Petite Style

As someone who is 5’3” (in the morning, on a good day, standing up as straight as I can!) and has styled literally hundreds of petite women, I know how frustrating shopping for clothes can be if you’re short. Given that the fashion industry typically designs for women 5’6” – 5’8”,  if you are buying from a brand’s standard range, you are likely going to need to get your clothes altered. There are some workarounds though.

Your proportions can make a real difference

Depending on how short you are and, most importantly, what your proportions are, you may be able to buy certain garments from standard ranges.

If you are short but have a long body and short legs, you may find that some standard length tops will be fine for you but you will certainly need to get trousers and skirts turned up. If on the other hand, you have relatively long legs and a short body, you may find that some standard length trousers will be fine if you wear them with heels.

“Cheats” to enable short women wear standard sizes

  • Cropped trousers can sometimes work as full length trousers
  • Don’t dismiss mini skirts – they can be a flattering knee-length on a short woman
  • Midis can work as maxis
  • Low rise trousers may become mid- or even high-rise on a short body
  • Cropped tops can come out as standard length on petites, particularly if you are are short-waisted
  • Look out for ¾ or bracelet length sleeves
  • Tops that have some ruching can be scrunched up to look a little shorter eg the faux wrap from Kettlewell
  • If the garment is designed to be “oversized” opt for one or two sizes smaller than you normally wear. This will be more in keeping with your stature whilst still maintaining the oversized vibe.

Getting the details right

Picture of woman wearing a large scale print
This bold print would look good on a statuesque woman but could overwhelm a petite

Brands are increasingly providing petite ranges but, frustratingly, they’re not always in the best styles and fabrics for a short woman. As a rule, if you’re small, small prints will work best for you. If you’re short but full-figured, you will be able to carry off  slightly bigger prints but are nonetheless generally best avoiding large prints. Be wary too of  big patch pockets, oversized statement collars and buttons etc.

This dress from Boden is available in petite, standard and tall fits. The large print shown here is very well suited to someone who is statuesque and/or has a dramatic style personality but a petite will look better in one of their smaller prints, such as the polka dots.


What alterations are viable?

Ideally, you will want to buy from brands that offer petite sizing  but there will inevitably be times when you need to get clothes tailored to fit. It’s generally pretty straightforward to take up a hemline, be that a skirt, top or sleeve.  Adding darts or adjusting the position of existing darts can be an easy way of tailoring a dress or jacket to fit into the waist of a smaller frame. Adjusting the nape-to-waist length or  the shoulder width can be trickier, particularly on a garment with sleeves.

Some shops offer an in-house tailoring service so will be able to advise and do the work for you but, if this service isn’t available, I suggest buying the item and immediately taking it to a seamstress who will be able to tell you whether or not the garment can be tailored to provide a good fit at a reasonable cost. If not, simply return it to the store for a refund.

How to look taller

Picture of Nicola wearing a column of colour
Wearing a column of colour will make you appear taller

If you would like to look taller, there are some simple techniques you can employ:

Create a column of colour with your outfit. In other words, wear the same colour (or variations of the same colour from top to toe to create an unbroken line.

Wear heels. I know this is not viable for everyone but it is the easiest way to make yourself a little taller. If this isn’t an option for you though, if you coordinate the colour of your hemline to your hosiery and/or footwear, it will make your legs look longer. Footwear with a.pointed toe will do the same. Knee boots are another way of creating an unbroken line and thus making your legs look longer.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, long skirt lengths can sometimes look better on petites than shorter ones, particularly if you are full figured.  If you’re wearing separates, make sure that you keep your top relatively short though to avoid looking swamped.  Be wary of full skirts (particularly short ones!) and very wide leg trousers as they may make you look squat, particularly if you don’t have a defined waist. Jumpsuits can be flattering on a petite frame but you will almost certainly need to go for one that is specifically designed for petites. Maxi dresses can be a nice option too so long as they are plain or the print is fairly small.

Petite brands

Fortunately more and more brands are waking up to the fact that there are a lot of short women around. Petite sizes are not always stocked in store but are often available online. If you’d like my list of brands that have petite ranges, please email [email protected].

And finally

If you’d like to find out more how to dress your shape scale and proportions, whether you’re tall or short, why not book in for a style consultation with me?