The style challenges of petites
Dressing when you are a petite can be challenging, expensive and often frustrating. The dressing challenges of petites are on several burners. Many clothes just come in regular size and overwhelm the small frame. Thus, it is important to identify what works and doesn’t work for you and to stick to it.
Restricting yourself to petite clothes or having everything tailored are both expensive. Thus, knowing where to shop what for your body is an important money saving strategy. In this post, I will share some tips that help you to solve your shopping/dressing problem to have great style without having to break the bank.
Tricks and tips to look taller than you are
Learn to create the illusion of being tall by scaling the clothes you wear to the size of your body. Doing so results in you wearing the clothes instead of the clothes wearing you.
There are several ways to achieve this goal. Using a monochromatic look with the same color for your top and bottom is a very effective way to achieve this goal. Try the look with nude shoes or shoes in a similar shade of your outfit. You can find more on how to style an interesting monochromatic look at this link.
Other ways to create the illusion of height are V-necks and vertical lines. In the latter case, you have various options as vertical lines can be seams, the button-line of a shirt or coat dress, or fabric with vertical stripes or corduroy. Dresses like sheaths or solid color dresses or pants suits also build nice vertical lines and an easy way to give the illusion of height.
Hats give you height and style. Scarves are stylish and when worn to create a vertical line give the illusion of height too.
When wearing separates make sure that they don’t chop your body in half. Italian length or just above the knee are the most faltering on most petites when it comes to the lengths of a dress/skirt. Create the illusion of long legs by emphasizing the waist. Learn how to accessorize with belts. When wearing a skirt in summer go for nude (your flesh color) 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.
Clothes to look for
Well fitting clothes draw the eye up. A straight-leg pair of jeans is better for petites than loose fits. See also how to choose your pants.
Look for blazers, blouses, shirts that have small collars. Opt for cropped jackets, and shirts. Try 3/4 sleeves. For best fit long sleeves should hit just one inch (2.5 cm) over your wrist.
Mini-bags are made for you. Extra advantage: They are less expensive than their normal size version. Compared to your body, the mini-bag has the right proportion and doesn’t look so mini at all.
Further money saving shopping tricks and tips for petites
A habit to unlearn is to restrict yourself browsing/shopping only petite clothes, which are often more expensive than the same item in regular size.You don't need to restrict your search to petite clothes when you apply these shopping tricks. #petitestyle Click To Tweet
When your legs are short, you may be long-waisted. If so, 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.
You can also save money on the tailor by adopting the current raw hem trend/style. Buy a pair of jeans that fits perfectly around your hips, bum and thighs. Then just cut them for the right length. Never ever do the marking yourself! Bending the knees lifts the fabric of the pants in the front and will create a too long front, once you stand up straight again.
Stylist’s tip: Wear the shoes you plan to wear with your jeans and have someone mark the length just half an inch (1.3 cm)above the floor.
Have a good tailor on speed dial. When you find something you like, send them a photo of the item and ask them whether they can alter the piece to your frame. Also ask for the cost of the needed alterations. Never buy an item before you know its actual final price (sum of what you pay to buy the clothes plus its alterations).
Most department stores have this free service for their good (VIP) customers. They won’t mention it when they don’t know you.
Learn to do simple alterations and hemming yourself on non-expensive trendy items. In the case of more expensive wardrobe basics, use a seamstress/tailor. It is too expensive when you get it wrong on investment items!
When shopping online know your measures and always check the size charts. Knowing your measures may help you find pieces that work for you when shortened or even right away. For instance, a cropped pair of pants may have an inseam of 27 inch, which is exactly your full length. You get the idea.
When between size always go for the larger one. A seamstress can alter a too large item, but not a too small one.
Of course, shop for your personal style. But also keep in mind that simple cuts (classic, Bohemian, casual) are easier to alter than complicated ones (Romantic, dramatic). Don’t know your primary personal style? Take this free style finder quiz. Contact me when you also want you secondary personal style be determined.
Stylist’s tip: If you do not want to spend the money on having your sleeves shortened, roll up them up at least 2 inches (5 cm) above your wrist. But stick to wearing them rolled up all time! Otherwise the piece will look on you like a hand-me-down.
If you are able to sew, you can make simple garments like skirts to your scale. You can even up-cycle clothes.
Never exclude that you might find something suitable in the youth department. But when you shop there, make sure that besides fit, the quality of the fabric and craftsmanship are excellent. In other words, pieces from the youth department can make you look like trying too hard or not trying at all when they are low quality and/or not well made. Both looks look cheap and are never in style!
Develop your shopping sense
Keep your eyes open for styles that also work on your petite frame. I have a couple of dresses that were designed with a hem to hit half thigh on a 5 ft 10 (1.78 m) person. However, on my 5 ft 4 (1.63 m) body, they are just 2 inch (5 cm) above the knee. Adding a pair of tight in the color of the skirt or shoes/boots can look great when your best feature are your legs.
What not to buy when you are petite
Steer away from flowing, loose or misfitting clothes. All of them look sloppy and frumpy on a small body. Avoid tunic-like tops, horizontal stripes, large collars, and everything oversize and/or shapeless.
Hems create horizontal lines which make you look wider than you are, and may make you look shorter than you are and/or even cut you in half. Therefore, always watch the lengths of your hems and where they hit on your short frame. Midi dresses and skirts, for instance, may be overwhelming, especially when it comes to full or dirndl-like skirts.
While separates can work for petites, they are much more tricky to wear to get the proportions right and to avoid looking short. As pointed out at the beginning of this post, a monochromatic look with separates is the easiest to wear when you want to wear separates as a petite.
Many stylists advice against wearing floor-grazing maxi dresses or maxi skirts. When they are voluminous they can easily overwhelm your petite frame. However, a slim cut, fitted maxi dress or maxi skirt can work when it gives the illusion of height, i.e. when you get the proportions right. However, be aware that anything maxi or wide pants are a tricky style for you.
When you have a short torso, try a crew neck or boat neck to balance the proportions of your legs and torso.
Learn to walk on heels
Wear heels or wedges and/or shoes with plateau (photos below). There are also custom-made plateau comfort shoes by various companies. See, for instance, this post for my review of Spring Steps.
Exercise walking in heels. Commit to push your weight on the ball of your foot. It works best when you lift the respective hip and push it forward when set the leg forward. Benefit: Your butt and hip get a sexy swing as you walk.
Navigate the shoe shopping challenge
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 like petitefeet.com (I am not affiliated with them and they did not ask/pay me for a mentioning).
As some of you know, I often browse eBay in summer (off-season) for boots and in winter for pumps of high-end brands. I often see that they have great brand new (unused) high end and bridge brands in US size 5, 6, and 6.5. The prices are way below those that one has to pay for a pair in a US size 7.5 or up. It’s worth taking a look. I found my Dior over-the-knee boots on eBay for a real bargain. Never bought on eBay? Read this post to learn how to score high when shopping on eBay.
Want more style challenge solutions?
When you liked the outfit tips of this post, and want advice for all kind of dressing challenges in midlife, buy my book How to Dress for Success in Midlife.
Keeping in touch
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P.S. You may also like to read this post on what to wear when you are petite.
Photos: G. Kramm
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