Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tutorial by Request: Layering with Skirts

Beloved fellow blogger and friend Sal asked me to do a tutorial on layering skirts, back when the continents were still a single land mass (to use a very Sal-like expression). Despite the immense passage of time since then, I haven't forgotten this request, and with the onset of cooler weather (at least here in the Northern hemisphere) I thought the time was right to feature the tutorial. As you may know, layering with skirts and dresses is a common practice of mine, and I employ it for a variety of reasons. Today I'll show you some examples, explain some of the reasons for layering skirts, and give you some tips on making this technique work for you.

I don't have any hard numbers on this, but I suspect that the reasons for which I use skirts as layers follows this order in terms of frequency:

1. To add length to a too-short dress or skirt
2. To bring in an additional color, texture, or pattern
3. To add opacity or density to a sheer or clingy fabric
4. Because the outfit is sort of boring otherwise
5. To add volume to my lower half for balance and proportion
6. For warmth (obviously I live in a mild climate, but if your winters are more extreme you might use layered skirts for warmth a lot more than I do)

I won't go through all of the scenarios individually, because regardless of the reason behind it, the approach to layering skirts is really the same. All you will need is a skirt, tunic, or dress that is shorter, and another that will bring the combined hemline to the length you desire. If the layers are the right proportions by themselves, great, but alternately you can try hiking one or the other layer up or down, covering the whole mess with a top or cardigan, and belting the layers with an elastic belt or obi to hold everything in place. The photo below, on the far right, is a great example of this approach.

Now keep in mind that not all short/long combinations will work; a very short skirt with a very long one underneath can look weird and out of proportion. In general you probably only need a couple of inches of the lower layer showing even if you're layering to add length to a too-short hemline, but even this isn't really a hard and fast rule. The examples below illustrate the use of a layered skirt to add length (first and second photos) and/or density (third and fourth photos), with varying degrees of the lower layer showing. In general, it depends a lot on how much contrast there is between the layers; the more harmonious they are, the more you can get away with letting the lower layer stick out, because it'll look like it's all one piece. The more the two layers differ in color, texture, or pattern, the more the lower layer will distract from the rest of the outfit if you let too much of it show. The one exception is if you're going for a colorblock look, in which case you'd want to have big swaths of both layers showing.

Let's talk for a moment about using layered skirts to bring in an additional color, texture, or pattern. Let's say you want to wear a solid yellow top with a solid purple skirt, and are looking for a way to make the two pieces relate to one another. You could try either layering a patterned skirt with yellow in it underneath, or layering a solid yellow skirt underneath. In either case you'd have created a bottom half containing both your colors, which would tie them together. Another scenario might be where you have a fairly plain piece, and you want to add some more interest by bringing in a colorful pattern or interesting texture. I use my tulle skirts for this a lot, because they add a soft, 3-dimensional edge to the bottom of a plain hem.

Some important things to keep in mind when layering skirts either under dresses or under other skirts:

  • Think of your layered bottom half as a single, integrated piece. I find that mentally, it's much less taxing to figure out what to wear with a purple and teal skirt than it is to pair a purple skirt and a teal skirt with other items.

  • Don't be afraid of your curves. Yes, layering skirts and dresses will add volume to your lower half; sometimes it will add a lot of volume. But keep in mind that if you combine a full lower half with a tailored upper half and good waist definition, the overall effect is that you look smaller. Trust me on this, the only person who cares about the absolute circumference of your hips is you; everyone else just notices your proportions and silhouette.

  • A-line skirts work really well as top layers because the flared bottom hem has lots of room to fill up with another piece. But even a fitted dress or skirt can be layered if you're careful. Below are a couple of examples of tight-fitting dresses worn with skirts layered underneath; this is a harder look to make work because of the top layer's propensity to squeeze the lower layer and bunch it up. In the first case it works because the two patterns compliment each other and the bunched skirt looks like a ruffle; in the second case it works because the lower layer is actually a slip and is equally slim-fitting.

  • It'll generally be more comfortable if the waistbands of the two layers aren't sitting right on top of one another. I usually adjust the waistband of the top piece to sit slightly above that of the bottom piece. I've also placed an elastic belt on top of the lower skirt and then put the top layer over that; this keeps the bottom layer in place if you need to hike it up or down to achieve the right length. Obviously this is not a good technique for warm days, especially if you have another belt on top of everything (don't laugh; I've done it!).

  • Speaking of belts, I find that a belt will help smooth the two waistbands out and will also keep the skirts in place. I very frequently wear a belt when I've got two skirts layered together, but find that I often don't need one for a skirt under a dress.

  • Don't forget to take the shape of the two garments into account. If you have a flared skirt for your upper layer, you'll need another flared skirt underneath it or else the layers won't hang together very well. Similarly, a straight skirt or dress usually requires another straight skirt underneath, unless the flare of the lower skirt begins where the upper layer ends, as shown in this example on the right. This bulky tulle skirt is actually only bulky at the bottom panel, so it works fine under a close-fitting tunic such as this one.

So let's hear it -- do you have any additional wisdom for layering skirts? Have you tried this look before?


Anonymous said...

Ah-ha, informative and inspiring as always.

I have to say, though, that I layer full/flared skirts under tighter skirts all the time. In fact, I have a flared skirt I have only ever worn under very fitted pencil skirts. So long as the underskirt isn't too bulky (this one is an extremely light cotton) you just amplify the ruffle effect you mentioned in this post. It takes some morning fiddling to get the faux-ruffle even in the morning but it tends to stay put, in my experience. :D

A-C said...

After reading this post, I am now mentally cataloging my wardrobe to figure out what 2 dresses or dress and skirt or 2 skirts I can layer. thanks!

Alison said...

Thanks for the tutorial on layering skirts. This is something I have wanted to try for a long time after seeing you do it. I think now I have the perfect combo to try. I really want some tulle skirts, but am having a hard time picking a color. I do want a black one, but also one of a fun color. I just cannot figure out what color to get. If you get some time, I'd like to hear some thought on what color to pick.

Audi said...

Anonymous: Absolutely -- it's entirely possible to layer under pencil skirts if you hit on the right combination! I'm glad you've found some combos that work.

Alison: It really depends on what else you have in your wardrobe. I get a lot of use out of my purple tulle skirt, because I find it pairs well with just about anything. My second most used color is the deep peacock blue; I've worn that with loads of other colors as well. If you have lots of dark colors in your wardrobe, then you might want to look for something to brighten them up and add contrast, such as red or orange. Hope that helps!

E.C. said...

What a lovely idea! After I read this I immediately went through my closet and tried some of your ideas. There are pieces in my wardrobe that I don't wear because they aren't just right... Now I have a solution for a few of them. Thanks! You are a defender against the evil economy!

Megan G said...

I'm glad you made this post! I really admire your different outfits for their depth. It's great seeing it explained out.

Kacie said...

I've tried layering a skirt under a dress exactly once, and I do think it turned out well.

I think I'll play with the concept tomorrow and maybe send you some photos for feedback. Would that be ok?

I'm not seeing your email address on here. Whatsit? Or, feel free to shoot me an email at [sensetosave at]

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha! You've got me pegged, Audi. Though I probably would've said, "Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth," I'll be adding your variation to my lexicon IMMEDIATELY. ;)

I am unsurprised to find this tutorial thorough, digestible, and incredibly helpful! I have been experimenting a teensy bit with skirt layering now that I have some floaty/soft skirts in my collection, and I just love it. With this tutorial at hand, I'll love it more frequently. Thanks, beautiful!

Raquelita said...

I'm actually layering dresses for the first time today, and I'm pleased with the results. Your tutorial has given me even more ideas for how I can make better use of my wardrobe. Thanks, Audi!

Sheila said...

With your inspiration, I tried layering a skirt under my dress and loved it. Thanks so much for the great walk-through!

ambika said...

You really do this fabulously. I always mean to imitate this look but have yet to do so--I think I need more skirts!

Eyeliah said...

what a great tutorial post, I am saving it in my google reader favorites. Yes I have worn the belt under and over before too, but I'm still laughing. :) Additional wisdom?.... I think you covered it all..... the main thing is to just experiment with the pieces, some combinations will look awful, so try other skirts and you'lll eventually hit on something that works.

Gabrielle said...

I love seeing your problem-solving strategies. I have layered jersey skirts under soft dresses to gain the office-appropriate length. It works like a charm and gets tons of compliments.

I've been following your blog for a few months now, you really are a wellspring of inspiration. Thanks! Keep up the good taste!

Audi said...

Kacie: I'd love to see some photos of the looks you try out! I'm at

Fi said...

Hi! Your skirts-under-dresses look is by far the most inspirational and interesting that I've found recently. (just in time for extremely hot Aussie summer. :D)

Just wondering if there are any photo example where you've put skirts under skirts, as I think all the photos in this post are dresses.

Raquelita said...

Audi, I tried pre-tutorial to layer dresses yesterday, and will try more in the future. I linked to your tutorial in my outfit post this morning. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom, and if you have time to visit my little blog and give me feedback on my layering attempt, I would love that!

et said...

I'm inspired by this too - & after a couple of months of checking out your blog, I'm finding I am shopping more thoughtfully, with an eye toward how something might layer and work with other items I have, rather than just whether I like an individual piece.

Audi, I thought of you yesterday when I picked up the January 2010 Woman's Day & saw their photo of an old issue on page 8 - of 6 "sparkling work togs" outfits from one pattern that gets much of its versatility from two short overskirts and 2 longer full skirt. Unfortunately, this one isn't included in the referenced item on their website so I can't give you a link.

Alison said...

Thanks for the suggestions Audi! I think I may have to make tulle skirts in black, purple and orange. I really love the idea of an orange one. That will be a great addition to the skirts and tops I already have. And I LOVE Orange!

j.p. said...

I tried this several weeks ago with a dark gray bias cut A-line skirt under a midnight or navy dress I've had 15 years and never worn (too short & 'not my style' but a gift from mom so couldn't quite get rid of it without wearing it). Fantastic effect, with curling hem edges of blue over straight gray; bold color blocks with navyish cable tights - I really love that dress now (though still not a proponent of hanging onto junk for 15 years, ha). It loves you, for saving it's neck.

Also love the tulle skirts & wondering if they'd be too tough to make?

nerines said...

Hi I found your blogspot by happy accident - kinda, because I was searching for other lovers of skirts. I love how you are putting everything together. Making skirts amongst some other things is what I do on the other side of the globe, so I'm really just inviting you to check me out at my blogspot, hope you enjoy!
cheers Nerine =)

Kym said...

What a great tutorial! I can't imagine why I have never layered skirts before. As a freeze-baby in the mid-west, I always wear slips in the winter for extra warmth, but now I'll be wearing an extra skirt for flare! Thanks for all of your great suggestions!!

Audi said...

Fi: There are 2 examples in this post. One is the purple/gray/teal outfit, where the gray layer is actually a skirt hiked waaay up. The second is the twirling picture; the teal and the purple tulle are both skirts. But stay tuned, I just did an outfit the other day with 2 skirts, so there will be more ideas to follow!

j.p.: My sewing skills being what they are, I have not attempted to make any tulle skirts, though they don't look particularly complicated. The white one has 2 layers at the top and 4 at the bottom; the bottom layers are also pleated for extra fullness. The purple one is actually just a single layer of tulle with gores, with a matching cotton blend lining underneath.

Chelsea said...

Oh, this post is just wonderful! I am all kinds of ideas bubbling away in my head right now...

btw, I am new to your blog and I just think it is fantastic! your style is so unique, colorful, and fun... I look forward to all the inspiration to come :)

P.S. Hi from another Bay Area dweller!