Being petite makes it hard to get the respect you deserve. In this post, I share my best styling tips so you can solving your dressing problems. Read to embrace being an awesome, tiny package, while being taken seriously.
- What Is the Dressing Challenge of Petite Women?
- What Is the Definition of a Petite Women?
- The World Is so much Better When You Are Tall
- On the Job Tall Sounds more Professional than Cute
- How to Get the Proportions Right When Dressing
- Fit Is Key
- How to Edit Your Clothes for Details in Your Favor
- Why the Size of Your Prints Matters
- Create a Vertical Line
- Learn to Walk on Heels
- Where to Find Shoes for Petites?
- Tips How to Look Taller than You Are
- Conclusions on the Best Style Tips for Petite Women
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post.
When you are a petite, many sales persons will send you to the youth department. You not only have to deal with the body discrimination, but also a style problem. Typically, the quality and/or craftsmanship are not great, which looks like you are trying too hard or not trying at all on everyone over 40.
The term petite refers to the height of a person. However, which height is considered as the threshold between petite and regular height differs among countries according to the average height of the population.
For example, I am 5’4 (1.63 m), the average height of an American woman. When living in France in the 1980s, I was considered tall because the average French woman’s height was 5’21/2 (1.59 m). On the contrary, in Germany where the average woman is 5’6 (1.68 m), I classified as petite . In Spain in the early 1990s, I enjoyed being even taller than most men.
Summer dress with oversize floral pattern
Star denim jacket with slip dress, DIY scarf and BP espadrilles
Mathematically speaking, you are petite when your height is one standard deviation lower than the mean height of the women in your country. The first diagram in this post illustrates what this means. Lets assume the heights are normal distributed following a Gaußian distribution (the curve in the diagram). Then the majority of people have a height is between plus/minus one standard deviation of the mean height of all people (green area). When you fall into this group you are a regular size. Persons shorter or taller than these are called petite and tall, respectively.
Therefore, clothes cut for regular size don’t fit right.
You can imagine how astonished/happy I was when a really tall (5’11, 1.80 m) female colleague described me as a tall brunette. Here is how you can dress successfully to look taller than you actually are.
Why would a petite want to look taller than she is? Because our body image feeds back to how we are perceived. Height is about power. While cute is nice, cute is the opposite of what a professional woman strives for.
To get the illusion of being tall watch the proportions. The goal is to scale the clothes you wear to the size of your body. The aim is that you wear the clothes and not the clothes wear you.
Well fitting clothes draw the eye up. Therefore, steer away from flowing or loose clothes. Misfit clothes read sloppy. Either shop for petite or have a great tailor to shorten your jeans, pants, sleeves. Have him/her sew the original hem back on after shortening jeans to avoid that the jeans look shortened. Pants should cover the top of your shoes. The sleeves of your blazers should hit just one inch (2.5 cm) over your wrist. If you do not want to pay for this alteration, roll up your sleeves at least 2 inches (5 cm) above your wrist.
Find the right length for your skirts. Just above or below the knee are most the time the best bet. Avoid full skirts as they may overwhelm a petite frame. Don’t buy blazers, blouses, shirts that have large collars.
Small prints are easier on a petite body than large prints. Compare the two outfits above. The left one shows an outfit for going out with my hubby, so cute was wanted. The deep back line, sleek cut, and high-low hem help to not drown in the oversize pattern. The right outfit has a small print of less than 0.25 inch (0.6 cm). The belt marks the waist. Together with the espadrilles, it provides the illusion of long legs despite the tea-length. The denim jacket and scarf create a vertical line.
The following are petite professional outfit ideas.
Vertical stripes give the illusion of height. Therefore, wear a cardigan, short coat or blazer open (see photos). A long scarf does the trick too. However, make sure the scarf hits where it hits on women with average height.
A high neckline gives the illusion of a long torso. If you have the body and nerve you may try a deep v-neck for evening or beach wear (first photo on the left in this post).
When wearing separates make sure that they don’t chop your body in half. Create the illusion of long legs by emphasizing the waist. When wearing a skirt go for nude shoes to elongate the leg. When wearing pants or tights shoes in the same color have the same effect. Matching the color of your skirt with that of your tights also elongate the legs.
To add height is one of the 101 reasons to wear heels or wedges and/or shoes with plateau (photos below). Exercise walking in heels. Commit to push your weight on the ball of your foot. Wedges are easiest to walk in.
Petites often have small feet. You may have good luck with French, Italian and Spanish brands. See my review of Spring Step shoes. Also check websites that specialize in custom-made shoes or shoes for petites, e.g. petitefeet.com.
Floral pumps with 3 inch (7.5 cm) heel to add height Side and top view on the comfort shoes c/o Spring Step
Multi color strappy sandals with 4 inch heel (10 cm)
The following list summarizes the 27 best style tips for petite women.
- Try a monochromatic look with nude shoes or shoes in a similar shade. The same color from neck to toe gives the illusion of height. You can find more information on how to style an interesting monochromatic look at the link.
- V-necks and vertical lines are best because they give the illusion of height. Vertical lines can be seams, the button-line of a shirt or coat dress, or fabric with vertical stripes. Princess seams are your friend. Even scarves add vertical lines. More on how to up your style with scarves in the post at the link.
- Bring your neckline up or down to create a long line.
- Go for a pixie or curls to add height. Wear a crown up-do when you have long hair.
- Try straight or fuller, not too long skirts. Around knee-length or just above the knee works best.
- Wear sleek sheaths and dresses with high waist-line.
- A “notice me” color makes you visible. More on how to wear color over 40.
- When your legs are short, try capris and gauchos as full length slacks.
- When you like the raw hem trend/style, buy a pair of jeans that perfectly fit around your hips, bum and thighs. Cut them off that the right length. Wear the shoes you plan to wear with your jeans and have someone marks the length just half an inch (1.3 cm) above the floor. Don’t do the marking yourself! Bending the knees lifts the fabric! Once you stand straight again you will have a “tail” in the front.
- Go for straight-leg over looser fits. More on how to choose your pants.
- When shopping online don’t browse only petite clothes. Know your measures, and check the size charts. You may find pieces that work for you when shortened.
- When between sizes always go for the larger one. A seamstress can alter a too large item, but not a too small one. Have a good tailor on speed dial. Send them a photo of the item and ask them whether they can alter it to your frame and what it would cost. Never purchase an item before you know what the actual price will be (sum of price at the store plus alterations). In department store, always ask whether they have a free alteration service.
- Learn how to do simple alterations and hemming yourself. See how to shorten a high/low hem for a tutorial. For expensive wardrobe basics, pay a seamstress/tailor despite it is expensive.
- Hats give you height. More on ageless style with hats.
- Mini-bags are made for you.
- If you are able to sew, you can make simple garments like skirts to your scale.
- Opt for cropped jackets, shirts and pants.
- Look for jackets with build-in belt.
- Avoid tunic-like tops, horizontal stripes, and everything oversize and/or shapeless.
- Many stylists advice against wearing floor-grazing maxi dresses/skirts to not overwhelm the petite frame. However, a petite can rock the look, when getting the proportions right. Try a maxi with a slit. More on awesome maxi dress outfits.
- There are 101 reasons why to wear heels over 40. Learn to walk in heels to gaining height.
- Nude – read the color of your flesh – shoes elongate your legs. Therefore, strappy heels are a petite’s best friends.
- If you absolutely want to wear flats steer away from anything with large hardware.
- Look for blazers, blouses, shirts that have small collars.
- Go for small rather than large prints.
- Watch your proportion. Ensure you don’t cut your body in half when wearing separates.
- Use belts to get your portions right. More on wearing the right belts for your body shape.
Don’t forget that you are not just petite, but also have a body shape type. For looking your best, always take your horizontal and vertical body shape in mind. Learn the tricks how to save on clothing when you are petite.
Photos: G. Kramm
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