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 this spring and summer 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 to dress for Winter and fall 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:
- 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 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.
Abi @stealmystyle40 above chooses a monochrome outfit. While her pants feature a big print, they have enough vertical lines to elongate her legs.
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 J.Crew dress (below) is a good option to look out for if you are petite
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.
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.
Alison @wardrobe_oxygen above (read her style interview here) chooses an all black outfit and adds interest with her heels. Because the color of her shoes isn’t a huge contrast with her skintone, they elongate her legs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The white stripe pants (below) could be perfect for spring and summer.
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.
H&M Tie Belt Shirt Dress
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 long cardigan 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.
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.
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.
14. WEAR V-LINE TOPS TO FURTHER ELONGATE YOUR LOOK
These open up the neckline and create additional vertical lines.
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. 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.
Emms @beautifuleveryday_uk above opts for a black dress. While you will want to keep your outfit streamlined if you are petite, choosing a dress that fits at the waist will help to ensure you don’t get lost. Heels will add a little extra height.
18. 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.
The wide leg pants (below) come in a choice of colors. Tuck your top in for a leg-lengthening effect.
19. 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.
20. 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.
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 to make your legs look longer.
22. 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.
23. avoid boxiness
You want to create fluid lines in your looks and create a 1/3 – 2/3 silhouette whenever possible.
24. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Kylie @kylish_aus above 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.
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 wewar 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.
ZAFUL Cropped Turtleneck Sweater – J.Crew Cropped Poplin Shirt – Nordstrom High Waist Wide Leg Pants – Naturalizer Samantha Pointed Toe Flat – Marc Jacobs The Micro Traveler Tote – Argento Vivo Sterling Silver Curb Chain Link Post Back 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.
Kate Kasin Belted Peacoat Coat – Loveappella Faux Wrap Top – Wit & Widsom Ab-Solution High Waist Itty Bitty Bootcut Jeans – Lucky Brand Joal Pump – Kate Spade New York Knott Medium Satchel – Argento Vivo Sterling Silver Curb Chain Link Post Back Earrings
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kate Spade New York Knott Medium Satchel – Tory Burch Britten Convertible Crossbody Bag – Brixton Messer Fedora Hat – Kendra Scott Elisa Birthstone Pendant Necklace – Argento Vivo Sterling Silver Curb Chain Link Post Back Earrings
Eileen @eileenternullo above wears a tonal outfit in gray.
Putting together your petite capsule
Take a look below at more inspiration for flattering outfits for you if you are petite. You could mix and match the tops and bottoms around to get different looks.
Shop some of the outfits for short women here:
Read our ultimate guide to creating a capsule wardrobe that works best for you.
More petite inspiration
The below capsules, while past season, should give you extra 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 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
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!
- 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 Shauna @chicover50
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