This post belongs to the Dress for Success Series. Being petite makes it hard to find and to get the respect you deserve. Read this post to know how to dress to appear taller than you actually are. Read what to wear or avoid. Get inspired by the various outfit illustrations and adopt the shopping and budget tips to look your best ever. The best styling tips for petite women are summarized in a list.
- The Clothing 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
- Get the Proportions Right When Dressing
- Fit Is Key
- Edit Your Clothes for Details in Your Favor
- Pay Attention to the Size of Your Prints
- Create a Vertical Line
- Learn to Walk on Heels
- Where to Find Shoes for Petites?
- How to Look Taller than You Are
- More Style Advice for Petites
- Conclusions on the Best Style Tips for Petite Women
- More Advice for Petites
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post.
The Clothing Challenge of Petite Women
Dressing when you are a petite! When you are petite and wear a size S many sales persons will just send you to the youth department and you have to deal with the body discrimination. While I wouldn’t exclude that you might find something that works for you often the quality and/or craftsmanship not great. Read you easily can look like trying too hard or not trying at all. Both are never in style. The dressing challenge of petites is on several fronts:
- Identifying what is right for you.
- Knowing where to shop for your height, i.e. not restricting yourself to petite clothes or having everything tailored which both is expensive.
- Avoiding oversize pieces that won’t work, i.e. overwhelm your small frame.
- Excessive layering (to protect yourself from cold weather) can easily make you look chubby and frumpy.
In this post, I will share some guidelines to get you started on solving your problem so you can
Embrace being an awesome, tiny package when you are petite. #petitestyle Click To Tweet
Read this post to learn how to score high when shopping on eBay.
What Is the Definition of a Petite Women?
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), i.e. the average height of an American woman. When living in France, I was considered a tall woman. Back then in the 1980s, the average French woman’s height was 5’21/2 (1.59 m). On the contrary, I was a petite in Germany where the average woman is 5’6 (1.68 m). In the early 1990s, I loved running around as a tourist in Spain. There I was even taller than most men.The World is so much nicer at 5 ft 9. #petitewomen Click To Tweet
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, i.e. they follow a Gaußian distribution the curve in the diagram. Then the majority of the people’s height is between plus/minus one standard deviation of the mean height of all people (the green area). Then you are considered a regular size. Persons shorter or taller than these are called petite and tall, respectively.
Being petite you will have a hard time to find clothing that fits right. However, there are some tricks to not pay a fortune at the tailor’s. See the post at the links how to save when you are petite.
The World Is so much Better When You Are Tall
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.
On the Job Tall Sounds more Professional than Cute
Why would a petite want to look taller than she is? It is nice to be considered cute, once in a while. However, cute is the opposite what a professional woman strives for. We want to be taken as serious professionals, and we understand that height is about power. We also understand that our body image feeds back to how we are perceived. You heard about the importance of the first impression, did you?
Get the Proportions Right When Dressing
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. In other words, the aim is that you wear the clothes and not the clothes wear you.
Fit Is Key
Well fitting clothes draw the eye up. Thus, when you are petite steer away from flowing or loose clothes. Misfitting clothes read sloppy. Thus, either shop for petite or make sure to have a great tailor to shorten your jeans, pants, sleeves. Have him/her sew the original hem back on after shortening the jeans so it does not look shortened. Pants should cover the top of your shoes. Make sure that the sleeves of your blazers hit just one inch (2.5 cm) over your wrist. If you do not want to fork over the money for this alteration, for instance, because the tailoring would cost more/the same as the blazer, roll up your sleeves at least 2 inches (5 cm) above your wrist.
Edit Your Clothes for Details in Your Favor
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.
Pay Attention to the Size of Your Prints
Small prints are easier on a petite body than large prints. Large prints may be too much for a petite frame or at least don’t do anything for appearing tall. 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 of the dress. The denim jacket and scarf in addition create a vertical line. Thus, this outfit does a lot to look taller than I am. The following are petite professional outfit ideas.
Landsend cashmere crew-neck sweater with red suede skirt, red tights and red Gloria Vanderbilt pumps (all own) for a tall lean look
Custom-made Madison asymmetric hem color blocked skirt c/o Rita Phil (review of Rita Phil custom tailored skirt) with own Hermes collier de chien bangle, amethyst earrings and pendant necklace, Jones New York silk blouse, Coach bag, Winkwood wooden mirror sunglasses and BCBGMAXAZRIA ankle strap pumps
Oliveo white leather skirt, DIY belt, Hermes collier de chien bangle, Coach shearling bag, Christian Louboutain pumps (all own) and blue-white plaid shirt c/o Ethyl Clothing
Armani cape, Prada satchel, Gloria VanDerBilt pointy toe pumps, pantyhose, silk rose pin, puma buckle belt, G-III suede skirt, Hermes collier de chien bangle (all own) and gingham shirt c/o Whistle River
Max Mara Weekend skirt, Notations cardigan worn as top, Newport News leather fitted biker jacket, Hermes collier de chien bangle, Coach tote, pantyhose, Ivanka Trump toe-cap pumps (all own)[/caption]
Liz Claiborne shirt, statement belt, Dooney and Brouke purse, Parda pointy toe heels, Ray Ban aviators, Hermes collier de chien bangle (all own), and best girlfriends bracelet c/o Chico’s
Skirt with vertical lines and open blazer and Aldo leopard print pumps (all own) create height. Necklace c/o Almo Jewellery
Karina Dresses polka dot dress, Notations Blazer (dyed), Gucci bamboo enamel suede belt, Hermes collier de chien bangle, Calvin Klein block heel pumps, pantyhose and statement necklace
G-III skirt, Gucci bamboo enamel buckle belt, pantyhose, Hermes collier de chien bangle, Gloria vanderBilt pointy toe heels, topas headband, Cami coat (all own) and abstract poppy print button-down shirt c/o Ethyl Clothing
Max Mara straight orange skirt, Paloma Picasso x belt, Valentino studded boots, Seiko watch, statement earrings (all own)
Vienna Scala head topper c/o Tenth Street styled with own James & Graham motorcycle leather jacket, Oscar de la Rente oblong scarf, Loft silk V-neck sweater, Oliveo boot cut jeans, Nicole suede fall sandals, Celine tote and statement belt
Halogen quilted leather jacket, eShakti lace pencil skirt, BCBG belt, Moda International top, BCBG studded pumps (all own) and wooden sports watch c/o Jord
Create a Vertical Line
Vertical stripes are fine as they give the illusion of height. You can also create the illusion of a vertical line by wearing a cardigan, short coat or blazer open (photos above on the right). A long scarf may do the trick too. However, make sure you wrap the scarf in such a way that it hits not below the waist, i.e. the scarf should hit were 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.
Learn to Walk on Heels
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. There are also custom-made plateau comfort shoes by various companies, e.g. Spring Steps. You can find my review of Spring Step shoes in the post at the link.
Where to Find Shoes for Petites?
When you are petite, often your feet are small too. You may have good luck on your trip to Europe in France, Italy and Spain to find great shoes in your size. Otherwise have a look at 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)
Zoom-in on the Coach booties (own)
Petites are often overlooked. The post covered what you can wear besides heels or plateau footwear to give the illusion of being taller than you actually are. The following list summarizes the 27 best tips.
- 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 your friends. They give the illusion of height. Vertical lines can be seams, the button-line of a shirt or coat dress, or fabric with vertical stripe. Princess seams are your friend. Even scarves add vertical lines. See the guide on how to up your style with scarves in the post at the link.
- Bring your neckline up or down to create a longer line than you actually have.
- Go for a pixie or curls to add height. A crown up-do is a great option when you have long hair. Pssst! It’s a great trend right now.
- 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. For how to wear color over 40 see the post at the link.
- When your legs are short, i.e. you are long-waisted, try capris and gauchos as full length slacks. You can find out whether you are short- or long-waisted with this free online vertical body type finder.
- When you like the raw hem trend/style, buy a pair of jeans that have a perfect fit around your hips, bum and thighs and cut them off that the right length. Note it is important that you wear the shoes you plan to wear with your jeans and that someone marks the length just half an inch (1.3 cm) above the floor. Don’t do the marking yourself. Bending the knees will lift the fabric! Once you stand straight again you will have a “tail” in the front.
- Go for straight-leg denim over looser fits. See also how to choose your pants for further tips to find the best pants for you.
- When shopping online know your measures and always check the size charts. Don’t browse only petite clothes. Knowing your measures you may find pieces that work for you when shortened.
- When between size 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. Do not purchase the 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. #petitestyle #budgetfashion Click To Tweet
- I do simple alterations and hemming myself. See how to shorten a high/low hem for a tutorial. In the case of more expensive wardrobe basics, I do use a seamstress/tailor at times despite it is expensive. Have a tailor on speed dial. #petitefashion Click To Tweet
- Hats give you height. Read more on ageless style with hats in this guide.
- 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 or skirts. They can easily overwhelm a petite frame. However, when you get the proportions right, even a petite can rock the look (Read this style is tricky). Try a maxi with a slit. Read more on awesome maxi dress outfits.
- Learn to walk in heels. There are 101 reasons why to wear heels over 40. Gaining height when being petite is one of them.
The World is so much nicer at 5 ft 9. #petitestyle Click To Tweet
- Nude – read the color of your flesh – shoes elongate your legs. Strappy heels are a petite's best friends. #petitefashion Click To Tweet
- 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. Make sure you don’t cut your body in half when wearing separates.
- Try using belts to get your portions right. You can learn more on wearing the right belts for your body shape at the link.
More Advice for Petites
Are you petite? 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. Read how to save money on clothes as a petite.
Are you struggling when to wear what and where? Don’t scratch your head. Just buy my book How to Dress for Success in Midlife and you can easily look it up and build outfits from pieces you have in your closet. It’s like a recipe book, but for dressing.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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