m not sure what a tangled hem looks like. I also think I missed that rule of under over 2 layer tops rule.

        Was it in a post?


        • Nancy Nix Rice on July 18, 2017 at 9:15 am

          Yikes – my typing is at fault once again – darned fingers! I meant “angled hem” like in the previous sentence.
          As for the over/under rule – first I make it a “rule” in my life; I offer it as a “concept” for others. It’s an idea I’ve talked about a lot in this blog, but maybe never called it by that name. It means wearing two layers on your upper body so you can leave the outer layer open, creating a vertical emphasis at center front instead of allowing the hemline of a single garment make a big horizontal focal point right at your hips. It can be a tailored jacket over a blouse or something as realxed as a camp shirt over a tank or cami — and it conceals a multitude of figure issues as well as just looking more polished.

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