Peplums and Proportion- It’s All About The Length

I deliberately chose photos for this post that some may find challenging.  Please let’s not snark on bodies or on personalities in the comments.  Whether the person is fat or thin or famous or obscure, body-snark is not acceptable.  We are looking at the variations of a cut of fabric, objectively, with the aim of improving our sewing.

Peplum-snarking is fair game though- the peplum is an object and not a human being.

Watch the Length

click for source- really great blog

click for source- really great blog

Remember a few months ago when I asked for hand-widths?  I was working on the proportions of the Hummingbird Peplum.  My own hand width seemed to create a pleasing peplum width for my proportions, and I wondered if that would work for other sizes.  Not so much, and I found another way to scale the peplums for size.

This photo shows a peplum silhouette I see all the time, and it drives me a little crazy!  (Ever see someone out and about and think “Please let me lengthen your peplum?” That’s me..)  The shorter peplum combined with larger hips only serves to exaggerate the hip width here, and it looks a little like the top of the model’s body doesn’t belong with her hips below.  Of course they do!  Here’s a few more examples of disproportionate peplum length:

click for source

click for source

This looks off in much the same way as the first peplum top + pants combination, though this peplum is a little longer.  The mis-matched effect is exacerbated by the use of a dark fabric on top and a lighter fabric below and by the face that the waistline seam looks like it’s higher than her natural waist, not deliberately* but in a “Ready-to-wear-clothing-is-my-only-choice” way.

click for source

click for source

This is an example of a mis-placed waist seam.  The beauty of a peplum is that it creates the illusion of a waist for those who might not have much definition in that area, and for those who do have a waist it’s one of those styles that accentuates the waist and forgives the muffin tops / tummy area. Why oh why hike that seam up to the underbust area??  This might be cute on those with a straight up and down figure, but I think that’s all…

click for source- cute blog post on some interesting peplums

click for source- cute blog post on some interesting peplums

On the other hand, too long or too full of a peplum can dwarf a thinner/petite figure.  To me this peplum looks like it’s right on the edge of swallowing her whole.

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click for source

Meanwhile, the Duchess of Cambridge wears a small, neat peplum that matches her small, neat frame.

Kim K and Ruffled Peplums

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click for source

click for source

click for source

I don’t know who is in charge of dressing this woman, but I think they ought to be fired.   Whatever we may think of her career, she’s a beautiful woman with a fuller figure who makes interesting style choices.  A little ruffled peplum like this isn’t right for her.  For one, it’s far too narrow to work with her proportions.  For the other, the gathered ruffle just adds bulk around her midsection, rather than grace.

click for source post

click for source post

But here the ruffled peplum band (it’s on the skirt rather than the top…) works great for a thinner figure.  It’s not so long or fluffy that it overpowers her frame, and lends a little softness.

Peplums and Tummies

click for source

click for source

I like this dress on this model.  It’s a great color for her, and the fit looks good too.  I’d suggest the addition of a belt (because I’m not a fan of elastic waists sans belts), and once again I find myself wishing I could add some length to a RTW peplum.  Try holding your finger up to the computer screen just below the hem and take a good look.  Then pull your finger away.  A little extra length there would go a long way towards creating a more pleasing set of proportions (and maybe move that waistline seam a few inches south).  That’s what I mean when I talk about peplums lending grace to the figure.  Like this one:

click for source

click for source

I love this!  The colors work well for her, and the peplum is very well proportioned for her figure.  She looks like her clothes belong to her.

Sewists’ Tips for Peplum Proportion:

Remember, we can sew.  We are not at the mercy of RTW and arbitrary peplum lengths.  To make a nicely proportioned peplum top regardless of figure size or shape, it’s easy to add some length or remove it when we cut.  The Hummingbird Peplum is proportionately wider as size increases.

  • *Use waistline seam placement to your advantage.  Shorter waisted people can balance their figure visually by placing a waistline seam slightly lower than their natural waist, and a long-waisted person can place the seam a little higher than their natural waist.  It’s a small way to trick the eye, 1-2″ or so but no more.
click for source

click for source

  • The hem of the peplum should hit just above the fullest part of the hip for optimal visual impact.  The eye will follow the hip curve as it bends towards the waist and disappears into the peplum.  Regardless of tummy or muffin bulge (which disappears under the peplum anyway), this is the most pleasing hem placement for that reason.
  • For those who wish to lend grace to the tummy area, forget about the hip-curve hem placement and instead focus on hemming the peplum slightly below the tummy.
  • Smaller figures look best in smaller peplums- either tailored or ruffly, but keep in mind the Hungry Peplum Monster- an oversized peplum that will swamp a smaller frame. 

I pinned more “good” peplums for various figure types (skewing toward curvy), check it out for inspiration.

What do you think about peplum proportioning?  If you’d like to add an image to illustrate your idea, then do link.  Linking is good.


65 comments

  1. I could have really used this a month ago when I started puzzling out my first peplum. Actually, I’d love opinions on what’s “off” with what I ended up with (hope this okay). I *think* it’s a 1/2-1″ too short. It’s hard to tell from the picture but my widest point on my hip is at my thumb joint. I think the high neckline may be another issue.
    http://crossingthedelebear.blogspot.com/2013/04/summer-print-peplum-top.html

    But I will definitely keep these guidelines in mind with my next (less voluminous) version. Thank you for these!

    • I’m no expert, but for what it’s worth, I think your peplum looks great! Perhaps I’m not critical enough, but I don’t see an obvious proportion problem :-)

    • Yeah for sure, linking is good… Looking at your post, I’d say that perhaps the peplum could be a little longer, but it’s by no means terrible. Not at all. In fact I rather like it. Have you tried a belt in either a dark blue or another color to match whatever skirt or other accessories you’re wearing? It gives the eye a focal point, rather than wandering around the patterned fabric. For the other, I’d suggest wearing a lighter skirt- even white or pale blue maybe. Your coloring is gentle rather than contrasty, you may find that makes you more comfortable with the style, too…

      Is that your first peplum? :) When I started muslining H-birds, the first time I put one on I was horrified for some reason. I looked in the mirror and thought “Oh no Uuuuugh I can’t wear this it’s horrible!” I put it on a few days later to check if it was still “ugly” and it wasn’t. I think it was just the style change, it was a little outside my norm and I found it a little jarring…?

      • I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of the belt before! I guess I thought that it was already defined or something along those lines. Do you think thinner or medium width? Wider would probably alter the shape of the peplum, right?

        Yup- first peplum (aside from the muslin, when I was more concerned with the bust fit). DH convinced me I should try it to add some interest to my closet.

        • Well… I’d say go for whatever width you like. I have a mad belt collection because for a year or two I was obsessed with belt-making, not to mention the ones I’ve picked up for $1 at thrift stores… Can you just grab a few widths and try it out and see what you like? If it were me, I’d probably go for medium, like two fingerwidths wide. The key is to make sure not to over-cinch the belt and let it ride just at the waist seam. If you try to center the belt on the waist seam, it might make the peplum bunch and will throw off the drape. :)

  2. I agree that peplum length/volume looks best when it works with your figure instead of fighting it. Thanks for explaining it in greater detail.

    The way the peplum joins the waistline is important too. Pleats and gathers are great if you are trying to add volume/softness, but for a lot of us a circular peplum is much more flattering (like the Hummingbird!).

    • Yes, like most things it’s better to work WITH it rather than against it… I’m glad this was useful!

      Well.. I suppose I’m biased but I think the Hbird peplum is… like… THE BEST peplum ever. We’ll see once she’s in everyone’s sewing room but I agree, a smooth waistline seam is nice and flattering, and on the Hbird there’s no extra ripples at the sides or the centers, just a little offset drape.. It was my favorite of all the peplums I muslined…

  3. This is very helpful, Steph. Being shortwaisted, I have avoided peplums. I have tried New Look pattern 6130 and was not thrilled with the results, although the peplum did not flare out as I thought it would. You could scroll down my blog and you will find the top. Feel free to give me your input. I wish I had gone up a size or two in the waist area.

  4. As always, you take a great sewing/fashion question and turn it into an actual reasoned set of guidelines…whereas I just sort of hem and haw and seam-rip and cut until something looks right, and then I wonder why it worked. Thanks for writing this out, as I’ve been too scared of the Hungry Peplum Monster to make another one! I’ll also confess to my heart being slightly in my throat when I read the title in my blog reader, because I wasn’t sure if mine would pass the proverbial test. I think it did, though… (http://cationdesigns.blogspot.com/2012/10/pep-up-for-peplums.html)

  5. Ah Steph I’m so glad you turned this topic into a post! I really agree with all your observations. I think in general I prefer them with a belt or when they belong to the skirt, not the top – a little extra visual definition rather than just the dramatic change of shape. There are peplums here that look incredibly stylish and there are others that would be looked back upon as ‘why the heck did I follow that trend?’. When all’s said and done I think I’m mostly a dress gal and won’t be joining the peplum parade but I can see better now how to make them work for all kinds of shapes.

    • Yeah, it was fun to pull it together… And I’m thinking about peplum skirts, too. (And oh, dear me, I found some extremely bizarre peplum pants, too. I won’t be going there…)

      I love dresses, too. So easy.

  6. I pretty much agree with your analysis of all of these peplums (pepla?). No 1 is too short and too contrasty. Another 2″ would help tremendously. I’d also lose the belt. I get that it’s probably intended to draw attention to her narrowest point, but it also creates a strong landmark for vertical proportions and I’m not convinced that this is quite working.

    No 2 seems really stiff. I wonder how a short sleeve or a cap sleeve would change the proportions.

    No 3 empire peplum with colour blocking? No thanks.

    Kim K’s waist ruffle is just odd.

    The red one hits the sweet spot. I note that it has cap sleeves, which I like here.

    Being petite and short waisted, I have pretty much written off the peplum – at least in its usual incarnation. I find I need to treat any horizontal detail at the waist (seams and belts) with extreme caution. Too high runs right into too low. There’s almost no just right. That said, I recently made a knee length T-shirt dress with a waist seam and circle skirt, which is essentially a long version of the standard peplum top. (Sorry, no link at this point.) Counteracting the waist seam is a busy print and super drapey fabric. I placed the waist seam by eyeballing it. If I were to try a peplum, I’d probably use princess seams and no waist seam.

    • Hahhah! Pepla!

      Yes, I think it’s stiffness, but there’s still something not quite right about it. Sleeves might balance it out.

      I love that red one. But then again, about a third of my clothes are red so maybe I’m biased. :)

      Well… Prints will definitely hide a seam (I tend to favor fabric texture/color/cut over prints), you have to do what’s comfortable to you.

  7. I really like your photo journey into peplums. I still am not convinced one will look very good on myself. I’m short-waisted and don’t particularly have hips, per se, but moreso have thighs. So, if the peplum ended at the bottom of my so-called hips, it would end at the widest part of my body, thereby drawing the eye there. And, I think if I made it shorter, it would make my upper half look even smaller, due to the short waist all leg, scenario. Wow, I sound like I’m describing some kind of weird insect! Lol.

    • Well… To each her own… I’m not the boss of you, Gj. ;) I just want to point out I didn’t suggest ending it at the widest point, but just above the widest point.

      • I know, i was just concerned that having too short of a peplum would make me look like a short-waisted leggy insect. :) But, that’s all moot now. I have in my grubby little hands: Vogue V8196 http://www.etsy.com/listing/101034654/vogue-v8196-misses-tops-sewing-pattern and was going to make version C (sleeveless) or A (short sleeves). Peplum!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We’ll see. I think the wide waist band and bust darts and shorter length of peplum will be suitable to my figure type based on what you are describing. Whaddya think? (And, oh, the buttons….so…many…buttons).

        • Wooo! Watch out for those sleeves. :) It’s a cute style, I’d suggest using a relatively light/drapey fabric with it or you’ll end up with a stiff, awkward peplum… Buttons are fun! :)

          • I know! Lol. The sleeves on version B would just swallow me whole, I have stick arms, so staying away from that version. It tells me to use gauze or lightweight linen so that should drape nicely. And the buttons are soutache loops. How much fun is it to say “soutache loops”?? :)

  8. I’m waiting for my Humming bird pattern to arrive. I’ve been really impressed with how other people look in the right peplum but cannot imagine what it’ll look like on me. For starters it’s more girly than I would usually wear ( at the age of 60 I’m only just finding my inner pink) and the idea of wearing a belt with it gives me the heebie-jeebies . Can I still do that if I’m only 5’2″ and wear a D cup? And looking up at Gjeomatry’s post I am similarly proportioned in that I don’t have much hip and very little thigh.

    • Hey Maureen- She’s printing right now and then needs to be assembled, etc, but we’ll have her out and in your sewing room in no time. :) I think you’ll be pleased with the quality, too.

      Girly? Inner Pink? Nice. I’m looking for my Inner Dapper Gentleman… ;) But I keep coming back to pink & girly. Oh well!

      Maureen- you’re 60. You can do whatever you like. :) No, really! When I’m 60, I plan to completely give myself over to sartorial wanderings, I’ll be one of those eccentric ladies with enormous bright orange feathered hats and a good natured cackle. A Harajuku Gibson Girl or something.

      Have you seen Advanced Style? It’s a blog from NY, the writer takes pictures of older people and their style. He has a few older friends he goes and talks to about life and style and ageing, it’s really great. Many of them are probably a decade or two older than you but I find them very inspiring so maybe you would too? http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com.au/

      That said, I’m only 5″4′ and wear DD/E’s and put on a belt when I feel like it and leave it off when I don’t. Often I find a belt helps provide a focal point for the outfit and also reminds me I have a waistline… :)

      • Growing up in the 60s I moved from a sort of weekend hippy look to angry feminist so doing pink, purple, orange feels just right now.

        Hitting my 60s has been very liberating to the extent that on retirement we are off to live ‘somewhere’ in France.

        Love Advanced Style. New York must be heaven to shop in.

        As for the peplum : if you promise not look too close at the handy work I’ll send a photo.

  9. Wow you may have made me a believer of the peplum. It is generally not one of my favorite styles because I just think it looks better on small narrow hipped women. I never really thought about changing the proportions to fit the body better might have to try one out now…

    • Cool. :) Personally, I think it’s best for larger women when properly proportioned… It’s good on petite-hipped ladies, but they have to be as careful with proportion as larger women. RTW is generally calibrated for smaller proportions though, so I could see how the perception that peplums are only for smaller hipped women would happen… :)

    • Well… At the risk of sounding like an “h-word,” I’ve liked them since I got into 40’s fashion… I was quite pleased last year when I realized it was “acceptable” to wear peplums. YAY. One reason is because it’s such a universally favorable style for a variety of bodies, that’s why I’m surprised when people tell me they are too fat for peplums or their bottoms are too big or whatnot… :) Try it maybe?

  10. Very interesting Steph. I’ve been avoiding putting any comments on the Vogue peplum top that everyone has made as it is too high waisted for most people and it looks off (to me)… like you are wearing your little sister’s top. The New Look ones I’ve seen are all much nicer on.. plus it’s a princess seam and I think that is more flattering. Although I think Jorth’s is in proportion for her and made very nicely I must say.

  11. Aha! This is fascinating – you’re right, and the pictures really back you up.

    I’ve made a couple of the short waisted peplum tops Sofie is referring to and even though I’m short waisted I think I’ve let the waist sit too high and made the peplum part a bit too long… Live and learn!

    • Thanks, G. :)

      It’s possible to cut off the waist seam, insert a little midriff band, and re-attach. Would be cute, too! :) (Sorry, I can’t switch out of problem-solving mode…)

  12. Oh, thank you for sorting through the mechanics of peplums! I recently made myself a peplum top by cutting away the bottom part of a bridesmaid dress. The skirts were further cannibalized into other successful garments, but the peplum did not work out. I couldn’t figure out why the peplum looked ridiculous, I just knew that it did. After reading your post, I am convinced the proportions are wrong because the peplum is too short! The project can be found here: http://autumnyarn.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/bridesmaid-dress-deconstructed/
    Yes, looking at it again, the proportions are definitely the problem.

    • Yeah, no problem.. :)

      I think your top is kinda cute… Like… Forever 21 kinda cute? :) I’d agree, the peplum is a little short. It’s not awful though, it’s really not.

      I used to tear apart thrifted dresses to make stuff, too…

      • I agree – it looks quite elegant but if you want a longer one why not do another longer layer (peplum) underneath. I think the colour and strapless is really lovely and it’s not bad because it fits on your waist not above it. What do I know tho?

      • I am beginning to suspect I may have been a bit unfair to the poor top. It is currently hibernating in a corner of my closet, but it might benefit from the time and distance.

  13. I’ve been so baffled by peplums because sometimes they look so off and I couldn’t work out why. The body/peplum proportions is exactly it! Good on you, working out what works for each figure type and then incorporating that into the pattern. :) You’re a great designer!

    • Thanks, Heather… I’m pretty sure I got the proportions right, anyway it’s closer than it would be if the peps were all the same width. (Honestly, when I go into a shop and see that sizes 6-26 have similarly proportioned details I wonder what the designer was thinking…)(Yes, I spend time sneaky shopping… It’s a compulsion lately…)

  14. I really like peplums. I am very small and the silhouette of a peplum gives me shape. I understand and agree with all of your statements on peplums but for some reason, I like the look of the second example. The peplum is longer and fuller than the peplum Kate Middleton wore (which I love) but I think it lends to the whole look – quirky, dressy casual, etc.
    Thanks for this post though, it was very well written and laid out :)

    • Well, that’s cool. The fabric is interesting, but the fit isn’t very good and I think they should have pressed the waist seam upwards but who am I? :)

  15. Thank you for such a fascinating and enlightening post! So, so, so glad that I’ll get to sit in on your virtual classroom for the Hummingbird sew along! I know you’ll help us all sew flattering peplums. :)

  16. Thank you for such an informative post. The photographs are very helpful. I’m still not 100% sure that a peplum is something I will enjoy wearing. But I’ve been wrong before. Guess we will find out after I receive and make my Hummingbird. Though the Hummingbird skirt and pockets are what I’m most excited about. :-)

  17. Thanks Steph for the post on peplums. Just a point of interest, I have enrolled in a class on Craftsy- Plus size pattern fitting and Design, and she uses Vogue 8815. I am a plus size lady and I was unsure about the design, but I thought “what the heck” I am going to be using fabric from my stash.I am making view C, in a light cotton. I’m also going to make a long sleeved blue Hummingbird during the sewalong.

  18. This was a very interesting post. I have yet to foray into the realm of peplums. I’ve always felt like I’m “too curvy” for them, and I never used to be a huge fan. But now I suspect that it’s just because I never met the right peplum. I ordered a Hbird pattern and I can’t wait to give peplums a try!

  19. I do love these discussions…they raise topics I’d never even think to think about. I love peplums…on other people. Too much going on around an already busy midriff for me.

  20. The word “peplum” originates from the ancient Greek garment “peplos,” which was draped to fit each wearer in the most flattering manner. Don’t know when “peplum” came to refer only to that part of the garment that was folded and tied around the waist and hip to adjust tunic length, but isn’t it interesting that peplums have ALWAYS needed to be fussed with to make the most flattering silhouette for each wearer? A peplum on the jacket of my 1870s style wedding dress accommodated the extreme difference in width between my (then!) tiny waist and the bustle on the back of the skirt. A deeply pleated back peplum swooped into pointed fronts, and helped to support the ginormous bow that closed the cummerbund at the small of the back. Wearing the jacket without the skirt results in a far-too-long, very droopy peplum, but when it sits nearly horizontal atop the skirt, it is just right.

  21. I am so happy to read this post. I have been thinking about making a peplum, but was afraid it would make my hips look bigger. I am excited to give one a try now using some of your suggestions on how they should sit on the body. I do love me a top that will hide the “muffin top”! Thanks for the great post ~Kerrielee

  22. Pingback: Pink Polka-dot Hummingbird | Another Little Crafty Creation


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