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Midi vs. Maxi vs. Mini vs. Long Dresses (What’s the Difference?)

Here is a comprehensive look into the different lengths of a dress which are midi, maxi, mini and long, showcasing their differences and measurements and when best to wear them.

These are women wearing colorful dresses in different lengths.

The length of a dress dramatically changes the entire look of any outfit. Brides traditionally wear long flowing dresses but imagine the same wedding dress if the hemline ended mid-thigh. The whole look of the dress would change.

While this is quite an extreme example, the difference between various dress lengths affects the overall look of any outfit. The perfect length dress will make you feel confident and beautiful at every event.

The difference between mini, midi, maxi, and long-length dresses is the length.

The mini length is the shortest style. Midi-length dresses fall just below the knee and end at the top of the calf. Maxi dresses are ankle length and long dresses, also known as ball gowns, are maximum length dresses.

Beautiful flowing long dresses and daring miniskirts are very different items of clothing. When selecting an outfit for a particular event, keep the dress code in mind. Besides the length of the dress, keep in mind your body type and the shoes that you plan to team up with the dress to form a complete picture of the final result.

There are four standard dress lengths. Each one is quite distinct from the others and has a unique look and feel, which can be adapted to create dresses suitable for a multitude of occasions. There is a dress length for every mood and personality, from the shortest mini-length dress to the longest flowing ball gown.

Mini Length Dresses

How Long is a Mini Length Dress?

This is a woman walking in the city with a mini dress on.

A mini-length dress is the shortest length. The hemline of a mini can vary from just over the buttocks to mid-thigh length. If you measure from the waist, the length can range between 10 and 20 inches. 

A general rule of thumb is that a mini-length garment should extend at least 4 inches below the buttock so that the wearer can comfortably bend and move.

The range in the length of standard mini-length dresses is significant.  Full-length mini-length dresses can be elegantly worn in various settings, whereas a micro-mini length skirt is a more daring length that often only barely covers the buttocks.

An excellent method to find out the minimum-length mini you could wear comfortably is to stand up straight and hang your arms comfortably at your sides. Without bending your body, straighten your arms and touch your legs on either side. The tip of your middle finger indicates the minimum length that your mini dress hemline could be worn without feeling uncomfortably short.

Mini-length dresses and skirts can be worn on their own to show off bare legs or can be teamed up with tights or leggings.

Design Features of Mini Length Dresses

A woman wearing a bright tone mini dress.

Mini-length dresses can be made out of any clothing fabric or even leather. These short garments are designed to be trendy and eye-catching. Minis can be worn by most body types so long as the shape of the dress is flattering and the wearer is confident.

And while a mini-length hem may be short, the style can, in fact, make the wearer’s legs look longer. The right type of shoes can also heighten the effect of the mini-length dress.

Because the length they have to work with is short, designers often play with textures and add design elements like frills or extra pockets to create different styles.

To give a mini-length dress a more classic, chic look for formal occasions, they can be teamed up with long sleeves. This accentuates the wearer’s legs, and the resulting contrast between covered arms and bare legs is often very flattering.

But not all mini-length dresses are the same. There are distinct differences between the lengths of garments which are all still categorized as mini-length.

Micro Length Minis

This is a woman wearing a green velvet mini dress.

Micro-length minis are popular as eye-catching outfits for promotional events. The skirt barely covers the wearer’s buttocks, and it is not something you could wear every day unless worn with suitable leggings or tights.

However, any length of mini can be successfully teamed up with colored tights or leggings.

Short Mini Length Dresses

Mini-length dresses are worn on their own, and the shorter versions are most commonly tight-fitting and figure-hugging. The basic style is tube-like and made of stretch fabrics so the wearer can easily move and bend without worrying about the skirt lifting.

Because the length is so short, any flair may be too revealing if the wearer bends or it is windy. However, flared mini-length dresses are becoming increasingly popular.  The full soft designs of some mini-length dresses give the impression of a ballerina’s soft skirt.

When wearing a flare-type mini-length dress, matching hot pants can be worn underneath in case of any unexpected updrafts.

Image: Soft Flaired Mini Length Style

Full Mini Length Style

A full-length mini dress can be highly versatile and elegant, and this length is popular as work attire.

History of Mini Length Dresses

This is a woman wearing a vintage 60s floral dress.

In the late 50s, dress lengths started to get gradually shorter, allowing women to stride more confidently or even run without being hindered by a long dress. The actual invention of the mini-length dress is credited to a British fashion designer named Mary Quant, who launched a range of miniskirt length dresses during the 1960s.

A popular misconception is that the term ‘mini’ is short for miniature when referring to dress lengths. However, the designer had named the style after her beloved car, which was a Mini.

Since the time it was launched, the mini has remained a popular length for dresses that can be adapted for formal and informal occasions.

Midi Length Dresses

How Long is a Midi Length Dress?

A woman wearing a black floral midi length dress.

A midi-length dress can be anywhere from just above the knee to mid-calf in length. They are typically between 26 to 30 inches in length measured from the waist. Of course, this is an average measurement, so if you are shopping online, you need to keep in mind how tall you are and adjust accordingly.

The midi-length dress can provide an elegant and timeless look that can be adapted to various body types. The best length for a midi dress is below the knee, ending at the top of the largest part of your calf. This accentuates the shape of the wearer’s legs to provide a flattering overall effect.

Midi-length dresses are by far the most commonly worn length and form the staple of most wardrobes. This versatile length can be worn with sandals for a casual look, business pumps for work, or impressive high heels for a formal event.

Design Features of Midi Length Dresses

A girl with balloons wearing a purple midi dress.

Unlike mini-length dresses, midi-length dresses can always be worn with confidence by everyone.  The length makes it unlikely that the skirt might lift higher than you’d like unless you are specifically going for the famous Marilyn look!

Midi-length dresses provide more material for designers to work with.  Instead of just adding pockets or frills with the short space available with mini lengths, the longer length allows the dress to be more elaborately shaped. Midi dresses can be A-line, fitted, flared, or even wrap-around.

Figure-hugging midi lengths may include a small slit or are made from stretchy material to allow the wearer to move comfortably.

Materials used to create midi-length dresses depend on what the garment is intended for. This length can be loose-fitting and flowing or tapered towards the hemline to accentuate the feminine shape.

Midi-length dresses can have more highly patterned fabric than longer lengths, especially when the dress is intended for leisurewear. Formal business attire or outfits for formal events are usually solid or limited colors. However, midi lengths can be intricately patterned, tartan plaid, or striped.

The midi-length dress is the perfect length if you love highly patterned fabric as it is long enough to look elegant without the pattern being too overpowering.

History of Midi Length Dresses

A woman wearing a white vintage midi dress by the water.

Midi-length dresses were a popular length in the decades between 1940 until well into the 1960s. It was a time of sheer elegance and glamour.

The overall style of the dresses varied considerably during this time, but the midi length was standard for most dresses. Skirts could be wide and flaring or narrow pencil style. The popularity of the midi length came to an abrupt halt in the mid-1960s when the mini-length dress was introduced.

This liberating new length meant that women could stride confidently without the restriction of midi-length pencil skirts.

The mini-length dress was popular because it provided women with a lot more freedom. The restrictive undergarments that frequently involved wearing uncomfortable suspender stockings were suddenly a thing of the past. Women could show off their legs and stride about comfortably.

But by the 1970s, the midi length made a comeback, but it never regained its total hold on fashion that it had previously enjoyed before the arrival of the mini. The two lengths coexisted, but in 2011 there was a sudden revival of the popularity of the midi length when designers brought out a range that highlighted the flexible wearability of this length.

The midi remains a popular length that can be changed up for formal business attire or worn casually with boots while out for coffee with friends. The occasion dictates the fabric and shape of the skirt.

Maxi Length Dresses

How Long is a Maxi Length Dress?

This is a woman wearing a blue maxi length dress.

Maxi dresses end around the ankles but never touch the ground. Sometimes they can touch your feet, but they should never get in your way or pick up dirt from the ground. They are sometimes referred to as tea-length or full-length dresses.

The length of a maxi dress should be measured from the smallest point at your waist will be between 39 to 41 inches. Remember to factor in the length of your legs and consider the style of the entire dress if you are ordering online.

Design Features of Maxi Length Dresses

This is a woman wearing a maxi length dress during summer.

Maxi length dresses can have a diverse range of applications which range from relaxed outings to the beach to ultra-formal events like prom. The determining factor between these two extremes is the fabric and the design of the dresses.

Long flowing maxi dresses are relaxed and comfortable options to wear in warm weather. They are an excellent choice for semi-casual events or vacations and can quickly be paired with a pair of sandals or even flip-flops for a soft, billowy, romantic beach look.

On the other hand, maxi-length dresses are the length of choice for elegant formal events. Sleek evening gown style maxi-length dresses can feature any number of design nuances to make them unique. Detailed patterning, long dramatic slits, and rich fabrics take this length to another level.

Maxi-length dresses differ considerably from long dresses because the shoes of the wearer are still visible. Therefore, shoes can become feature items of an outfit far more so than with long dresses that entirely cover the feet.

Another great application of maxi-length dresses is for bridal parties. It would be impractical for the bride’s helpers to all be wearing long-length dresses.

The difference in length between the bride’s long dress and the maxi-length dresses worn by the bridesmaids keeps the dresses safe from being trampled on during the event while still looking formal and glamorous.

The History of Maxi Length Dresses

This is a woman wearing a floral Bohemian style maxi length dress.

Of course, maxi-length dresses were regular attire and even considered quite daring during earlier times in history.  The practicality of wearing dresses that touched the ground made way for a shorter style that revealed the ankle.

However, those long-ago times are long past.  During the 40s until well into the 60s, the midi and mini-length skirts reigned supreme. The modern maxi length dress trend as we know it made a sudden and dramatic comeback when Oscar de la Renta debuted his design of this length in 1968.

The maxi length made a swift comeback, and during the 1970s, loose-fitting Boho style dresses with long flowing maxi length skirts were popular.

Fortunately, maxi-length dresses are here to stay. This length is comfortable and feminine. Soft, cool fabrics with bright patterns are perfect for relaxed occasions, while the length is also a glamorous choice for formal events.

Long Length Dresses

How Long is a Long Length Dress?

This is a woman wearing a luxurious long dress.

A long-length dress extends below the wearer’s ankles and flows onto the ground. The length may be only just making contact with the ground or can often require the wearer to slightly lift the bottom of the dress to move forward unhindered.

Long dresses are often referred to as ball gowns and are popular for formal events and, of course, as bridal attire.

Long dresses can be as long as the wearer would like them to be and often are slightly shorter in the front to allow unimpeded forward movement and can be much longer at the back to provide a dramatic and elegant train.

Design Features of a Long Length Dress

This is a woman wearing a long flowing dress made of tulle.

Long or full-length dresses can be as simple or elaborate in design. These are magical once-in-a-lifetime type dresses that are carefully planned and must always be perfectly fitted. When wearing a long dress, it is possible to cover the legs entirely or opt for a sleek, tight-fitting style with a dramatic full-length slit.

Long-length dresses can be romantically styled with full skirts made from flowing fabrics that fall softly around the legs. This style can be beautifully elegant as the wearer’s legs are entirely hidden, so movement seems almost ethereal.

On the other hand, form-hugging long-length dresses can be extremely sexy, especially when teamed up with high heels, making the wearer’s legs appear longer. Stretchy fabrics make it possible for long-length dresses to fit tightly over the legs without restricting movement.

A slit is, therefore, not always necessary, as illustrated in this fishtail-style ball gown.

Fabrics can be selected to match the event. Sequined and shimmery metallic materials are popular and offer a chic, modern feel.

A long black ball gown is always a solid choice at most formal events as it can be accessorized to suit most formal occasions.

The History of Long Length Dresses

This is a woman wearing a white long Greek goddess costume.

Long-length dresses that cover the ankles and feet have come down to us from ancient times. The ancient Greeks and Romans wore long tunics that flowed over their sandaled feet.

Since then, dress designs have changed considerably over time, but the long length of women’s clothing remained reasonably consistent and restrictive. Before World War 1 one style of long dresses was so restrictive that they were often referred to as hobble skirts because leg movement was so limited.

Thankfully, things changed, and dress lengths started to become much less limiting, to the point where, in the mid-1960s, the mini-length dress was high fashion. However, long dresses will never go out of style for formal events, and they continue to exude a luxurious and glamorous appeal.

One can’t help feeling excited about any event that requires a ball gown!

Mini, Midi, Maxi, and Long: What’s the Difference?

A woman wearing various dresses with different lengths.

The dress length that you choose should be selected to fit with the event and your personality. Clothes reflect our personality, but remaining aware of the expected dress code should always be top of mind. One would, for example, never wear a micro-mini length dress to work or a long evening gown to a school picnic.

The wonderful thing about modern fashion is that there is no set prevailing style or set rules. Wardrobes can contain dresses of different lengths. The length of the dress that you want to wear must be based on your body type and height or any other feature that you want to accentuate.

The differences between the various lengths of dresses can easily be illustrated with this image.

If you are shopping online or reading the description of a garment, keep in mind that there are marked differences in the hemlines of dresses categorized within the terms mini, midi, maxi, and long.  When selecting a style, think about your height and body shape and select the most flattering styles.

Of course, there will undoubtedly be a few midi and maxi dresses as standard attire in most women’s wardrobes. These are standard go-to lengths for most work settings and are comfortable, versatile everyday clothing.

Also, importantly, what shoes would you be comfortable wearing with each particular dress length.

The shoes and other accessories that you choose can dramatically change the look of a hemline. A short mini-length dress can be paired with a colorful pair of tights and winter boots and create a trendy, practical daytime look. The same dress with bare legs and a heel would be perfect for a nightclub.

The most important thing when choosing the perfect dress length is what you will feel comfortable wearing. Confidence is always the number one factor in being able to carry off any outfit. If you feel good, you will radiate that quality.

Own your look, whether it is a mini skirt that shows off your legs or a long glamourous evening gown for a special occasion.

What is the Best Length Dress for Short Legs?

This is a woman wearing a full length mini dress.

If you are under 5’4″ in height, the best length is a full-length mini which ends 3-4 inches above your knees. Choose a style that will accentuate the top portion of your body, like a halter or wrap-around. Longer lengths, like maxi lengths, tend to make legs appear shorter, so don’t be afraid to show off your legs!

What is the Best Length Dress for Long Legs?

This is a woman with long legs wearing a black floral midi dress.

If you have long legs, midi and maxi length dresses are good options. These longer styles will highlight your height without putting too much emphasis on your legs, especially if the fabric is highly patterned. A midi-length skirt with flat pumps will immediately make your legs look shorter without being unflattering.