This week, Office Hours answers the Question “How do I Wear Pleats”

Here’s what Amy A had to say:   “Hi Jennifer–I love your podcast and I’m learning so much about style and clothes.  I’m slowly pushing myself out of my comfort zone and trying new things, and I love the pleated skirts I see everyone wearing. I’m a rectangle with no waist at all, and my torso is very boxy. Can I wear a pleated skirt?”

Since the answer to “Can I wear ____?” is ALWAYS yes, I answered the question “How do I wear pleats?” instead

Links & Resources from the Show:

A great visual showing the different kinds of pleats

Can you name the pleat?

Listen to the Episode Now:

Apple Podcasts:

Read the full episode transcript below! – Ep 25 Office Hours “How Do I Wear Pleats?”

Welcome back to Office Hours–the weekly show of the Everyday Style School podcast, where we answer one question, submitted by you, to help make style easier, and getting dressed more fun.

Today’s question was submitted by Amy A, who wrote. “Hi Jennifer–I love your podcast and I’m learning so much about style and clothes. I’m slowly pushing myself out of my comfort zone and trying new things, and I love the pleated skirts I see everyone wearing. I’m a rectangle with no waist at all, and my torso is very boxy. Can I wear a pleated skirt?”

First of all, Amy, thank you for your kind words, and I’m thrilled to hear that you’re trying new things! Next, you ask if you “Can” wear a pleated skirt. I want everyone who’s listening to really hear my answer to your question. The answer to ANY Can I wear a fill in the blank is yes. Always yes. If you can put it on your body, you can wear it.

What you and the hundreds of other women who have asked me a can I wear question over the last 2 decades are really asking is “will I like the way I look in a pleated skirt, or skinny jeans, or over the knee boots–or whatever it is. That question, I can’t answer for you. There are women who are slaves to the rules of conventional flattery, and there are women who couldn’t care less what a rectangle should or shouldn’t wear–they just wear what they like. I don’t know where you fall on that scale, so it’s an impossible question.

And here’s the other thing–and again, important for every woman who wonders “can I wear this” to hear and understand. Nothing exists in a vacuum. HOW you wear something, and WHAT you wear it with, make a huge difference. Not to mention, not all pleats are created equal. For example–are we talking a mini pleated skirt or a midi pleated skirt. Are you wearing it with an oversized sweater, or a fitted tee and jacket? Are you wearing flats or heels? What’s the fabric, how does it drape, what color is it? These things all matter–and its why you have to understand the principles of dressing YOUR body and pay attention to what YOU feel best in.

I know I hate the way I look in long skirts–so if I wanted to wear a pleated skirt, I’m going to do best in one that’s above the knee. I know my top half is bigger than my bottom half, so I’m better off going with a darker, basic top, and having more fun with print, color, or texture on the bottom. Knowing what you like on yourself, in general, will make trying anything so much easier because you’ll understand where to start. BUT, I’m guessing you didn’t write in so you could get a philosophical answer–you want to know if those cute pleated midis are for you. I won’t tell you IF you can wear them (that’s for you to decide) but I will tell you HOW to make pleats work for you–or least how to know where to start. Let’s dig in..

First, let’s talk about the types of pleats, and some terms you’ll see if you’re online shopping

Last October, I was in Atlanta for the She Podcasts Live conference. And of course, when you meet someone, you tell a little about your show. The first thing every woman said was “I need that!” then a lot of women wondered–how do you do that show? Don’t you need pictures, like a blog? And honestly, I hadn’t really considered it. I just talk about things and put links in the show, and I think we do ok. This is the first episode where I’ve thought–yeah, this is a visual kind of thing. BUT, I’ll do the best I can, and put lots of links and pictures into the show notes, and you’re smart people so it will all work out.

So, what is a pleat? According to, a pleat is an intentional fold of definite, even width, made by doubling cloth or the like upon itself and pressing or stitching it in place. I mean, come on–You know what a pleat is. But what you may not know is the difference between different kinds of pleats, and how to wear pleats in a traditionally flattering way.

Let’s talk about a few of the more common pleats you’ll see.

The most common pleat is the knife pleat- Remember making paper fans when you were a kid? Where you fold a piece of paper back and forth, creating a symmetrical zig-zag pattern? That’s what we’re talking about. To demonstrate this one, if you’re not driving, and not in a place where people will look at you like you’re crazy, hold one hand up, palm facing out, and as you move your arm slowly from left to right, turn your palm facing you, and then out again. Kind of like a slow beauty queen wave. That’s a knife pleat. All the folds go the same way, and are stitched down or pressed at the top, In a skirt, the pleats can either start right at the waistband or be stitched down further, so the opening of the pleat starts a little lower. This creates a wide, flat yoke

A version of the knife pleat is the accordion pleat–which is a mini knife pleat–each fold is usually ½ inch or less. This is what you’re seeing on all the pleated midi skirts that are out there. Usually, accordion pleats are stitched down just at the waistband–which is an important factoid to save for later. Sometimes you’ll see “fan pleats” or sunburst pleats–these are just accordion pleats that start narrow at the top and get wider at the bottom, creating more fullness at the hem. Knife pleats and all their variations are pretty easy to describe..the other common type of pleat is a box pleat,

This one is definitely harder to describe, but bear with me, and again, visit the show notes for pictures. Unlike knife pleats that take just one fold to create, box pleats require 2 folds. They’re basically a set of knife pleats that face opposite directions, to create fullness. In a traditional box pleat, the folds of fabric face away from each other, and the volume is in front of the folds.
If you’re not driving, and won’t look like a whack a doo, hold both hands out in front of you, palms out, thumbs pressed together. Now, move your hands apart a few inches, flip them so your palms are facing you and bring them back together so your pinky fingers touch. Now do that again imagining your hands are the fabric of a skirt. Do you see that when you flip your hands over, you’re creating a fold in the fabric but the extra fabric is in the front? That’s a box pleat.

In an inverted box pleat, folds face each other, and the volume is behind the folds. In this one, start with your palms together, facing you, pinky fingers touching. Then move them apart a few inches flip your pams to face away from you and bring your thumbs together. The extra volume is inside the fold. These are the pleats you see on those high waisted full skirts that were super popular just a couple of years ago, or on uniform skirts. Again, in skirts, box pleats can start at the waist, or start lower around the hip.

If you can’t picture any of these, again, head to the show notes for examples, but Now that we’ve covered the most common types of pleats, let’s talk about how to wear them. One thing to remember is that the purpose of pleats is to create controlled volume in a garment. so do pleats add volume? Always yes. Does that mean a certain size or shape should avoid them? Not necessarily. Not all pleats are created equal. The type of pleat and where they’re placed, along with lots of other factors need to be considered. Don’t rule them out altogether.

When finding the pleats that are right for you, remember, pleats add volume where they start. So, let’s say you’re an hourglass shape, and you find a box pleat skirt with pleats that start right at the waist. Yes, it’s going to add volume, but that may be ok because your waist is proportionally smaller. Now, let’s say you’re an apple, and you love that same box pleat skirt–adding more volume to the waist probably isn’t your goal. HOWEVER, let’s say you’re an apple who finds a skirt with a wide, flat yoke and pleats that start at the hip? An apple’s hips could use some volume, and the flat waistband of that skirt can create a smoothing effect in the midsection. It could be a winner! Now let’s say a pear comes along and finds that skirt whose pleats start right at the hips–probably not her best look, but if the pleats start just above the hip? The volume of the pleats often hides the fullness of the hips, which is why my pears usually have closets full of full, pleated skirts.

The size of the pleat matters too, especially in box pleats. The bigger the folds of fabric, the more volume they add.

Finally, Play with the styling–try tops tucked and untucked–Try more fitted pieces, and pieces with more flow. Change the length, swap shoes. These are all things that will make any piece you try to look different. For a lot of women, the first time you try something new, it’s not an immediate slam dunk, but if you want to wear pleats, or anything really, take the time to figure out how to make it work for you. Now, you might listen to this and think “forget it–too hard. It’s too much work to look for pleats that are the right shape and size, and start at the right place, and switch up my other pieces to make the whole outfit come together”. And you know what, that’s totally fine. I often say to my clients “You’re working too hard for this piece”. But this is how you go from “can I wear this” to “how do I make this work for me”. This is how you go from taking a hundred things into a fitting room and being frustrated by them all, to looking at things on the sales floor, fully clothed, to know if an item has a chance, and what else you need to bring in to the fitting room to make it work–you’ll take a lot less, and have a lot more success if you know what you’re looking for in the first place.

If you haven’t listened to episodes 2-6 on how to identify and dress your body shape, I highly recommend starting there. Then, put those principles into action, and be willing to put in the effort to not just try something new, but to make it work for you.

That’s all for today. Amy, I hope this helped, and I hope you’ll post a picture of you in your pleats in the Everyday Style Lounge. Thanks for sending in your question. If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer, email it to

See you next week!

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