What to wear when you are petite

Definition of petite varies among countries

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 Click To Tweet
#fashionover40 petite woman in summer dress Summer dress with oversize floral pattern
#fashionover40 Summer look Small printed dress with denim jacket and silk scarf

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

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.

fashion over 50 work look Chartreuse cashmere crew-neck sweater with red suede skirt, red tights and red Gloria Vanderbilt pumps for a tall lean look
fashionover40 work outfit Skirt with vertical lines and open blazer and Aldo leopard print pumps (all own) create height. Necklace c/o Almo Jewellery

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

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#fashionover40 Outfit with Spring Step comfort shoes Side and top view on the comfort shoes c/o Spring Step

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

#shoesover40 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.

Photos: G. Kramm, N. Mölders

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