What to wear when you are petite

mathematical explanation what being petite means

Petite or regular depends on where you live

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 80s, 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 90s, 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
over 50 years old petite fashion blogger in summer dress with oversize print Summer dress with oversize floral pattern
fashion blogger in dress with denim jacket Summer look Small printed dress with denim jacket and silk scarf

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 womens height is between plus/minus one standard deviation of the mean height of all women the green area). Then you are considered a regular size. Women shorter or taller than these are called petite and tall respectively. 

What to wear when you are petite post bannerThe 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

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 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.

fashion over 50 work look Landsend cashmere crew-neck sweater with red suede skirt, red tights and red Gloria Vanderbilt pumps (all own) for a tall lean look

midlife woman in posh business casual skirt-shirt outfit Custom-made Madison asymmetric hem color blocked skirt c/o Rita Phil 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

mature woman in blue and white summer work outfit 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

petite style blogger in street wear in red with a pop of blue 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

fashion blogger Nicole in fake suit with floral top striped bag and pumps 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]

midlife woman in summer work outfit with high heels, shirt and upcycled skirt 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

fashion blogger in summer work outfit Skirt with vertical lines and open blazer and Aldo leopard print pumps (all own) create height. Necklace c/o Almo Jewellery

Alaskan woman in business casual polka dot dress with floral print blazer on a rainy day 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 (all own)

midlife blogger in springstyle with suede skirt and abstract print shirt 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

Nicole of High Latitude Style in leopard cardigan and orange skirt Max Mara straight orange skirt, Paloma Picasso x belt, Valentino studded boots, Seiko watch, statement earrings (all own)

older woman in leather jacket, jeans and head topper 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

#agelessvacationstyle What to pack for a week of beach vacation 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

Don’t let the right outfit be a random thing. Wear the right look in every situation by looking up what to wear when in How to Dress for Success in MidlifeBuy my book now.

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 (photo below on the left).

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 for my review.

When you are petite often your feet are 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 Floral pumps with 3 inch (7.5 cm) heel to add height Outfit with Spring Step comfort shoes Side and top view on the comfort shoes c/o Spring Step

multi-color Strappy Sandals Multi color strappy sandals with 4 inch heel (10 cm)

booties Coach Zoom-in on the Coach booties (own)

Previous issues of Dress for Success series covered engineering, science conference, family reunion, office party, New Year’s Eve, and travel.

Like the outfit ideas? If so, please feel free to pin them to your Pinterest board.

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Photos: G. Kramm, N. Mölders

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