DEB'S STYLE

Is This Dress Too Short? That Grey Area When You Are Over 40!

How short is too short past a certain age? That’s a question I struggled with when I wore this cute shift dress.

Blue floral shift dress Deborah Boland I bought this pretty navy and a pink floral shift dress for the rewardStyle conference a while back. I loved the colors and the cheery pattern, and it looked great on me in the dressing room. But when I got home and tried it on with a pair of shoes, I wondered about the length.

I’m 5’7″ tall, and I have long legs. This dress is 33.5 inches long.  When I paired it with 3″ heeled pumps, the dress felt a little short. Was I exposing too much leg, and did the dress make my knees look old?

blue floral shift dress sunglasses

In truth, it’s a shift dress which means it is naturally on the short side. That’s the style, and even if I wanted to let it down a bit, there was barely a 1″ hem to play with. I didn’t have time before I left for the conference to get it professionally altered, so I went with it the way it was.

Blue Floral Shift dress necklineYou can see how pretty the print is and how, other than the hem, the dress is quite classic and fairly modest.

blue floral shift dress pink shoes

It’s got a lovely bateau neckline and pretty three-quarter length sleeves. The navy base color gives it credibility and authority, and the touches of pink, light blue, and white in the florals add femininity. I thought it was a great dress for a fashion-related conference where I would be attending seminars and sponsor meetings.

The slit sleeves are my favorite thing about the dress. They’re so unique.

blue floral shift dress and white purse

Most of the bloggers and staff who attend rewardStyle are quite young (20’s/30s), so I wanted to find something to wear that was youthful, but not junior, something fun, but not silly, and something colorful but not loud. This dress checked all the boxes for me.

white kate spade chain link bagI added some beautiful low-heel pink suede pumps with the prettiest scalloped edges. Anything higher than 2″ would have been too much. My chain strap Kate Spade tote worked perfectly with the dress and gave it a sporty, modern look.

Short blue floral shift dress

I felt perfect in this ladylike dress, despite it being shorter than I would normally wear. It didn’t seem to ride up at all, and everything worked out o.k.

When I got home, I let down the hem about three-quarters of an inch, which is the most the dress would allow. That may seem like nothing, but I found it has made me feel just that little bit more comfortable and confident, and as we all know, confidence is key to owning a look!

What do you think? Is this dress too short, or is it o.k.? Is there a length we should aim for over 40, over 50, over 60, or is that all nonsense?

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87 thoughts on “Is This Dress Too Short? That Grey Area When You Are Over 40!

  1. I found this post while trying to find “how to tell your friend that her clothing style is just wrong.” – She is over 60 and wears WAY too much makeup, her dresses are too short, her hair is over-processed, and has a strange style, and wears no lower than six-inch heels – she is 5′ tall and feels she needs to wear these heels. It isn’t very comfortable to go anywhere with her. People take a second look and “stare.” I cringe. She is obsessed with thrifting designer labels and thinks she looks good. I can’t say a thing to her. She is so self-conscious and sensitive that it would hurt her feelings. As for this dress – Yes, I find it too short – but you can get away with it because you are taller and wear reasonable size heels. Yes, I know, with my friend, it’s not about me – and if she feels great…then leave her be. I don’t know. It’s just a bit much. And I know people are looking at her and making fun of her :-( Any advice?

    1. Hi Olivia, that’s a hard one. Style is so personal and the more you tell someone something like that the more they are to dig in. Sometimes, it best to hear it from an outsider – neutral third party. There are a lot of department stores that offer free personal shopping with image consultants. Could you possibly suggest birthday treat that you take her out to lunch and then the two of you go shopping together with a store stylist?

  2. I think you look absolutely beautiful in those pictures. I find others try to dress me how they want, sometimes they want you covered because they are jealous. Sometimes they do think you look bad. My mom for instance hates me to death wearing things exposing above me knees. She never wore things above the ankle, but once I spilled hot chocolate on my top and had to change to a spare very revealing undershirt with no bra and parts of my boobs I caught pooping out, and my mom had no problem. In fact she didn’t want to go home but kept dragging me to places like that and nagging me when I wanted to stay in the car. I noticed though, growing up we 6 kids made fun of how she always had her shirt opened 2 buttons showing cleavage. My twin thinks I could show as much leg as I want but gets upset if even a sliver of bra strap lines show. When people all have their particular preferred way they want to see you, you have to question if you dress for them, or for yourself?

  3. Loved your outfit! As a taller lady, I find myself letting out just about every dress I buy. I just turned 60 I am fine with a little space between my knee and hemline. :o)

    I also have my dress/skirt length numbers DOWN…dresses no shorter than 38″ (40″ for work); skirts no shorter than 21″ (work) and 19″(day/casual).

    1. Thanks Kathi! So handy to know those measurements, especially with online shopping. All the models are different heights so it’s hard to know how it really will look on you. This way you can just look up the measurements to the right of the brand photo and see if it works for you!

  4. I’m so glad I stumbled on this while googling dress inches.

    You look fresh and tasteful in this outfit, love.

  5. I love this look on you. Girl, you have the shape for this dress, so wear it! I have a bit of the same problem – taller and long legs. You don’t know how many dresses I have sent back in the past because of this. I feel so much better when I have a lovely dress on, and you sure look like you feel good in this cute dress.

  6. My experience is that if I question whether the skirt is too short, it probably is for me—just a personal taste decision.

  7. I think the length is a personal choice, so if you like it, wear it. I think it looks fine on you, and you look confident and attractive! The colors and print are excellent for you. I hear you, though. Every time I try on a dress, the length is what I debate most. I have many dresses, and they are not all the same length. Some are longer and some shorter, depending on the style of dress. I am not sure there is a perfect length as I like some kinds longer. I purchased a unique occasion dress that is the ideal length and style – it hits just below my kneecap but is still flirty because it is tiered, so it feels perfect, and I feel confident in it. I liked it so much that I purchased the dress in black, royal blue, and coral. That “perfect” length in a shift-style dress would not work on me; I would be tugging it down and worried every time I sat. For this dress, you could lengthen it by adding a band of lace. In addition to letting the hem out as much as possible, you could add a round of navy lace to make it just a tad longer.

  8. Hi,
    I love the dress, earrings, everything!!! I’m ready to buy it all; however, it is for college graduation, and I can’t wear heels on the grass all day. I’ve been looking for a wedge or flat that would go with this dress, and I’m coming up with zero!
    Please help direct me to a comfortable all-graduation day flat or wedge that can be worn on grass. Thanks so much; you are the best! I’m also blond and 5’7 with very long legs – I love your blog.

  9. You’ve got a great figure, great legs, and great style. However, in this case, that is irrelevant: yes, the dress is a bit short, and I wonder how fast it was when you were seated or reaching.

  10. I’m 47, and I appreciate younger women working on getting away from having a specific butt, waist, or legs, or are a particular size equals being “allowed” to wear certain things. It rubs me wrong to hear something like “you can’t pull it off because of your age” or “you can pull it off because of your legs.” It’s as if we have these standards, and if you fit the body profile and your driver’s license has the correct year, you can wear something. It’s crap. A leg is a leg; why is a specific portion allowed when another isn’t? My vote: if you’re comfortable and confident, then age and the radius of your calf or knee should be irrelevant!

  11. You have lovely legs and a great figure, and it’s a beautiful dress, but a block heel sandal and a couple of extra inches on the hem would have made all the difference for me. The high-heeled pumps age the overall look, in my opinion.

  12. It’s a lovely dress! With heels, it seems a bit short, but with flat sandals, it would be just suitable for a seaside brunch. With higher heels, I can imagine it looking sharp with white cropped leggings, maybe some strappy sandals, and a sunhat!

  13. I think this dress is not too short, and more so because the top half is modest. I would have worn a lower heel. You look great. Lise

  14. The conservative neckline and sleeves balance the length of the dress to give it an overall classy look. Not too short, in my opinion.

  15. Hi Deborah. I know just where you’re coming from.
    The dress is lovely, but feeling it is a wee bit too short will spoil it for you every time you wear it. And worse, when you sit down, it becomes even faster!
    I’m a professional designer dressmaker (from NZ, age 60 !). If I bought this little number, considering the lack of extra hem, I’d find a matching piece of plain pink shade fabric (perhaps in sheer silk chiffon or similar material to the dress) and cut the blue stripe off the bottom. Add the new pink bar 4cm wide, then attach the blue line to the bottom again.
    Amazingly, what a wee tweak does to a hem length.
    Love your style.!! But I often wonder just how tall you are and what size.

  16. I do not believe it is too short because the arms are covered, and the dress does not show cleavage at the chest. I read one day that if you want to show some skin and stay classy, you have to choose which part of your body you want to expose. In this case, you decided on legs. It is a good thing to remember, in my opinion.

  17. You look great in everything and have nice legs, but I think the dress is a little short. That said, it is tough to find dresses that are not too short.

  18. I came to look at the comments, expecting a chorus of “of course, it’s not too short.” I’m 46 and astonished that anyone thinks it is too short. Then you look elegant, polished, and not like you’re trying to “look young.” It’s flattering, has a beautiful design and fabric, your legs look great, the proportions are significant, and you look fabulous. I’d argue that mak g the dress much longer would change the style and possibly even make it look frumpy.

    But then, if anyone complained about my knees or arms, I’d tell them to look someplace else. I will not apologize for aging or stop wearing fun clothes because of it.

  19. Deborah- I love this dress; I don’t think it’s too short! I love all your style choices. However- I feel many of your examples are too costly/high-end. I can’t always shop at Chico’s or Bloomingdale’s!! I do shop at Macy’s and Kohls. I enjoy your newsletter very much. Keep up the excellent work! Thanks- Jean Targett

  20. Deborah, I think it is not a question of whether the dress is “age-appropriate,” but whether it is “leg appropriate.” You have great legs, and the dress looks lovely on you.

  21. It’s all about the context. It’s a cute dress, and your legs look great, but I don’t think I’d wear it to a conference. It would be better to shop at the seaside or for a summer BBQ. I’d probably wear it with cropped leggings.

  22. The dress is lovely, and you look beautiful in it…and it is a tad too short. The issue is the wide horizontal pink band which cuts a borderline too short dress into an even faster visual. It creates a focal point right where you are uncomfortable. Cover the pink, and your eye goes to the neckline instead. Add more navy to the bottom, and it looks more balanced. As many have said, lower, more casual shoes in a neutral would not draw the eye down. Worth working on.

  23. You know what? I think you ROCK that dress! If you have great legs (and knees) like you, do—I say: Go for it. I wouldn’t go any shorter, though. I think it looks fabulous, and I do not think it looks like you are trying too hard. The neckline saves the day. I’m 54 and very conservative, by the way.

  24. You are a beautiful woman, and I love the dress, but in my opinion, the dress is a little short with the pink high heels; maybe a cute flat or strappy sandal

  25. You have great legs, and the dress looks beautiful on you, as a 56 y.o. Female, I would’ve worn a flat with a dress that short.

  26. You’re so lucky with your height, nice knees, and ability to wear good shoes. You look as good in that shortish dress as the First Lady of France does! But yes, an inch lower is probably better.

    Me, I’m short (5′), wear petite 4, have horrible knees and can’t wear any decent shoes, so my fancy outfit is a long black skirt, good top, and jewelry, a good jacket or cardigan if necessary, and either black Uggs or black Easy Spirit Traveltime sneakers that no one can see but I’m standing and dancing the whole night!

    FWIW, finally found and ordered high-waist flare/boot-cut white jeans at Talbots. I ordered three different ones. I hope they all look great. Bad knees mean no skinny or even straight-leg jeans for me. TMI with the knees! Why flare? To camouflage the Traveltimes!

  27. Such a pretty dress, and as always, you look terrific! I think it’s too short, especially with the heels; you’re trying a bit too hard to be like the 20 and 30-year-olds at the rewards conference.

  28. Your legs look great so that you can pull this off. It’s probably a little short for us mere mortals, but you rocked it!

  29. Deborah,
    You have great legs. Not everyone does.
    Knee-length is always appropriate and never goes out of style for older ladies.
    Heels are another item we say “Goodbye “ to as we age.
    Enjoy wearing heels while you can.

  30. I agree with the previous comment. You have the legs for it, so why not! You look lovely in this dress. I think women get too caught up on a number, and I wish it weren’t so. Many fit women look young for their age. I believe we should let fitness and good taste be our guides rather than an arbitrary number. Otherwise, we risk entering the frump zone where all we’re allowed to wear are pull-on pants, long tops, and sensible shoes.

  31. The only question is: How did it make you feel wearing it?

    You have a slim enough figure to work it. However, if you have to ask the question, you probably know the answer that suits you.

  32. I think the problem with the dress is the proportion of the blue background vs. where the pink banding hits toward the bottom. If you use the rule of thirds, the banding should visually be in the bottom 1/3 of the dress — it seems a little “high” to me. So I bet it helped when you added a bit of length from the hem to balance the bottom 1/3. Ideally, I think it would help to hit the pink banding just a tad slower, but that’s not possible. By the way, your knees look great, and I don’t think the dress is categorically too short — just the print placement on this dress didn’t do you any favors. Gorgeous image and I love the styling.

  33. You have great legs and a terrific figure. . But I think this dress is a little too short. address that skims the knee is the best length for women over forty.

  34. I understand your hesitancy and think it’s well-founded. The dress is pretty, and you are slender and fit – but there’s truth in ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Another inch or two would make the difference between classy-casual and trying just a bit too hard to hold onto a young look.

  35. Hi Deborah……..I think it looks fine! I would try a little self-tanner on your legs & see if that helps you feel better. Sometimes, you can use a self-tanner in spots a little deeper to create a muscle-toned look. I use that trick on my arms. I love the dress on you!

  36. I agree that you have the legs for short skirts. I don’t think your age makes it look a little harsh but more the shoes. I agree with the poster who thought a more on-trend block heel sandal would look better and more youthful.

  37. You have lovely legs, but yes – I think the dress should end at your knees. One consideration is when you’re sitting down: dresses always raise and show too much thigh.

    1. I agree with this comment. I also wish I had legs like yours! A dress hitting or slightly above the knee would have been perfect, especially with the cute heels.

  38. The dress is beautiful, and you look gorgeous as always! I don’t think the dress is too youthful on you, nor do your knees look “old.” That said, I do think the dress is just a smidge too short. A lower heel might help. A rule of fashion I’ve made for myself is this: If I have to question if a garment is a too short, too tight, too low cut, or too young looking, it probably is, put it back on the rack and find something perfect!

  39. It’s a pretty dress, and I can understand how it met your criteria for what you wanted to wear. My concern is what happened when you sat down. I think anything shorter than just above the knee is too short for anyone, old or young, unless she is under 5. I do not wear anything that exposes my knees; I feel it is inappropriate for my age.

  40. Hi Deborah,
    The dress is beautiful on you. You take good care of yourself and are a perfect example of classy dressing. The hemline is a little short, but I don’t think anyone would have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out. You are a tall woman, and finding things the “right” length is challenging. I’m 5’9,” and I understand this fully. Dress for you and your body type. You are beautiful and brilliant.

  41. For myself, I think the shoes are too formal and high-heeled. I live in the south. That’s the kind of dress that would look better with flat sandals or small wedge sandals. Pumps are for business attire down here.

  42. What’s the problem? You look great. Perhaps it’s my perspective as I live in Mexico, and the shift dress is commonly worn at that length by ladies of all ages. . If you want more size, why not wear a skirt/dress extender? A little lace at the hem will make the dress even sexier

  43. You look fabulous! I’m so tired of hearing that the hemline shouldn’t be more than barely above the knee after a certain age! Shorter styles can be worn in taste, and you nailed it. It’s very classy, in my opinion. You have the legs to wear it, and you say you felt comfortable, so…end of story!!

  44. I love the print, the dress, and the accessories. But it is a little too short. I think when you sit down, it will show too much. I would feel uncomfortable in it.

  45. I think you look fantastic! You have fabulous legs, and the dress is modest enough in other aspects for it to work. Love your blog!

  46. I usually ask my husband when I’m unsure if my dress is too short. I can’t remember him saying, “yes, it’s too short” Hmmmmm. Maybe he can’t be trusted. ????

  47. I remember hearing once that if you worry something is too short, it’s too short. But n this case, I’d disagree. That dress looks classy and appropriate (and no, your knees don’t look old). The al question is, what are you using to have such good, firm skin on your neck?

  48. Hello Deborah,
    Your dress is beautiful. Really like
    the colors and floral design. It looked good on you. I’d like it a little longer. I usually wear the hem just above my knee or a little covering the top of the knee cap. That is how I feel comfortable. I’m 72 and want to look in style, but not like I’m trying too hard to look way younger than I am. Thanks for all the style tips. I’ve added quite a few to my wardrobe and always feel confident when I go out. Also, I’ve gotten lots of compliments on how nice I look. Thanks again.

  49. TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION….is it too short?

    You are a beautiful woman….you can wear almost anything! I think you would have looked younger with flats of some sort. Strappy sandals or cute flats would have made it look effortless.

    I enjoy your blog!!!
    Thank you!!!!

  50. I think you need to be realistic about your shape over 40 (really at any age) and have the legs for this dress! Looks great!

  51. If you find yourself tugging and pulling continuously, it is too short. I would say for any age.

  52. I prefer hemlines to be right at or above the knee for me. One trick I’ve learned is to see if a particular dress is available in a Tall option — frequently found with Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, and others. Often it’s the perfect length. And if it’s too long, at least then I have enough hem for use in altering. Worth a try!

  53. I think you looked fabulous. You’ve got the legs for it, so why not?
    I don’t believe age should be a factor in this situation.

  54. I think you look great. You have good legs. If you felt it was too short, a lower heel would help, maybe a block heel sandal (1-1 1/2 inch).

  55. A gorgeous dress, but 2-3 inches too short. Over 40, we must be careful of looking like we are grasping at our youth. A conservative length is so much more elegant.

  56. I think right above the knee is the perfect length. You can pull off wearing something shorter occasionally, depending on the event, and in good taste.

  57. You are right; it is “youthful,” and that’s the key. Even though it is a beautiful dress and you look gorgeous in it, at the age of 53, I would not wear it because it is above my knees and I think it is inappropriate for me to wear.

    1. Hi, you could always match the PINK in a ribbon or material and add about 3″ or so. I think with the right color, that would look fantastic.

  58. I think the length was acceptable, but like you, I struggle with the same thoughts on the size of dresses, Even find myself pulling and tugging with some. You wore this very well, no problem !!!!

  59. Your knees are fine. If you try to hide them, what’s the use? Trust me, we are all shapes and sizes, and I complement women when they are comfortable in their skin and take a fashion plunge, the pics don’t lie, you look really nice. Flaunt what you got!

      1. You have the legs for short dresses, so yes! I’ve never had pretty legs, so I’d never wear a short skirt. Age hasn’t a thing to do with it, in my opinion.

      2. Deborah,
        I am dealing with the same issue. I, too, am 5′ 7″ and wear a size 10. This weird length happens all the time. I think you have very nice legs. It is a personal choice. It used not to bother me up until this year. I turn 60 in one month, and that is playing a part. My advice is to do what makes you feel good. For me, I feel more comfortable a couple of inches longer.

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