In previous articles, we discussed how to determine body shape and dress for your vertical body type.

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”).

How to dress when you are short or petite – what you need to know

In principle, these guidelines, which are now updated for the upcoming season, will work for anyone who is short in height, or for those who want to appear longer or leaner in their appearance.

These ideas 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 so that you look like you have longer legs.

This is the ultimate guide for dressing when you are short or petite. In this article, you will find

  • Lots of 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 should a petite person dress?

However you want to is definitely the answer! But if your goal is to elongate and streamline your figure, then there are all sorts of tips that we cover below, including using layers, accessories and the right prints and patterns to flatter your petite figure.

What clothes to wear if you’re petite?

Read on because we’ve created a capsule wardrobe especially for petite figures, with tops, bottoms, dresses, shoes and accessories and outfit ideas for how you can put them together.

How can I look good if I’m petite?

Kylie in printed top and wide pants |

All the tips in our article are designed to flatter petite shapes and make you look and feel good about what you’re wearing. Kylie @kylish_aus (above), for example, looks fabulous. She tucks in her blouse for a leg lengthening effect. Larger prints can be tricky to wear if you are petite, but a good tip is to ensure that you incorporate some of the colors from the rest of your outfit, as Kylie does here.

Get her look with this similar blouse (another option here), wide pants and sneakers.

What is the best dress style for petite figures?

Dresses are fantastic for petites, because they don’t ‘break’ your figure up horizontally like separates can. Any dress style can work wonderfully. Just be sure to choose a dress to suit your body shape. Because being petite is just your height. You also need to consider the type of figure you have.

How to dress for all seasons if you are petite

You can wear elongating layers in winter and fall, which can make it easier to dress during colder seasons when you are petite.

However, dresses are fabulous for petites and you can create a lengthening effect with a one color dress during warmer weather. You can also try lighter-weight layers such as sleeveless vests.

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:

  1. Appear longer, taller and leaner
  2. Create a flattering silhouette (using the rule of thirds, so you don’t split your body in half)
  3. 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 this article how to look taller and slimmer no matter what your height.

How to dress when you are short – general guidelines

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 will create a vertical image and instantly create the illusion of height.

Dark colors are a great choice to create this illusion as they make the wearer look thinner furthering the perception of height. But essentially this tip will work for any color.

Alison in an all black outfit and denim jacket |

Alison @wardrobe_oxygen above (read her style interview here) demonstrates a useful technique to creating the illusion of height. Note that she creates a column of color by wearing the same color from top to toe, then she adds a layer on top, which breaks those vertical lines down even further.

Recreate her outfit with this similar top, denim jacket, pants, booties and necklace.

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 form-fitting 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.

The knee-length of the knit dress (below) is a good option to look out for if you are petite.

Petite Studio Saffron Knit Dress |

Petite Studio Saffron Knit Dress

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 shoes that keep your ankles free

Avoid straps around the ankle as ankle straps can make your legs look shorter. Instead opt for shoes that elongate. Mules are a great option for petites.

If you want to wear flats rather than heels, pointed toes can also create the illusion of extra height.

SARTO by Franco Sarto Tracy Half d'Orsay Flats |

SARTO by Franco Sarto Tracy Half d’Orsay Flats
(Nordstrom / Amazon / Zappos)

5. 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 heels and a full list of recommended comfortable shoes, also check my article on the best arch support shoes.

Below are more heels you could wear to add some additional height. You could add any type of heel you are comfortable with, from stilhettos and kitten heels to wedges and block heels.

How to dress when you are short - wear pumps | Bandolino Candy Pump |

Bandolino Candy Pump
(Amazon / Zappos)

Sam Edelman Vienna Pumps |

Sam Edelman Vienna Pumps
(Nordstrom / Amazon / Zappos)

Lucky Brand Joal Pump |

Lucky Brand Joal Pump

Abi in monochrome outift |

Abi @stealmystyle40 above opts for classic black pumps with her leather pants.

Steal her look with this similar shirt, blazer, leather pants, pumps, belt and earrings.

6. 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 as they will make you look smaller.

Marc Jacobs The Small Metallic Leather Tote |

Marc Jacobs The Small Metallic Leather Tote

7. how to dress when you are short – 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, making your legs look longer.

How to dress when you are short - SANSTHS Set of 4 Skinny Leather Belts |

SANSTHS Set of 4 Skinny Leather Belts

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 a very short hemline 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.

Kate Kasin Wrap Front Pencil Skirt |

Kate Kasin Wrap Front Pencil Skirt

You may also like: what is the right skirt length for women over 40.

9. 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 as they draw the eye across rather than up and down.

Ramy Brook Anahi Dash Stripe Pants |

Ramy Brook Anahi Dash Stripe Pants

10. 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 striped dress below could be worn on its own, as a tunic over skinny pants or leggings or you could wear a shirt dress unbuttoned as a sleeveless vest.

Derek Lam 10 Crosby Veronica Striped Cotton Tie-Waist Shirtdress |

Derek Lam 10 Crosby Veronica Striped Cotton Tie-Waist Shirtdress

11. Create vertical lines in your outfit

You don’t necessarily need to feature vertical lines as a print such as a stripe to have 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!

The J.Crew jacket below has a vertical stripe running down it which will help with creating your vertical lines. It comes in lots of different colors so you should find your favorite and reviewers say the longer length is stylish and youthful.

J.Crew Emilie Lady Jacket |

J.Crew Emilie Lady Jacket

11. Create vertical lines with a sleeveless vest

I added below one of my own outfits. Even though I’m not petite this could have been worn by a petite woman.

The column of color (the black) creates a lengthening vertical line for the red vest.

You can see a similar long vest from Amazon, which comes in a variety of colors.

MessBebe Sleeveless Long Vest |

MessBebe Sleeveless Long Vest

How to dress when you are short - wear sleeveless vests |

similar cardigan, jumpsuit, booties, tote, necklace and sunglasses

13. avoid double breasted

As a general rule, avoid a double breasted style, as these will add width rather than length. Instead, choose a slimline single-breasted blazer like the ones from J.Crew (below). Wearers say the fit is flattering and it comes in a choice of colors.

J.Crew Stretch Linen Blend Helena Blazer |

J.Crew Stretch Linen Blend Helena Blazer


These open up the neckline and create additional vertical lines.

Zimmermann August V-Neck Tank Top |

Zimmermann August V-Neck Tank Top

15. How to dress when you are short – avoid contrasting tops

Avoid wearing tops which are in very different colors to your skirt or pants.

This will draw more attention to the fact that your upper body is almost the same length as your lower body.

16. 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.

However, you can wear longer tunics over skinny pants or leggings. make sure they are about 2/3 from shoulder to shoe.

17. keep patterns in proportion

Wearing larger prints can be tricky when you are petite because they can overwhelm your petite frame. If you want to choose prints, look for more delicate options to make sure you are wearing the pattern, rather than the other way around.

Lands' End Cotton Modal Dress |

Lands’ End Cotton Modal Dress

How to dress when you are petite? |

Shauna @chicover50 above (read her style interview here) chooses a small print for her pants and adds heels underneath. You can see that the wide flare of her pants balances the shoulder detailing on her top.

Get her look with this similar top (another option here), pants, earrings, necklace and sunglasses.

18. 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.

We already discussed the importance of creating a great silhouette and paying attention to the rule of thirds. Here are a few more tips.

For more tips also see our article on how to look taller and slimmer.

Naturalizer Rena Knee High Riding Boots |

Naturalizer Rena Knee High Riding Boots
(Nordstrom / Zappos)

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.

They will make your legs appear longer. Wide pants with tucked in tops work really well. If you can’t tuck in your top because you want to hide your belly consider getting an asymmetrical top.

How to dress when you are short - wear high waist jeans | Wit & Wisdom 'Ab'Solution High Waist Itty Bitty Bootcut Jeans |

Wit & Wisdom ‘Ab’Solution High Waist Itty Bitty Bootcut Jeans

20. 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.

21. get a good bra

You want to create as much space between your waist and your bust line as possible. Choose a good, supportive bra to make sure your bust sits where it should.

How to dress when you are short - 
 wear a good bra | b.tempt'd by Wacoal Future Foundation Wireless T-Shirt Bra |

b.tempt’d by Wacoal Future Foundation Wireless T-Shirt Bra

22. 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 to make your legs look longer.

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. Making sure you opt for the right sizes for your shape will give you a balanced look.

24. avoid boxiness

You want to create fluid lines in your looks and create a 1/3 – 2/3 silhouette whenever possible.

How to dress when you are short - aviod boxiness | Lydia in jumpsuit |

Lydia @birabiro above (read her style interview here) opts for a tie waist jumpsuit. The 1 piece jumpsuit is lengthening and creates a long lean line. She adds extra height with her sandals.

Steal her look with this similar jumpsuit (another option here), sandals, necklace, earrings and sunglasses.

25. 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.

Ralph Lauren Collection Leather Logo Belt |

Ralph Lauren Collection Leather Logo Belt

26. 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.

how to dress when you are short – creating your capsule wardrobe

Now let’s take a look at how to put together outfits if you’re petite, with all the best options to choose.

petite tops

When looking for tops, anything with vertical stripes or a v-neck will help to elongate your figure. You can also look at showing off your waistline with a cinched in waist as this will make your legs look longer. Shorter tops will also make your torso look shorter and your legs longer, which can make you look taller overall.

Petite tops |

Banana Republic Bliss Silk Dolman TopPetite Studio Davina BlouseBanana Republic Galena One Shoulder TopPUWEI Tie Front Denim Shirt

Eileen in shirt and trousers |

Eileen @eileenternullo above shows how wearing the same color shoes and your pants can make your legs look longer.

Recreate her outfit with this similar shirt, trousers, flats, necklace and sun hat.

sweaters and cardigans

As the weather gets colder, you’ll definitely want to add a few warm sweaters to your petite capsule. As with your tops, v-necks can help elongate your figure. Another option is to choose shorter or crop styles and wear with high waist pants to make your legs look longer.

Or, you could look out for long line cardigans. Wear these open to create an elongating column effect.

Petite sweaters and cardigans |

ZAFUL Cropped Turtleneck SweaterPetite Studio Evaline SweaterPetite Studio Paisley Mohair SweaterPetite Studio Blaise Wool Cardigan

How to dress when you are short - sweater, wide trousers and booties |

Petite Studio Evaline SweaterPetite Studio Alix PantsLucky Brand Joal PumpCECILE Mini Crossbody BagJenny Bird Small Le Tome Hoop Earrings

coats and jackets

Keep your coats in proportion to your figure. Shorter styles worn with high waisted pants and jeans will look good on you. Or, cinch your waist to ensure your coats don’t overwhelm you. As with the rest of your outfit, vertical lines will look good.

Petite jackets and coats |

Cinq à Sept Kylie Notched Satin Single-Button BlazerCOS Double-Faced Cropped Hybrid JacketLamarque Chapin Reversible Leather BomberBanana Republic Isola Melton Hourglass Topcoat

Emms in coat, flared jeans and booties |

Emms @beautifuleveryday_uk above opts for a long coat and adds some height with her booties.

Check out this similar coat, shirt (another option here), wide jeans, booties, bag and sunglasses.


When it comes to your bottoms, choosing the right length is key. If you opt for bootleg or wider pant styles, you can wear heels underneath them and make your legs look super long.

Vertical stripes will also elongate your figure. For your skirts, make sure you choose a length that sits where it should. If the skirt should be knee-length, that’s where it should be. You may need to look for petite brands or try a few different brands to find the ones that fit best on your figure.

Petite pants |

Lands’ End Boyfriend JeansLands’ End  Starfish High Rise Flare PantsPetite Studio Alix PantsMICHAEL Michael Kors Vintage Stripe Straight-Leg Pants

How to dress when you are short - denim shirt, flared pants and sneakers |

PUWEI Tie Front Denim ShirtLands’ End  Starfish High Rise Flare PantsBlue by Betsey Johnson Sidny SneakersCECILE Mini Crossbody BagChan Luu Chandelier Earrings

dresses & jumpsuit

Dresses look great on petites as they are one column of color and they don’t break up your figure. Choose well-fitting, belted styles. If you want to try a pattern, try a subtle one that won’t overwhelm your petite figure. A jumpsuit will also work well for petites as long as you get the fit right, as it is one color from top to toe.

Petite dresses and jumpsuits |

Derek Lam 10 Crosby Striped Cotton-Blend ShirtdressUndra Celeste Tammy Linen Wrap DressBlack Halo Van Tapered JumpsuitElie Tahari Ellis Colorblocked V-Neck Sleeveless Jumpsuit

Eugenia in striped shirtdress and boots |

Eugenia @theeageofgrace above (read her style interview here) opts for vertical stripes, which are an ideal print for petites.

Steal her look with this similar shirtdress (other options here and here), boots, bag and sunglasses.


Of course, you can choose any shoes you love. But if you want to add some height, you could try a small heel or a wedge. Another trick is to choose pointed toes as they make your legs look longer without having to wear super high heels.

Petite shoes |

SARTO by Franco Sarto Tracy Half d’Orsay FlatNaturalizer Faith PumpsMICHAEL Michael Kors Corrine SandalsBlue by Betsey Johnson Sidny Sneakers

How to dress when you are short - blazer, silk top, striped pants and pumps |

J.Crew Stretch Linen Blend Helena BlazerBanana Republic Bliss Silk Dolman TopRamy Brook Anahi Dash Stripe PantsNaturalizer Faith PumpsKate Spade New York Manhattan Martini Embellished Fabric Small ToteChan Luu Chandelier Earrings


When it comes to your accessories, don’t choose anything too big that will look large against your petite frame. If you want to, you could add a little height with a hat.

Petite accessories |

Kate Spade New York Manhattan Martini Embellished Fabric Small ToteCECILE Mini Crossbody BagTory Burch Eleanor Leather Clutch Chan Luu Chandelier EarringsJenny Bird Small Le Tome Hoop Earrings

How to dress when you are short - blazer, dress and heeled sandals |

Cinq à Sept Kylie Notched Satin Single-Button BlazerUndra Celeste Tammy Linen Wrap DressMICHAEL Michael Kors Corrine SandalsTory Burch Eleanor Leather ClutchJenny Bird Small Le Tome Hoop Earrings

Putting together your petite capsule

Take a look below the capsule wardrobe we created for petite women. You could mix and match the tops and bottoms around to get different looks.

A capsule wardrobe for the petites |

Read our ultimate guide to creating a capsule wardrobe that works best for you.

Shop some of the outfits for petite women here:

More petite inspiration

Famous petite women

If you ever felt that being shorter than average stands in your way of looking absolutely fabulous, think again!

Many celebrities you know and love are under 1.60.


Madonna is a spectacular woman (over 60 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. You can also see that she wears heels under her wide-legged pants, as well as wearing shoes in the same color as her skirt.

Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham measures 1.63 (5’3”) meters.

She prefers to dress in clothes that are lengthening. High-waisted pants, a tight fit, heels and one-color dresses. Check some of her outfits here.

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.

As a woman over 50 she increasingly uses mid-length dresses which I think suit her the best. Check some of her outfits here.

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).

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
  • J.Crew: many petite options for casual and office wear
  • 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: Timeless classics
  • Boden: great quality and fashionable everyday wear

More outfit examples

The below capsules, while past seasons, should give you extra inspiration.

A capsule wardrobe for the petites |
A capsule wardrobe for the petites |
A capsule wardrobe for the petites |
A capsule wardrobe for the petites |

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.

If you are petite and have some tips that I did not cover here, please let me know in the comments below!

Continue reading:

  1. How To Look Taller And Slimmer
  2. How To Choose The Perfect Little Black Dress For Your Body Type
  3. How To Dress When You Are Tall And Where To Buy The Best Clothes For Tall Women

Like this post on how to dress when you are short or petite? Share it on Pinterest!

How to dress when you are short |

Feature image by Shauna @chicover50


Sylvia is 40+style’s editor-in-chief and has been helping women find their unique style since 2011. An alumni of the School of Color and Design, she is devoted to empowering women of any age to look and feel their best. Read more about Sylvia and 40+style on this page.

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