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” ).
In principle, these guidelines 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.
When you are short in height you will usually have the following objectives with your dressing:
- Appear longer
- Create a flattering silhouette (using the rule of thirds, so you don’t split your body in half)
- Avoid boxiness
Most short women will want to appear taller and leaner.
This is relatively easy to achieve if you stick to the following guidelines:
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.
Wear a dress!
Dresses will look great on many short women, as they automatically created 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, the tailored silhouette avoids unwanted bulk. The end result is a lean look that appears taller. Polish off the look with slingback kitten heels, for a little-added height.
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.
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.
Wear accessories in proportion
Go easy on the oversized accessories as these may overwhelm you.
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.
Vertical patterns are your friend
Vertical patterns will always elongate and would be especially good for your pants or skirt.
A jumpsuit with vertical stripes is the ultimate lengthening piece1
Horizontal stripes are best avoided.
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.
You may also like: What is the right skirt length
Wear shoes that keep your heels free
Avoid straps around the ankle and instead opt for shoes that elongate.
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!
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.
Create vertical lines with a sleeveless vest
I added one of my own outfits as the feature image. 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.
Wear v-line tops to further elongate your look
These open up the neck line and create additional vertical lines.
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.
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.
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.
For more tips also see our article: How to look taller and slimmer
All these looks show how sticking to a similar color palette can give a lengthening effect.
We already discussed the importance of creating a great silhouette and paying attention to the rule of thirds. Here are a few more tips.
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.
Monochromatic looks are your friend!
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.
In this look:
Get a good bra
You want to create as much space between your waist and your bust line as possible.
Embrace high waisted pants and skirts
You want to create fluid lines in your looks and create a 1/3 – 2/3 silhouette whenever possible.
Fitted clothes are usually better for you
Avoid oversized clothes (even if they are on trend).
If you do wear oversized clothes, make sure to create a good silhouette and that the balanced between fitted and oversize is correct.
Make sure not to have both wide on top and below.
High waisted pants can lengthen your leg line
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.
In this capsule:
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.
Test what the right belt width is for you
Belts are often best kept narrow, unless you belt it very high up your waist, or it is the same color as your pants.
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.
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.
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
Famous short 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?
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.
You can also look at the guidelines for the apple shape body type and combine that with the guidelines above.
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
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 for petites in this short video
If you are petite and have some tips that I did not cover here, please let me know!