What Is a Hanky Hem Dress?

Erica Stratton

A hanky hem dress is a style of dress with a skirt hem that falls into points. This style of hem is also known as a handkerchief hem dress. A hanky hem dress is often made of light and airy cloth, such as chiffon. They are considered both a high-end fashion garment and a good project for a novice sewer.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

A hanky hem dress is usually characterized by a bodice attached to a long, double-layered skirt. The skirt can be created in a variety of ways. Some require careful planning and measurement, while others are suitable for the novice sewer. The skirt of a hanky hem dress might have only four points, while other variations have as many as eight. This style of dress is considered versatile and can be worn as a summer garment or as evening wear depending on the fabric it is made from.

The easiest method of creating the skirt involves using two large squares of fabric. The sewer lays the two squares on top of each other, rotating the top square so that the points of the square make a pinwheel shape. The squares can be sewn together so that the layers will stay in place, or left to move freely.

To finish the skirt, the double fabric is then folded in half. A circle of the right circumference is drawn in the center. Once it is cut out, the circle will form the waistband of the skirt. The waist can then be attached to the bodice.

Some designers have taken the layered skirt design even further by using more than two layers of fabric. The squares can be piled on top of each other in descending size. When finished, the dress will have tiers of pointed hems.

Another way of creating the distinctive hem is to stitch together strips of cloth. Each strip has a pointed end, and the number of strips used to create the skirt determines how many points the finished product will have. Some eco-minded seamstresses have reinterpreted this more complex method of creating a handkerchief skirt to recycle ties. The ties already end in finished points and can be sewn together to make the skirt.

A hanky hem dress is also a garment worn often by dancers. When made of chiffon, the multiple layers lift and float, accenting the movement of the limbs. Gypsies and belly dancers have been shown wearing a romantic skirt in the handkerchief style.

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Discussion Comments


These types of dresses fall under a more general trend called "asymmetrical" pieces. These also include things like single strap or single sleeve shirts and dresses.

I think they stay fashionable because when worn well, they always seem unexpected. I really like them, but they don't all look good on everyone.

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