Today let’s go into detail on how to dress when you are short or petite, ie., below the average height of 1.65 m (5’4” ).
Everything you need for dressing when you are petite
In principle, these guidelines, which are now updated for this winter and fall season, will work for anyone who is short in height, or for those who want to appear longer or leaner in their appearance.
These guidelines also work well for those whose upper body is almost the same length as their lower body. In that case, the aim is to make the lower body appear longer.
This is the ultimate guide for dressing when you are short or petite. Here you will find
- 25 tips on how to dress to make yourself look longer, leaner and slimmer as well as what not to wear.
- a capsule wardrobe and style guide for petite women after 40
- The best stores to shop in if you are petite
- stylish petite celebrities to give you some extra inspiration
How to dress for winter and fall if you are petite
It can actually be trickier in a way, but also easier to dress when you are petite and the weather turns cooler.
Let me explain why.
Sweaters can have a boxy look to them and can be a chunky material, which can have the effect of “halving” your body and making your look shorter.
But you can choose long cardigans to create the effect in tip #10. Or add extra long layers as in tip #11.
In summer, you can wear a dress in one-color which is an easy way to elongate your body without needing any extra warmth.
But, you can still get the same effect with a sweater dress, for example, or a little black dress for the party season.
Venetia (above) chooses a shirt dress with vertical stripes.
How to dress when you are petite – what to think about
Petite doesn’t necessarily mean small and slim. It simply means that you are 5′ 4” or below.
You can be any size, which makes it even more important to keep your outfits in the right proportion.
When you are short in height you will usually have the following objectives with your dressing:
- Appear longer, taller and leaner
- Create a flattering silhouette (using the rule of thirds, so you don’t split your body in half)
- Avoid boxiness which will only make you look wider rather than taller.
Most short women will want to appear taller and leaner.
You may also want to take a look at how to look taller and slimmer.
This is relatively easy to achieve if you stick to the following guidelines:
1. Stick to monochrome outfits or outfits with few color variations
You would look perfect in simple shift dresses, with little color accents here and there.
Monochromatic looks create a vertical image and instantly create the illusion of height.
Dark colors are a great choice to create this illusion as dark colors make the wearer look thinner furthering the perception of height but essentially this will work for any color.
Lyn, The Accidental Icon (above) elongates her figure with an all white outfit.
2. Petite dresses: Wear a dress!
Dresses will look great on many short women, as they automatically create the much desired 2/3 – 1/3 look.
If you opt for a tight, slim silhouette then this will make you look even taller.
A knee length sheath dress is a great option for a petite frame as the tailored silhouette avoids unwanted bulk.
The end result is a lean look that makes the wearer appear taller. Polish off the look with slingback kitten heels, for a little-added height.
3. Petite clothing: Get the right fit
Getting clothes with the right fit and size is even more important for short women. Ill-fitting clothes will add extra bulk.
Avoid oversized clothes (even if they are on trend).
If you do really want to wear oversized clothes, make sure to create a good silhouette and that the balance between fitted and oversize is correct.
Make sure not to have both wide on top and below. A belted dress in one color is perfect for petites.
4. Wear heels with your petite outfits
An obvious way to gain height is to wear a heel. However, don’t go overboard with these. Getting heels that are too high will make you look out of proportion.
For examples on how I wear those and a full list of comfortable shoes, also check my article on the best arch support shoes.
5. Wear accessories in proportion
Go easy on the oversized accessories as these may overwhelm you.
Choose accessories that are in proportion with your face and the rest of your body
The bigger you are the bigger your accessories can be.
Choose a handbag that fits your physique. In many cases, oversized handbags are not your best choice.
6. Be smart with belts
For many petites your legs will be relatively short.
To make those appear longer you can wear the same color belt as your pants or skirt.
Karen (above) looks like she has legs for days. She belts her skirt high at the waist and chooses a belt in the same color.
7. Vertical patterns are your friend
Vertical patterns will always elongate and would be especially good for your pants or skirt.
Horizontal stripes are best avoided.
A jumpsuit with vertical stripes is the ultimate lengthening piece.
8. Find your ideal skirt length
Although a short dress can be very effective for short people when they are young, I would advise against them over 40.
Instead, opt for styles that fall just below or on top of the knee. A high waisted skirt or pants would make your legs appear longer.
Donna (above) wears a skirt which sits just above her knee.
You may also like: what is the right skirt length for women over 40
9. Wear shoes that keep your heels free
Avoid straps around the ankle and instead opt for shoes that elongate.
10. Create vertical lines in your outfit
Create nice vertical lines with open straight jackets and cardigans.
A great look is to have a cardigan or jacket the same length as your dress.
Long straight cardigans or sleeveless vests are perfect for petites!
11. Create a vertical line with a buttoned shirt dress
Buttoned shirt dresses that stop just above or on top of the knee will create a nice vertical line as well.
Most wrap dresses work really well for petites too.
The shirt dress below could be worn on its own or as a tunic over skinny pants or leggings. It comes in regular and petite sizes.
12. Create vertical lines with a sleeveless vest
I added one of my own outfits. Even though I’m not petite this could have been worn by a petite women.
The column of color (the black) creates a lengthening vertical line for the red vest.
13. Wear v-line tops to further elongate your look
These open up the neck line and create additional vertical lines.
14. Be careful with cropped pants
Avoid short trousers and pants that stop at the ankle. Best to wear pants with straight pipes or wide legged ones with heels, preferably high waisted.
If you do wear cropped pants be sure to wear a shorter top to give you a nice 2/3 – 1/3 silhouette.
To read more about the rule of thirds, check out our article on how to wear cropped pants.
15. Make sure that your tops stop at the hipline or above
Longer tops may cut you in half and you will not achieve the golden ratio or rule of thirds (see above). They will also make your legs appear even shorter.
Kylie (above) chooses tops which end at her hips.
However, you can wear longer tunics over skinny pants or leggings. make sure they are about 2/3 from shoulder to shoe.
16. Pay attention to boot length
Choose boots that stop just below the knee and avoid boots that end on the mid part of your shins.
Nancy (above) opts for boots ending just below her knee.
For more tips also see our article on how to look taller and slimmer
We already discussed the importance of creating a great silhouette and paying attention to the rule of thirds. Here are a few more tips.
17. Avoid wearing very contrasting tops
This will draw more attention to the fact that your upper body is almost the same length as your lower body.
18. Get a good bra
You want to create as much space between your waist and your bust line as possible.
19. Embrace high waisted pants and skirts
High waist pants paired with heels work together to create a long vertical image. Worn with a short top, the outfit creates the illusion of height.
20. Avoid boxiness
You want to create fluid lines in your looks and create a 1/3 – 2/3 silhouette whenever possible.
21. Be careful with tucking pants into your boots
Best not to tuck in your pants into your boots as it will break up the lengthening line. Or keep the rest of the outfit in the same color as that will create a 2/3 – 2/3 effect.
You can also select the boots in the same color as your pants.
Brenda (above) shows how you can wear cropped pants if you are petite by opting for boots in the same color.
22. Test what the right belt width is for you
Belts are often best kept narrow, unless you belt them very high up your waist, or they are the same color as your pants.
Anita (above) opts for a denim shirt dress.
23. Choose the right size for tops and bottoms
Your size is not necessarily ‘petite’ top and bottom, so you may need a bigger size on top or vice versa.
24. Avoid double breasted
As a general rule, avoid a double breasted style, as these will add width rather than length.
25. Fit is everything!
If you can’t find clothes that fit properly, find a good tailor.
You may also like: how to fit a blazer
capsule wardrobe for petites
Here you will find all you need for your capsule wardrobe this winter and fall.
tops if you are petite
Look out for tops with a v-neck and those which have vertical stripes.
sweaters & cardigans
As we are heading into winter and fall (depending on where you are in the world) you will need warm layers.
Opt for v-neck sweaters and long-line cardigans and vests.
Trendy petite clothing: coats & jackets
When looking for coats this season, try coats and jackets which have a v-neck, which are open-front or single-breasted.
Clothes for short women: pants and jeans
If you choose wide-legged pants, you can wear them long with a pair of heels underneath to make your legs look longer.
petite dresses for women as well as skirts & jumpsuits
Dresses and jumpsuits are your best friend if you are petite because wearing an outfit in one-color can have an elongating effect.
shoes to go with your petite fashion choices
Two easy ways to add a bit of height are to wear heels and/or to wear shoes with a pointed toe.
The other top tip is to either wear neutral shoes in your skin tone if you have bare legs, or to match your boots or shoes to your tights or your pants. This will create an elongating effect.
Avoid ankle straps.
accessories to wear with your stylish petite clothing
As mentioned above, don’t go too big with your accessories, particularly if you are slim.
There are plenty of ways you could wear the clothes, shoes and accessories above, but here are 9 outfits to get you started.
Read our ultimate guide to creating a capsule wardrobe that works best for you.
Famous petite women looking gorgeous
If you ever felt that being shorter than average stands in your way of looking absolutely fabulous, think again!
Here are some very famous and fabulous women under 1.65m (5’4”) looking stunning. I chose these women for their style and their choice of dressing that in many cases follow the guidelines above.
These women tend to dress to appear longer. If you like to see great style by women that are even shorter, have a look at the list of celebrities under 1.60 listed below.
Madonna is a spectacular woman (over 50 already) short on height. She is 5’3” (1.63 meters) high.
She increasingly favors tight dresses just below the knee which she has no problem pulling off with her svelte figure. I also like her in high waisted wide dresses, where she uses the trusted v-line to elongate the look.
Victoria Beckham measures 1.63 (5’3”) meters.
Above are some perfect examples of how to dress for lengthening. High-waisted, pants, tight fit, use of the v-line.
She goes quite wide with the shoulder on the red dress, which can be risky, but gets away with it, as she combines it with a v-neck and a very lean silhouette for the bottom part. I love all these looks.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker is 5’2.75” (1.59 meters) and has really embraced the high heel shoes as her weapon of choice to appear longer.
Now 46, she increasingly uses mid-length dresses which I think suit her the best. In the first look, she took a risk with the big flower on top and the big bag is certainly to be avoided. When wearing wider styles, she keeps the top tight, opts for an empress waist or uses a v-line.
Other celebrities below 1.60
For more inspiration on how to dress your short physique, check out other celebrities who measure under 1.60:
- Mary Kate Olsen who is 5’0″ (152 cm),
- Rachel Bilson who is 5’1.5″ (156 cm),
- Hayden Panettiere who is 5’0.25″ (153 cm),
- Nicole Richie who is 5’1″ (155 cm),
- Kristen Bell who is 5’1″ (155 cm),
- Shakira who is 5’2″ (155 cm),
- Eva Longoria who is about 5’2″ (153 cm),
- Fergie, who is 5’1.75″ (157 cm) and A
- lyssa Milano, who is about 5’1.5″ (156 cm).
Featured petites at 40+Style
How about when you are plus size and short / petite?
Petite women obviously come in all sizes. There are some fantastic options for petite plus size women. Dresses with ruching and v-necks are particularly flattering.
In principle, all the above guidelines apply. However, you may want to prefer empress waist dresses instead of form-fitting dresses or shirt dresses.
Make sure that you wear nicely fitted tops above and that you use all the vertical tricks described above that will make you look both taller and slimmer.
Cassie (above) wears contrasting colors with her skirt and top, but she adds long lines with her open-front coat.
You can also look at the guidelines for the apple shape body type and combine that with the guidelines above.
Petite clothing stores: Where to shop when you are petite?
Many shops now have special sections for petites. Here are just a few.
- Nordstrom: one of the best online shops with multiple brands has a special section for petites
- Eileen Fisher: high quality fabrics and great design
- Loft: comfortable and affordable clothing
- Banana Republic: good quality clothing that covers all basics
- Eddie Bauer: offers great outdoor wear
- Marks and Spencer:
- Boden: An extensive petite collection
More outfit examples
I hope these guidelines will be useful to you. Remember though that they are not written in stone.
I feel that petites can wear almost anything so long as you create the right balance within your outfit and create a great silhouette.
Ruth shares a few tips on how to dress when you are short in this short video
If you are petite and have some tips that I did not cover here, please let me know!
- How To Look Taller And Slimmer
- How To Choose The Perfect Little Black Dress For Your Body Type
- How To Dress When You Are Tall And Where To Buy The Best Clothes For Tall Women
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Feature image by Lyn, The Accidental Icon
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